Could we please discuss this?

A column in the NT Times raises an issue I’d love to get more advice on.

As you may know, Matt Damon has said that with sexual harassment there are degress of seriousness and guilt. A pat the bum is not as serious as rape. Minnie Driver and many others disagree. There should be zero tolerance for any treatment of women’s bodies as available sexual objects to be used.

The Times’ column says:

All societies make necessary moral distinctions between high crimes and misdemeanors, mortal and lesser sins. A murderer is worse than a thief. A drug dealer is worse than a user. And so on. Gillibrand, Driver and others want to blur such distinctions, on the theory that we need a zero-tolerance approach. That may sound admirable, but it’s legally unworkable and, in many cases, simply unjust.

It’s also destructive, above all to the credibility of the #MeToo movement. Social movements rarely succeed if they violate our gut sense of decency and moral proportion. Insofar as #MeToo has made an example of a Harvey Weinstein or a Matt Lauer, most Americans — including, I’d bet, most men — have been on its side.

But zero tolerance is going to kill thesupport.

So what do you think? That is, how do you separate these competing claims into right and wrong?

21 thoughts on “Could we please discuss this?

  1. Holy cow, how can any reasonable person NOT recognize that there are degrees of badness. I was raped a knifepoint when I was in grad school by a guy who forced his way into my apartment. That’s Baltimore. I was afraid that I’d be killed. This was really bad. I’ve also been catcalled, groped, and insulted. Also bad not nearly as bad.

    I understand the impulse to make the greatest possible fuss about forms of sexual harassment because some haven’t been recognized as bad in order to get them recognized as bad. But the suggestion that everything from verbal abuse to groping to quid pro quo to forcible rape are equally bad is crazy and makes us women look like fools. And, frankly, it is an insult to me. I had a knife to my throat and was afraid for my life. Of course it’s all bad, but to maintain any credibility you have to recognize degrees of badness.

  2. As a preliminary point, the quoted arguments are strictly talking past each other. Damon contrasted “patting someone on the bum” with “rape or child molestation”; Driver rejected a different contrast between “a woman has a penis exposed to her that she didn’t want or ask for” and rape. Damon seems to agree with Gillibrand that all of these are unacceptable and warrant punishment; his point is that they shouldn’t be “conflated,” which maybe means that different degrees of punishment are appropriate. Driver is talking about how the victims feel. Stephens seems to agree with Damon, although he thinks this amounts to disagreeing with Gillibrand. Stephens is also strawfeministing Driver and Gillibrand, which isn’t surprising given Stephens was basically hired by the NYT to play Margaret Wente.

    So it’s unclear whether the disagreement is over whether
    (a) some of these acts are more severe than others,
    (b) some but not all of these kinds of acts warrant punishment,
    (c) different degrees of punishment are appropriate for different kinds of acts,
    (d) it’s appropriate for victims to feel differently about different kinds of acts.

  3. Of course a “pat on the bum” is not the same as rape, and no one has suggested it is. But it shares with rape that it is a prosecutable sex crime. Yes, you can go to prison for touching someone’s “bum” without their consent. Which is why it troubles me when groping is often called “boorish” by (primarily male) commentators. It’s not boorish. It’s a sex crime.

    Both “pats on the bum” and rape are unacceptable, as they’re both forms of sexual violence. While the legal system will and should treat them differently, anyone who engages in either should not be in a position of power. Much less should they be a U.S. Senator or given a plum acting position on a hit show or be allowed to stay on at The NY Times…

    It’s really pretty simple. Don’t touch people on their arse or groin without their consent if you want to keep your job…

    Next question?

  4. These seem related. E.g., if not-a, then not-c.
    I think in fact b and c are very close. Is anyone just supporting d?
    I also think with the dependence and interrelatedness of a, b and c, they are not really talking past one another.

  5. Yeah. Not-a is a very strong claim. I think part of the way Stephens is strawfeministing Driver and Gillibrand is by attributing not-a to them. But it’s not obvious that Gillibrand is asserting not-a rather than something much weaker (say, not-c, or even just not-b, which everyone seems to accept); and in the quotation from Driver, she’s maybe rejecting an assumption of (d) (viz, that there are standards of appropriate emotional response to sexual harassment and assault) that is logically completely unrelated to (a).

  6. I see the over arching issue as being one of respect of other to have say over their own body. That is what I see as the blending of the issues. As to the crimes, individually, yes there are degrees of offenses which warrant varying levels of punishment. Moralisticaly, violations of ones ownership of their own body and the rights to do with it as they choose, including not being violated by others, e.g. a pat on the bum, I feel all violations are created equal.

  7. I think that a number of us, myself sometimes included, think there is something really bad about all the acts, and that the indiiduals should be held responsible for it in each case.

    But some things on FB reminded me of Katie Mann’s claim that mysogyny is deeply in the structure of the society. Among other things, punishing all the offenders severely isn’t going to change the society. And while we should push back against mysogyny in all its forms, people may be less responsible for attitudes taught and sanctioned by their society. Note: Weinstein’s and Lauer’s behavior, along with that of other, falls way outside what is sanctioned. Pats on the butt and maybe even tongued kissing are different, I think one could argue.

  8. Ownership of our own bodies? Absolutely. I don’t question the importance of that. What eats me is how little concern there is for our ownership of our MINDS. Most women are locked into boring pink collar shi*t work because of ongoing occupational sex-segregation. That is rape. That is a violation of the self in the deepest sense, a violation of us as persons, as thinking beings. If you are confined to a 2’ x 2’ square space behind a checkout counter scanning groceries you are being raped; if you are stuck in a carrel answering phones or inputting data you are being raped. If you are forced to spend the better part of your days doing endless, tedious, repetitious tasks, physically restricted to a confined space, as most women are, you are being violated in the most serious way.

    I’m outraged that there isn’t more outrage about this. I stand by what I wrote in ‘How Bad is Rape’ here: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwigu_aiuqHYAhWHhFQKHZd7APYQFggmMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fhome.sandiego.edu%2F~baber%2Fresearch%2Frape.pdf&usg=AOvVaw2oPZKnbBD3VfEHOp5uNCZb ‘Being raped is bad, but being a data-entry operator is much worse’. I worked as a clerk-typist for a bus company and, by the Tiresian Principle, I can guarantee you that it was much, much worse than being raped.

    If making a fuss about sexual harassment is what it takes to get people to recognize the stinking position we women still occupy, and along with that to take discrimination in employment and occupational sex segregation seriously, I’m all for it. Shout it loud, by all means. But the fact of the matter, in terms of plain aggregate utility, is that occupational sex segregation, which locks women into agonizingly boring jobs, is immeasurably worse than sexual harassment. Call me Cartesian if you want but I am my mind, not my body, and mind-rape is a much deeper and worse violation of the self than any form of sexual harassment, including body-rape.

  9. I agree that far too little attention is paid to the miserable grind some jobs mean. But I think the harassment cases may include years of horrible, demeaning treatment; those may in fact be more typical. It’s sexist mobbing. In my own case, I think of myself as having experienced about 12 years of pretty bad hostility from the boy’s club. Among other things, there seems to have some effort to ruin my reputation in the university.

  10. “Ownership of our own bodies? Absolutely. I don’t question the importance of that. What eats me is how little concern there is for our ownership of our MINDS. Most women are locked into boring pink collar shi*t work because of ongoing occupational sex-segregation. That is rape. That is a violation of the self in the deepest sense, a violation of us as persons, as thinking beings. If you are confined to a 2’ x 2’ square space behind a checkout counter scanning groceries you are being raped; if you are stuck in a carrel answering phones or inputting data you are being raped. If you are forced to spend the better part of your days doing endless, tedious, repetitious tasks, physically restricted to a confined space, as most women are, you are being violated in the most serious way.”

    This is nonsense, and insults actual rape survivors. Stop using “rape” in such a stupid, flippant way. Frankly, it reads like a parody that would be used to discredit feminist philosophy.

  11. Dear Shocked, please see my earlier post: I WAS raped, by a stranger, at knifepoint. If you don’t believe me and want to do some research you can probably confirm this with the Baltimore Police Dept. Address was 2501 N. Calvert and it would be I think 1977 or 1978. OK?

    I also worked as a clerk-typist at a bus company and at a few other pink-collar jobs. And I can guarantee that that was a lot worse than being raped. For one thing, it lasted a whole lot longer. I am not being flippant. I am outraged that people dismiss the way in which the jobs that most women do destroy their minds and lives—as the work I did did to me. And as it does to most of the 2/3 of American women who don’t have college degrees and many who do, who are locked into the pink-collar service sector. I can only suspect it’s because those who know, women who do this shit work, don’t have the time or energy to speak; and that those privileged women who speak have never seriously worried that they could spend the better part of their adult lives

    I am not discrediting feminist philosophy. I practice it. I publish it and teach it. I am however frustrated by how little attention feminist philosophers, and mainstream feminists generally, pay to workplace and other economic issues as compared to sexuality issues. And because to the extent that attention is given to economic issues, ‘horizontal’ occupational sex segregation, which locks women into pink-collar jobs, is almost never addressed.

    I cannot help but suspect that it’s because we live in a 3-gender society: Men, Women, and Us. Occupational sex segregation isn’t a problem for Us, the lucky few who’ve caught the brass ring and do the same jobs as our male counterparts—as academics and other professionals. But it is very much a problem for the majority and has never stopped eating me. And I am SHOCKED and outraged that anyone could be so dismissive of the misery of pink-collar work and the gross ongoing discrimination that effectively locks women out of blue collar work (check the BLS data) and imagine that I was being flippant in comparing the work most women are forced to do to rape.

  12. All this tells me is that your assessment of value is unreasonable. It’s like if someone told me that working an 8 hour day as a construction worker was worse than having her child killed. If someone said that, we would know that her value assessment isn’t reasonable. Same for if one claims to think that working a “pink collar” job is worse than rape. It is absurd to say that if Sophie were given a choice between working as a clerk for 8 hours a day for a year or being raped, that she should be more horrified by the former than the latter. (Do former “pink collar” workers require trigger warnings before reading stories about “pink collar” work? No. But rape survivors often require trigger warnings before reading traumatic stories about rape.)

    Moving beyond that, there are some other problems facing your view. For example, job satisfaction is relative: some might enjoy the job you describe as “rape.” Or, one woman might feel that being raped is better than working in construction whereas another might not. So, how do we know that most women are “raped” in this way? Is there a study indicating this? (This is all secondary to my original point that your use of “rape” is insulting, nonsense, and damaging. But I figured I mention it anyway.)

  13. I agree it’s de gustibus and that there’s an empirical question to be addressed, about what whether given the miserable choice of a year of full-time pink-collar work or rape. But it’s another thing to claim, a priori, as you did initially that it would be ‘absurd’ to choose rape as the lesser of the two evils—that that ‘value assessment’ would be unreasonable. Of course I’m just a preference utilitarian and hold that no (informed) preference is unreasonable though choosing to have your kid killed would certainly be immoral.

    I’m also skeptical about your claim that most rape victims ‘require trigger warnings’. Do you have a study indicating that they do? Has there been a controlled experiment in which a large, fair sample of women who were raped were given traumatic stories about rape to read where the percentage of women who freaked out suggested that most ‘required trigger warnings’? Was there a control group of women who weren’t raped reading the stories? Were the results replicated?

    I am not suggesting that rape be taken less seriously but that occupational sex segregation, which locks all but a lucky few women into pink-collar drudge work, be taken much, much, much more seriously.

    I agree that different people may have different levels of tolerance for boring work. But, while I don’t have a study, none of the women I worked with liked their jobs and most found the work pretty miserable. Moreover, occupational sex segregation has huge, cascading consequences. It creates overcrowding in the narrow range of occupations to which women are restricted and so keeps wages low and degrades working conditions. It keeps women poor and forces them into dependence on men, into a condition of powerlessness, knuckling under to bosses, husbands, and boyfriends, with no viable options.

  14. Anne Jacobson, Yes, non-consensually touching someone’s butt is a crime! That’s the point. These are *sex crimes*, not boorish behavior.

    https://www.avvo.com/legal-answers/what-are-the-charges-for-touching-someones-butt-th-1679229.html

    This is the problem. We reason from “everyone’s done that/experienced that” to “so, it can’t be assault.” But, it is sexual assault. It’s just that sexual assault is ubiquitous.

    Of course, I’m not defending that all sexual assault is the same (but that’s a ridiculous claim not real person has defended). But smacking someone’s ass is most certainly something that can put you in jail, as it should be.

  15. FeministAF, your sources are problematic. There are too many lawyers who could make money from convincing you it is a crime. Touching someone’s butt can be a. Component of a crime, but not every touching is a crime. Look at some legal dictionaries.

  16. While there are of course degrees of assault, to me it is simple personal space is personal space. I don’t care to much for being touched by people close to me, much less some person I don’t even know. Don’t touch me in any manner unless you have my permission to.

  17. Discussions of whether something is or is not a crime are not particularly fruitful unless a jurisdiction has been specified, but in many places it certainly is the case that non-consensual contact with someone’s buttocks for the purpose of sexual gratification is a crime. See, for example, N.Y. Penal Code §130.55 (sexual abuse in the third degree), Calif. Penal Code §243.4(e)(1) (misdemeanour sexual battery).

  18. Yes, but now we don’t have simple touching. Touching with sexual intent is not simply touching. About needing to specify the jurisdiction: I don’t think there is anywhere in the US that mere touching is a crime.

  19. I think it would be useful to distinguish between behaviors that are wrong in the sense of requiring punishment after the fact and behaviors that wrong in the sense of warranting strong reactions in the moment.

    I can easily imagine behavior at a faculty party that ought to get (or might, at least justify getting) the perpetrator verbally rebuked, slapped, perhaps even pushed or punched, or thrown out. He might also not be invited back for a while. What he did was wrong and its wrongness is acknowledged and dealt with. There are other behaviors at the same hypothetical party that could rightly get him fired or jailed. In some cases, the behavior will be made worse by a pattern of prior behavior. In other cases, even an isolated action will be severe enough to warrant a response.

    But my point is that bad behavior sometimes warrants only corrective action in the moment, and sometimes a formal disciplinary procedure. I think Damon’s distinction operates in this space.

  20. “But it’s another thing to claim, a priori, as you did initially that it would be ‘absurd’ to choose rape as the lesser of the two evils—that that ‘value assessment’ would be unreasonable.”

    In the same vein, I can a priori know that someone who thinks having their child killed is better than to work as a construction worker is irrational – at least in respect to their judgment of values. Same, again, for the person who has the audacity to say that “pink collar” work is worse than rape. Nonsense.

    I also never made any claim about what *most* rape victims required. My point was that many require trigger warnings, but “pink collar” workers do not.

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