The iceberg theory of sexual harassment

Danish politics is right now rocked by Morten Østergaard, the leader of the mid-center party Radikale Venstre, stepping down due to a 10-year old case of sexual harassment. The case that led to him stepping down, was the report of him groping a female member of parliament from the same party when she first became a member of parliament, 10 years ago. It came out when the party decided to have a 24-hour session, where people could call in and report or talk about past cases of sexual harassment. This is part of the party’s attempt to change the sexist political culture in Denmark.

A lot of people have of course focused on the so-called irony of the leader having to step down due to the very problem the party is trying to fight. Which of course shows that people really don’t get the whole concept of trying to change the culture.

Morten Østergaard has himself explained that he stepped down not because of the old incident, but rather due his handling of the case after it came out, trying to claim it had been handled internally, without admitting it was him who had done it.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of people attacked the woman, Lotte Rod, who stepped forward, claiming that it was a coup – apparently in coordination with Sofie Carsten Nielsen, the woman who took over as leader of the party, even though Lotte Rod didn’t support her as the new party leader. They also make a great point of it being a very minor transgression (an unwanted touch) which in no way should lead to such drastic results.

I, on the other hand, was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

You see, I have developed something I could call the iceberg theory of sexual harassment (note, I am not using theory in the scientific way here). It goes something like this: Any credible report of sexual harassment about a person or organization, hides a equal or larger number of unreported cases. Unreported in this case, might not be internally, but definitely not known to the general public/surroundings.

The iceberg theory is based on empirical evidence, but is also based on the simple fact that people who are unwilling to respond boundaries in one case, is likely to not be willing to respect boundaries in other cases. This is true for sexual harassment, and it is true for things such as sexual assaults and rape (see e.g. Repeat Rapists on Campus, which explains that repeat rapists are responsible for a majority of rapes). Do note, that I am not claiming that people who commit sexual harassment will go on to commit sexual assault or rape, but that the same type of mechanisms are in play.

On the organizational level, it has been shown many times that an organization that accepts sexual harassment in one case, has also accepted it in many other cases.

And of course, the other shoe also dropped in the case with Morten Østergaard, who admitted that there was also a complaint about him from 2016. This time, from a 21 year old intern. This was apparently not know to the other members of parliament for the party, which is quite likely due to legal reasons.

Is this the last case? Only time will tell, but it certainly did show that his decision to step down was the right one, and that there is a lot of work left to change the political environment. Both in Radikale Venstre, where the process has started, but also in the other political parties, which to a large degree seems either to ignore the problem or to deny that there is one.


Note, there is comment moderation switched on, which means that if you haven’t had a comment approved before on this blog, your comment will be put into a queue until I approve it. I will try to check regularly for new comments, but I am somewhat away from my computer most of this weekend, so it might take a little time before I notice and approve the comment.

It should go without saying that sexist, bigoted and slanderous comments won’t be approved.

Let’s mourn Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I woke up to the horrible news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, 87 years old.

As probably was the case for most of you, I immediately start thinking about the consequences of her death – i.e. what horrible candidate Trump would think up, how the Democrats could fight that, and what the consequences would be of that. This is of course, important, and if you want to hear some good thoughts about that, I recommend listening to the Opening Arguments podcast special episode, made just after the hosts learned about her death.

But I also think it is important that we pay proper respect to Ruth Bader Gindburg, or Notorious R.B.G. as she was often referred to on the internet. She was a icon of feminism and civil rights, and should be remembered for her role in fighting gender inequality in the US.

Before becoming a judge, she worked at the ACLU, and they have released an obituary of her.

In Memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice who first rose to national prominence as an ACLU lawyer fighting for equal rights for women, has died at 87 years old.

She began Harvard Law School as a young mother and one of only nine women in her class, and became the architect of a legal strategy to eradicate gender discrimination in the United States. She modeled her approach after that of Thurgood Marshall on race discrimination, planning for a series of cases at the Supreme Court, each precedent paving the way for the next that would further expand rights and protections. In 1993, she joined the court as an associate justice, and over the decades became a cultural icon beloved for her vision and passion in defending the rights of women.

As the obituary makes clear, RBG’s impact came from not just her work as a justice on the US Supreme Court, but also from her work before becoming a justice.

This is also the point of the obituary of the Guardian

Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed America long before she joined the supreme court

The most important feminist lawyer in the history of the American republic has died. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a supreme court justice and singularly influential legal mind, was appointed by Bill Clinton in 1993, the court’s second-ever female justice, and served for nearly 30 years. She passed away due to complications from cancer on Friday. She was 87.

Strategic, contemplative and disciplined, but with a passion for the feminist cause that is rarely admitted into the halls of power, Ginsburg established an impressive legal legacy long before she became a judge. Over the course of a two-decade career as a lawyer before her appointment to the DC circuit court of appeals, she successfully argued cases that expanded civil rights law and 14th amendment protections to women, undoing a dense network of laws that had codified sex discrimination in all areas of American life. After she was elevated to the nation’s highest court, she found her own views moving left as the institution was pushed to the right. Her career was defined by courageous dissents that stood up for the principle of equal justice and kept alive the promise of a more free and fair America.

In the coming days, where the death of Ginsburg undoubtedly will expose the hypocrisy of McConnell, it will be all too easy to forget to mourn Gindburg the person, and not just mourn and feel angry at the consequences of her death. She doesn’t deserve that. She deserve to be remembered as the force of good that she has been through her life.

Rest in power Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Shining a light on Victoria’s Secret

There is a lengthy article in New York Times about Victoria’s Secret, and the behavior of some of its senior people.

Note, content warning: sexual assault, harassment, misogyny.

‘Angels’ in Hell: The Culture of Misogyny Inside Victoria’s Secret

A Times investigation found widespread bullying and harassment of employees and models. The company expresses “regret.”

The article calls it bullying and harassment, but what they describe also includes sexual assault:

[I]nside the company, two powerful men presided over an entrenched culture of misogyny, bullying and harassment, according to interviews with more than 30 current and former executives, employees, contractors and models, as well as court filings and other documents.

Ed Razek, for decades one of the top executives at L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, was the subject of repeated complaints about inappropriate conduct. He tried to kiss models. He asked them to sit on his lap. He touched one’s crotch ahead of the 2018 Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

Touching someone’s crotch, aside from being something the current president advocate, is clearly sexual assault.

I am not surprised that a company like Victoria’s Secret has a big streak of misogyny, but the behavior described actually shocks me – the company is nothing without the models, and these models are among the most powerful in the modeling world, yet even so, they had to experience this behavior.

Hopefully the article will put an end to this, and will ensure a culture change in the company.

Sexual harassment is everywhere

Content note: Sexual harassment and sexual assault (especially at the linked stories)

More and more stories about sexual harassment and sexual assault is coming out.

It has been happening for at least the last 36 years at the US olympic sports organizations

More than 290 coaches and officials associated with the United States’ Olympic sports organizations have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct since 1982, according to a Washington Post review of sport governing body banned lists, news clips and court records in several states. The figure spans parts of 15 sports and amounts to an average of eight adults connected to an Olympic organization accused of sexual misconduct every year — or about one every six weeks — for more than 36 years.

The figure includes more than 175 officials convicted of sex crimes as well as those who never faced criminal charges and have denied claims, such as Andy Gabel, an Olympian and former U.S. Speedskating president banned from the sport in 2013 after two women alleged he forced himself on them; and Don Peters, the 1984 Olympic gymnastics coach banned after two women alleged he had sex with them when they were teenagers.

It happened at TED

I was a member of TED’s Office Culture Task Force, a committee of people appointed to help make the office a desirable place to work. While I think we did a great job planning fun activities, the committee functioned beyond it’s intended scope. It was the default HR team – TED didn’t have HR for most of my time there.

While in that role, many people told me in confidence how they were harassed. We all felt conflicted – do we tell our stories and risk losing our job at TED and the community surrounding TED that we love so much, or do we carry on and deal with it as best we can?

It also happened at DC comics

Eddie Berganza, a top editor at the company who oversaw Superman and Wonder Woman properties, faces allegations from several colleagues

And of course it happened at Hollywood, at Fox, at Congress, and everywhere else. Now, it seems like it might have consequences ( but then, Trump is still the elected president of the US)

When do you stop being a good man?

TW: Mentions of rape.

Apparently rape is not enough for a man to not be a good man – at least not according to Fourth District Court Judge Thomas Low

“The court had no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinarily good man,” Low said just moments before sentencing Keith Vallejo to prison for sexually abusing the two females. “But great men, sometimes do bad things,” Low continued.

According to the article, the Judge said this while at least one of the victims sat in the room.

When feminists talk about rape culture, this is the sort of thing they mean. A man is accused and convicted of raping someone, and the judge still call him an “extraordinarily good man”.

The civil rights group Restore Our Humanity, is going to file a complaint against the judge. Hopefully this will remove the judge from any similar cases in the future.

Saluting people changing Denmark for the better

I think we all know that it is dangerous to make people into heroes, since they often show us their all too human sides. Yet, I also think it is important to acknowledge that there are a lot of people doing heroic work, trying to change society for the better. One of the major reasons why this is important, is because it is hard work to do so, and it can be easy to think that it doesn’t make any difference, and that nobody appreciate the work.

So, in that spirit, I want to acknowledge some amazing people doing great work in Denmark.

In recent months, I have been lucky enough to be at a couple of events where some of these amazing people participated, so I thought I’d share a couple of pictures from these events, and acknowledge the great work these people do.

Politikens Akademi feminist debate

Feminist debate

The picture shows a debate panel of five feminists, which happened on September 26, 2016. The debate was about feminism in the future, and didn’t try to create a false balance between feminists and non-feminists, but instead invited five feminists, so we could skip the whole debate about whether feminism is even necessary.

The participants are:

  • Rasmus Brygger – a libertarian feminist. I have some serious problems with Brygger and the brand of feminism he represents, but I admire him for trying to fight for feminism in a very hostile environment.
  • Emma Holten – well known for her great work fighting for consent and against revenge porn. She has done a lot to change the whole debate on this issue, not only in Denmark, but in all of Europe. On top of that, she does a lot of other great work for feminism and against inequality. I am a huge fan of her and hers work.
  • Natasha Al-Hariri – a Danish-Palestinian feminist. Often involved in debates related to feminism and immigrants, and debates about immigrants and integration in general.
  • Sanne Søndergaard – a comedian who often incorporates feminist themes in her sketches. The comedy scene in Denmark is quite misogynist, and Sanne Søndergaard is often the target of horrible attacks started, or at least cheered on, by her colleagues.
  • Henrik Marstal – musician and self-described gender traitor. One of the few vocal male feminists in Denmark.

I don’t agree with all of these five people on all issues, but they are doing a lot of work trying to make Denmark more feminist, suffering a horrific amount of abuse in the process. Even so, they continue the work. I cannot adequately express my admiration for what they do.

 

20161125_171447

The second picture is from a political meetup, where the subject was what could be done to reduce hatred in Denmark. This came after the Brexit and Trump votes.

The 3 participants were:

  • Tommy Petersen – a liberal member of the city council of Copenhagen for Radikale. He was one of the organizers of the first Copenhagen Pride parade.
  • Natasha Al-Hariri – I described her above, but here she participated due to her work with integration and acceptance of immigrants.
  • Niddal El-Jabri – the husband of Natasha Al-Hariri. Known for creating a peace-ring around the Jewish Synagogue after the attacks on it in February, 2015. He is involved with Mino Danmark, an organization working to help fellowship and a common community between people in Denmark, no matter their background.

There are many people working hard for tolerance, and against the intolerance expressed by xenophobic parties like Dansk Folkeparti, so these three are only a small sample, but the work each individual do is extremely important.

What is also important, is that we do it in different ways.

Since racism and xenophobia is not based upon facts, but rather feelings, it is important that there are people willing to reach out to people on the other side, and try to show them that their fears are irrelevant. This doesn’t mean we all should do that – there is also a need for people to forcefully confront the lies and propaganda spread by xenophobes, and that is certainly the path I have chosen, but it is good that there are people like Natasha Al-Hariri and Niddal El-Jabri trying to create bridges.

Male members form a barrier for women joining the corporate boards

Slate reports on PwC’s 2016 Annual Corporate Directors Survey, and points out something important.

Male Corporate Board Members Aren’t Stoked About Adding Women to Their Ranks

Much has been made over gender diversity on corporate boards in recent years. Study after study after study has shown that companies perform better when they have women on their boards of directors; it’s fair to assume that even the most crotchety, least woke board member would admit that gender diversity is an admirable goal, in theory.

Or is it? According to a new survey of 884 directors of public companies, 10 percent of current board members think the ideal number of women on a corporate board is somewhere between 20 percent of the board and zero. Zero! One in 10 directors mulled over the prospect of sharing a conference table with women and thought, “I could tolerate zero women, or maybe a very tiny proportion of women, but that is absolutely it.”

Every time the subject of women in corporate boards come up, there are always someone who claims that women have equal opportunity, and that there is no need for quotas or other measures to get more women into corporate boards. This study clearly shows that this is nonsense – there is an significant number of existing members of the boards that are actively against more women on the boards, so they form a barrier for women to join.

And don’t expect that corporate boards are swayed by evidence. As Slate stated, there are many studies that show that companies perform better when they have women on their boards of directors, but this doesn’t convince the male members

diversity-male-female-opinions

Source of the figure.

Given the weight of the evidence, the clear correct answers to the questions is “very much”, yet a majority of men doesn’t think this is the case.

RTL apologizes for spreading revenge porn

I recently wrote a blogpost about the media helping spreading revenge porn. In that post I mentioned how the German TV channel RTL had spread revenge porn of Danish feminist Emma Holten in a program about her.

As I mentioned in the blogpost, Emma Holten was taking steps towards legal action against RTL, and now there are more news on the matter.

The magazine of the Danish journalist union brings the news that RTL has settled with Emma Holten (article in Danish). The settlement involves RTL apologizing, acknowledging that they had violated Emma Holten, and giving a sizable compensation.

According to the article, and to Emma Holten’s comments on facebook and instagram (both links in Danish), this is a very satisfactory result, since it saves the trouble of a court case in Germany, and it sends a clear signal that media can’t violate the privacy of people just because somebody already had done so.

Congratulations to Emma Holten on a good result – hopefully she never has to fight this fight ever again.

 

Media, don’t spread revenge porn!

I find it amazing that it is necessary for me to write this post, but it appears to be necessary.

When you are a journalist, TV reporter, blogger, or any other type of media person reporting on revenge porn, you shouldn’t help spread the revenge porn!

Again and again, we see news stories reporting on revenge porn, in which examples of said revenge porn (sometimes censored) is included.

This is not OK. This helps spreading the revenge porn, and harm the victims.

A recent example of this is the German TV channel RTL, which in June reported on the story of Emma Holten who had pictures of her leaked on the internet, and as a response created some new pictures of herself, to take back ownership of her body. This has been widely reported on, e.g. in this video at the Guardian: Someone stole naked pictures of me. This is what I did about it.

RTL had made a story about Emma Holten and her experiences last year, where they used the new pictures, after having obtained the right to use them.

This time around, they also showed the new pictures of Emma Holten, but they also showed some of the original leaked photos, uncensored. As a matter of fact, they apparently spent more time on showing the leaked photos than the others.

All this happened without Emma Holten being informed about it, and thus obviously without her consent.

The Guardian has a good article on the incident and the results of it: Revenge porn survivor may take legal action against German TV firm

What the Guardian article doesn’t make clear is that RTL at first was dismissive of Emma Holten’s objections, saying there was a language barrier at play, but since then, the channel has apologized and removed the program from the internet, and promised that it won’t ever be broadcasted again.

Currently I don’t know if Emma Holten will press on with legal action, but if she does, she has my full support, and I hope that it will stop other medias from helping spread revenge porn in the future.

The Why Women initiative

There is a new Danish initiative, Why Women, which officially launches next week, but which already has a website. The about page describes the initiative thus:

THE WHY has initiated the media initiative; WHY WOMEN? The project aims to raise awareness about the challenges faced by women and girls today. WHY WOMEN? consists of 10 short films, 2 documentary films, a reportage and various outreach activities.

WHY WOMEN? launches in May 2016, when New York-based NGO, Women Deliver hosts the world’s largest conference on the conditions of girls and women worldwide in Copenhagen, Denmark. THE WHY wants to make use of the momentum created by Women Deliver and initiate a public debate about the challenges of gender inequality.

The short films and documentary films are already online an can be viewed on the website (and elsewhere). I have embedded one of the videos, Striving for Utopias, which is written by Emma Holten and voiced by Dame Helen Mirren. Note that it is NSFW due to nudity in small parts of the short film.

An initiative like this is welcome in Denmark, where there anti-feminism is widespread in the media, and where prominent politicians frequently make verbal attacks on not just feminism, but often specific feminists. I am not naive to think that the initiative will stop that, but hopefully it will help change not only the tone, but also the focus of the debate.