Perhaps people who work to be on the right side of the truth sometimes just let themselves go off the rails. That could account for a fairly vile op-ed that appeared in the NYT yesterday.
I wrote a response which the Times did print. They also told me how to send off as a more formal letter to the editor. Here is that version:
Merkin’s op-ed piece:
The appearance of this article is puzzling. On Dec 29th, an article in the NYTimes held that “sexual harassment has been endemic in blue-collar workplaces from the moment that women entered them and continues to this day, according to interviews with more than a dozen employment lawyers, academics and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission workers, as well as dozens of women who described such incidents.” Yet, without any research beyond discussions in supermarket lines, Merkin maintains that those of us not at the Golden Globes think the #MeToo movement is just political correctness that’s gotten out of hand. What happened?
Clearly, Merkin and her sources are not blue-collar workers. This perhaps makes it even more likely that they’ve had the training – which comes from all angles in our society – that women are supposed to please men, as a slightly older op-ed piece claimed.
She says, “The women I know — of all ages — have responded by and large with a mixture of slightly horrified excitement (bordering on titillation) as to who will be the next man accused and overt disbelief.” The women I know have very different perspectives. To see some of them, try beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com or Feministphilosophers.wordpress.com.
Houston, Texas, & Oxford, England.
The author is a senior research fellow at Somerville College, Oxford.
You hate the cat calls from construction sites. And the shouted “Hey, shake it for us, baby!” It could be much, much worse. You could work on a construction site.
From the NY Times:
Women in [blue-collar] jobs also often endure deliberate humiliations like not having bathrooms provided for them on construction sites. They can be blacklisted in construction or similar fields where tight networks and referrals are crucial to win the next job.
Construction culture has a range of humor more direct and crass than other workplaces, ” Soph Davenberry, a sheet metal worker in Burien, Wash., wrote. “It’s a tough balance to gain trust and acceptance while staying respectful, yet not come across as politically correct.”
And as we saw in the post below this, retaliation for getting it wrong can leave one feeling ones’ life is threatened.
At least in academia, feeling one’s life is threatened is relatively rare, disturbed gun carrying students and brutal rapists aside. Blue-collar work can be different. What can academic feminists do?
A woman on a repair crew was deliberately stranded on top of a 200-foot wind turbine by her male co-workers after enduring months of lewd taunts. An aerospace worker got the nickname Bird Seed because men flocked around her like pigeons. Men dropped tools on female co-workers or deliberately turned on electrical power when they began working on lines.
Sexual harassment has been endemic in blue-collar workplaces from the moment that women entered them and continues to this day, according to interviews with more than a dozen employment lawyers, academics and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission workers, as well as dozens of women who described such incidents. More than 80 women in these fields responded to a call for accounts of sexual harassment. They, along with several others interviewed, cited sustained, even dangerous, abuse in workplaces from factories to shipyards, mines to construction sites…
Physical danger is one issue that sets sexual harassment in blue-collar environments apart; unions, torn between representing the accuser and the accused, are another.
The situation of so many women seems so awful. We do teach some of their abusers. We can organize conferences to increase community awareness. We can write academic books and less formal pieces.
Could we get some part of our professional organizations to highlight work already done? And to find ways to increase attention to such problems?
Let me start off by acknowledging that some of our readers have thought more deeply about forgiveness than I have. And everyone who wants to should join in and comment.
The first form of forgiveness seems principally or even entirely internal to the victim. It may result in beneficent action toward a transgressor, but the transformation need only be in the victim.
The second comes from an article asking about victims of sexual assault and forgiveness of the transgressors. What is given is the first step of three in a standard conception of forgiveness from Judaism. Here the change starts with a change in the transgressor.
(1) Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Wikipedia
(2) From the NY Times:
Judaism offers a prescription for restorative rather than punitive justice that I think can provide a template for all of us — not just Jews — in determining what it should take to readmit transgressors into public life.
In Judaism, a religion that prizes deeds over faith, atonement is not an easy process. And why should it be? It is designed to effect nothing less than personal transformation. This is why the Hebrew word for “atonement” is “teshuva,” or return — as in a return to your higher self, a return to your essential goodness, a return to recognizing your own dignity and the dignity of others.
The repentance process begins with an “accounting of the soul” (heshbon ha’nefesh), an examination of how one has failed or fallen short. God can forgive sins against God, but notably, sins between people can be forgiven only by the aggrieved.
I’m concerned about the first. I think there are a number of negative feelings one can have toward or about others: envy, jealousy, anger or even hatred. Taking oneself through the transformation of (1) may make one a better person to be around, but if it involves letting the transgressor off the hook, it may be less than a good thing. It does not seem right to let racists off the hook, for example.
I remained puzzled by exhortations to foregive. Perhaps by self-transformation the transgressor can re-earn the right to one’s regard. But in other cases? What do you think?
For the holidays I searched for BBC interludes, the small bits of completely inconsequential sequences that would be put on to fill a gap. We once had one of a dear kitten, Snowy, on, but I couldn’t find it. So instead I’ve put on a series of films about London Transport in the 1950’s. The films automatically transition from one to another.
The first film is rather horrifying. It is full of false declarative sentences that I think children can be deluged with. E.g., “you will enjoy our school. You will find our students never bully other students.” What you are in fact hearing is an echo of the Empire. Watching it is good practice if you have to listen to relatives, or friends of relatives, on various political or moral topics. I am hoping no one will be offended by the “Africans love children” remark.
The second in the collection is visually utterly and completely boring unless you are keen on 1950’s British automobiles. Sitting through it is good practice for enduring conversations about how to cook turkeys or trim Brussel sprouts.
(The transfer to the second film isn’t always automatic. It seems less boring the second time around, if one lets oneself realize that one is catching glimpses of lives and homes which are otherwise completely hidden. It is here.)
The third one promised to be worst of all, so I didn’t watch much. [later note: the third might be worth a look. It’s here. The visual experience of inconsequential bits of the past are oddly engrossing. For a very few mintues.]
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?
The ontology of pregnancy, resisting body-oppression, credibility and sexual assault, a map of the arrow of care, utilitarianism as good for women, and focus groups on women’s under-representation in philosophy, all await you at the new issue of Feminist Philosophy Quarterly!
Current Issue: Volume 3, Issue 4 (2017)
Audrey S. Yap, “Credibility Excess and the Social Imaginary in Cases of Sexual Assault”
Maja Sidzinska, “Not One, Not Two: Toward an Ontology of Pregnancy”
Sherri Irvin, “Resisting Body Oppression: An Aesthetic Approach”
Claire A. Lockard, Helen Meskhidze, Sean Wilson, Nim Batchelor, Stephen Bloch-Schulman, and Ann J. Cahill, “Using Focus Groups to Explore the Underrepresentation of Female-Identified Undergraduate Students in Philosophy”
Asha L. Bhandary, “The Arrow of Care Map: Abstract Care in Ideal Theory”
H. E. Baber, “Is Utilitarianism Bad for Women?”
at What is it Like to be a Philosopher. She discusses many important topics, including mental health in academia and how her views about philosophy have changed over the years.