Known (among women at least) as someone to avoid


It’s well known (to people who follow such things) that philosophy stands out among academic disciplines in its shortage of women.

For years, many philosophers have been frustrated by the status of women in the discipline, which remains male-dominated in many ways, even as other humanities fields have seen more women advance into  leadership positions. Various efforts have focused on issues that range from sexual harassment to questioning traditions that make many women uncomfortable.

Oh gosh, that sounds familiar. What does that remind me of? Oh yes, I remember now.

Let’s follow the link on sexual harassment, shall we? What do we find? It’s Inside Higer Ed again, Scott Jaschik again. What’s the story?

Let’s say there is a scholar in your field who is known to harasswomen. Maybe you witnessed an incident. Maybe you heard from friends who were his victims. Maybe you heard from friends of friends. The person is known (among women at least) as someone to avoid, but he continues on in a professorship at a top university, serving on influential editorial boards, turning up on the programs of all the right conferences.

If the man has never been convicted by a judicial body or punished by a university (at least not that you know of), is this just a case of “innocent until proven guilty”? Or does this suggest disciplinary negligence — or tolerance of serial harassment?

Oh gosh, that sounds super-familiar too. Isn’t that amazing? In fact it sounds kind of…identical. Top dude, known to harass, known among women as someone to avoid, still invited to all the things.

I wonder if the next part is about the president of Yale or Harvard rebuking women for talking about this issue. [reads on] No, I don’t see that. Strange.

The comments are very familiar though. Fanaticism, medieval persecution, McCarthyism, witch hunts – it’s all there.

Comments

  1. says

    Scott Jaschik quotes “critical rationalist” as saying:

    “We may agree with chairman Mao that a revolution is not a dinner party, but this does not imply one should firmly believe that only violent means will do the job. In my humble opinion, focusing on equal rights and opportunities, rather than equal outcomes, is a fairer approach.”

    First of all, since when was a boycott violent means?

    Second his second sentence introduces a false dichotomy. The reasons for focusing on equal outcomes is that they give a somewhat crude measure of the state of equal rights and opportunities. Several other measures could be proposed: The existence of anti-harassment policies; Taking into account parental responsibilities; Etc.. If I am not privy to the discussions of the organisers of an event, I can only focus on such measures. But I do so in the hope the those privy to such discussions focus on equal rights and opportunities.

  2. jonathanray says

    Jumping to the “tolerance of sexual harassment” conclusion defies Hanlon’s razor. Most philosophers are probably ignorant of their colleagues’ sexual relations because that is unrelated to what they do professionally. Reading stories about strangers online doesn’t fix that.

    There are rumors of Shermer’s promiscuity, but nothing’s wrong with promiscuity. There’s no smoking gun first-hand report of him actually harassing someone, even among anonymous comments online.

    I could see how someone who hooked up with him and really got their hopes up only to be abandoned the next day could have a major case of jealousy and sour grapes that could cause them to unconciously retcon their own memories to make him seem like more of a douchebag and result in FUD-style rumors without any specifics of a particular instance of abuse.

  3. julian says

    Most people are ignorant of a colleague’s wrong doing because they don’t pay attention and bend over backwards to make excuses.

  4. says

    This has been going on for some time, and not just in Philosophy departments, unfortunately. There was a professor at my undergraduate university who, in addition to being lazy, racist, and sexist, had a long reputation of sexually harassing female students. And yet, he still worked at the school as a faculty member in good standing, which left many students scratching their heads.

    I suspect that the problem is rooted in institutional laziness and a fear of lawsuits from fired professors. It’s unfortunate, because inappropriate behavior toward students and female faculty should NOT be tolerated.

  5. Jean says

    I could see how someone who hooked up with him and really got their hopes up only to be abandoned the next day could have a major case of jealousy and sour grapes that could cause them to unconciously retcon their own memories to make him seem like more of a douchebag and result in FUD-style rumors without any specifics of a particular instance of abuse.

    That is exactly why the problem continues to exist. Blame the woman reporting something so that she won’t be believed and that anyone else won’t dare to report. jonathanray, you’re the one spreading FUD.

  6. mythbri says

    Oh, my non-existent god. Is there anyway we can do philosophy a solid, and copy-paste this entire argument for them? Seriously, how many times does this need to be discussed in the exact same way, with the exact same arguments?

    They’re philosophers. They can learn by reading.

  7. smhll says

    So, I read on some geeky female forums, and there’s an event that happened at ReaderCon (?) where they have a zero tolerance policy and lots of evidence of sexual harassment that went on for awhile, but they banned the guy for only two years, apparently because he’s important and has organized Cons himself. Anybody else following that case?

  8. says

    There are rumors of Shermer’s promiscuity, but nothing’s wrong with promiscuity. There’s no smoking gun first-hand report of him actually harassing someone, even among anonymous comments online.

    That doesn’t mean no one was harassed by him (being a serial sexual harasser has fuckall to do with being “promiscuous” and everything to do with being a total asshole, btw). If you knew someone who got harassed by him and that person didn’t want everyone to know who she was/what happened would you tell? I wouldn’t, and women know now that if they talk about being harassed they will get a lot of hateful shit from dudes online (even if you don’t name the guy, but especially if you do). What woman in her right mind would sign up for that? You are using an environment that discourages reporting, and the subsequent lack of reports, as proof that nothing has happened.

  9. Sili says

    In my humble opinion, focusing on equal rights and opportunities, rather than equal outcomes, is a fairer approach.

    And he is of course free to do so.

    The beautiful thing about boycotts is that they are (/can be) grassroots movements. Noöne is saying you can’t put on an unbalanced conference, but likewise you cannot force us to attend (however much you apparently want to – how’s that for violent?).

    That description of “The Smoker” was disgusting? How the fuck is it legal to pull stunts like that? I guess I can see the convenience of performing interviews at a conference – saving on travel expenses and all – but this is the first I’ve ever heard of such a thing being done.

  10. Sili says

    There are rumors of Shermer’s promiscuity, but nothing’s wrong with promiscuity. There’s no smoking gun first-hand report of him actually harassing someone, even among anonymous comments online.

    This is the first time I’ve heard Shermer mentioned in all of this.

    Thank you, jonathanray. Your rumourmongering has now been filed away – however unconsciously – in my mind, and in future I’m likely to always have a bad feeling about Shermer when he comes up in conversation.

  11. says

    Skeptifem: “You are using an environment that discourages reporting, and the subsequent lack of reports, as proof that nothing has happened.”

    This, a hundred times this. I would feel almost worried about telling a women to report something, let alone if I were to have to report something myself, because of the intense amounts of vitriolic hate and degradation that reporting seems to bring out on the internet.

  12. says

    jonathanray:

    Is there something verifiable that you’d like to share with the class? I don’t think Ophelia had any one person in mind here. (And I stress verifiable. Otherwise STFU.)

  13. Foreigner says

    What woman in her right mind would sign up for that?

    One who doesn’t want another woman to be subject to the same harassment? Of course, there is a risk that she is dismissed out of hand and nothing gets done. But, to quote the old basketball aphorism “you will miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

  14. Sgaile-beairt says

    @smhll Yes & i am very disappointed that Readercon’s vaunted zero tolerance policy turned out to mean ‘zero tolerance for people we dont’ like, plenty for our oldboy BFFs’ and several women who know better & have been strong anti-harassment voices are turning out to be chill girl apologists (‘well he never harrassed ME!’) when it’s a friend of theirs.

    HOWEVER one of the board members has resigned in protest, a HUGE boycott by authors and former guests and advertisers as well as regular attendees is in progress and the committee is looking to see if there is a way they can overturn the board on this.

    So its not exactly like TAM after all, either….

  15. sailor1031 says

    “…I suspect that the problem is rooted in institutional laziness and a fear of lawsuits from fired professors.”

    I suspect that’s quite right but the institutions should be concerned about doing the right thing, if for no other reason than that their failure to act may render them liable to litigation. It is most unfortunate that in the goldfish bowl world of academic philosophy suing one’s employer is a total career killer, no matter how much right you have on your side. The Universities and colleges need to fix this. There is a reason why corporate America generally has zero tolerance for sexual harassment.

  16. kaboobie says

    @smhll My husband actually sent me some links about that over the weekend. A (male) writer acquaintance of his has written about it and is strongly supporting the boycott. I haven’t followed up on the links yet (I kinda wanted to take the weekend off from reading about sexual harassment, y’know?) but will delve into the situation this week.

  17. Vicki says

    I’ve been following the Readercon thing in detail, including the large number of protests from current and former, and no-longer-potential, Readercon members about the board’s decision. There’s now a petition demanding both that René Walling be banned for life and that the board resign; the people who have signed it include at least one former Readercon GoH.

    In the corner of fandom I’m in, the discussion includes whether Readercon should change its policy in the future, and whether there should be additional consequences for this harasser. Not so much “Should he be banned for life, as the policy states?” (most of the people I’ve been reading say yes) but “how much publicity is appropriate, for the sake of people at other cons?”

    Meanwhile, some people are wondering whether this offense is such that we should cut him out of our lives entirely. Because this sort of thing is a lot easier if the harasser is a stranger, not a person you’ve shared meals with.

    If anyone wants a lot of links, B. C. Holmes is keeping tabs on the discussion: http://blog.bcholmes.org/the-readercon-thing/

    I have also written off one old acquaintance, for pulling out the “unverified accusations” line in response to a story that stated explicitly that the harasser does not dispute the charges. But that was easy: I haven’t seen or spoken to him, online or off, in at least a decade.

    While there’s nothing like unanimity, the large number of voices saying “What Rene did was wrong” and the relatively few that are defending him is heartening. Much more so than when Harlan Ellison groped Connie Willis on stage a few years ago: and while Ellison is a bigger name than Walling, Connie Willis is a bigger name than the woman who was harassed at Readercon. “He didn’t mean any harm” may not be comforting, but it’s better than “That’s just Harlan” as if the offender was a force of nature.

  18. Vicki says

    Sorry. Having been thinking and talking about this all weekend, I forgot that I am talking about a different if overlapping subculture. Readercon is a mostly book-focused science fiction convention held in the Boston area. They have a website. At the most recent Readercon, someone who has worked on a lot of science fiction conventions harassed another conmember.

    The con has (or had?) a published “zero-tolerance” policy on harassment, stating that harassers would be expelled from the convention and banned for life. (This has happened once in the past.) However, in this case, they accepted the complaint as valid and then handed down a two-year ban, initially with no explanation. The current explanation is “he said he knew it was wrong and he’s sorry.”

    I would like to believe that he knew it was wrong and is sorry and won’t do it again, but whether or not that’s true, the apparent policy is “zero tolerance for harassment if you have no friends, a much less serious sanction if we know/like you.”

    [I could go on about this at excessive length, I fear.]

  19. Smhlle says

    The readercon story is more satisfying, less aggravating to discuss because there were apparently a sufficient number of witnesses. (Grrrrr – sufficient.)

  20. kaboobie says

    Vicki, thanks for the B.C. Holmes link. I’ve read about the harassment incident and the response from the convention. Now I’m slowly working my way through some of the other responses.

    So much of this sounds very familiar!

  21. richardmccargar says

    Top dude, known to harass, still invited to speak at the Democrat National Convention: Bill Clinton.

    It’s easy to say we want to shun people when they aren’t important to our long-term goals.

    If former president Clinton isn’t the poster child of a man excused for a career of boorish behavior, I wouldn’t know who would be second in contention.

    Not only is he not shunned, he is praised, welcomed, and showered with invitations and cash.

    For myself, I am really tired of the double standards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>