Sunday, November 12, 2017

38.5 - Outrage of the Week: sexism, the cause of sexual harassment and assault

Outrage of the Week: sexism, the cause of sexual harassment and assault

I have talked on occasion on this show about the scourge of racism, one of our two great national evil -isms. I have also talked some about our least recognized -ism, that of classism, our contempt for the poor no matter their race.

But I have not talked enough about our other big national evil -ism: sexism. But this week it is the Outrage of the Week.

There has been a lot of talk and news recently about sexual assault and sexual harassment as the hashtag #metoo continues to trend. It seems not a day goes by now without some man whose name you know being accused of sexual harassment or assault as the fact that some women have come forth has emboldened others to tell their stories which has in turn emboldened still more.

It's like a floodgate has been opened, releasing a torrent of pent-up frustrations, hurts, injuries, and bad memories.

It's important this is happening because - the temptation is to say it "reminds" men, but that allows for too much prior awareness; let's say rather it hopefully "informs" and "educates" some men and for some who were to some degree aware, "emphasizes" to them just how commonplace these sorts of experiences are for women, just how almost, if not in fact, routine they are. Not so much the outright physical violence, but the degradations, the humiliations, the commonplace put-downs and sneers they experience.

A good place to see this was a recent article in which four women, all US senators, recalled their own experiences with sexual harassment and the comments section on the article, as is all too common, is where the truth of things was visible, as the comments were chock-a-block with things like:
- Are we sure these are women? (with the response of) They are women, that no one wants to go near.
- They got hit with the Ugly stick a couple of times.
- I think they are faking and just hostile because they are NOT a man.
- They could only PRAY for someone, probably legally blind, to hit on them.
- The Guys Involved must have really been hard up for some action!!
- I would think that these homely women would be flattered.
- There [sic] just upset cause they were told to do the dishes.
Numerous cases, that is, of denials of their words and sneering references to their appearance, which served as proxies for denial of either the truth or the significance of the accounts.

The fact is, sexual harassment can be anything from a passing crude comment to a laser-focused, deliberate, on-going attack; sexual assault can be anything from an unwanted grope to brutal and brutalizing rape. The effects on victims can be anything from mere irritation to physical and emotional catastrophe.

It is vital, it is important, it is necessary that we as society, particularly we as men, face, acknowledge, and deal with this - but at the same time there is a point in all of this that I don't want to get lost.

A recent article claimed that a common thread among the abusers in the news lately was economic inequality, that the abusers were in a position to damage their targets' jobs or careers if the victims resisted or complained. Which I would say is close but not quite right - the difference between abuser and abused is not money but power, social power, social dominance. In these cases it was the money issues involved that created that power, but it was the power dynamic itself that lay at the root.
Men do not abuse their girlfriends, their fiancees, their wives because of the economic inequality between them; the subway groper has no control over his victim's job; the date rapist is not thinking about her career prospects.

Because sexual harassment and assault, for all their venomous nature, are not ultimately the issue. They are an outgrowth of the issue.

The issue is sexism, the root of the poisonous plant of sexual harassment and assault. The issue is the underlying assumptions about women that society has long held and still does hold and yes, including among too many women, who are no less likely to be shaped by the culture around them than men are, assumptions either that women are inferior to men or that women should be, deserve to be, "protected" by men - both of which relegate women to lesser status and, as we are also finding about race, assumptions which few people will admit to embracing but which they still express in attitudes and behavior even if they are not consciously aware of it

Beyond the recent news about sexual harassment and assault, there was something else that prompted addressing this now. It was an article I recently came across at the website of the Harvard Business Review. I want to tell you about it.

The article noted that despite improvements, women remain underrepresented among CEOs, receive lower salaries, and are less likely to receive that critical first promotion to manager than men are and looked to examine the claim that this was because - it wasn't put this way, but it's what it came down to - women are not as ambitious as men. [The three links are from the article.]

So they asked: Do women and men act all that differently at work?

Working with what was described as "a large multinational firm," researchers
collected email communication and meeting schedule data for hundreds of employees in one office, across all levels of seniority, over the course of four months. We then gave 100 of these individuals sociometric badges, which allowed us to track in-person behavior.
I'm going to skip over relating what data they gathered and how they went about maintaining employees' anonymity and so on to get to the conclusion. They found
almost no perceptible differences in the behavior of men and women. Women had the same number of contacts as men, they spent as much time with senior leadership, and they allocated their time similarly to men in the same role. [M]en and women had indistinguishable work patterns in the amount of time they spent online, in concentrated work, and in face-to-face conversation. And in performance evaluations men and women received statistically identical scores. This held true for women at each level of seniority. [Emphasis added.]
They also found men and women had roughly equal levels of access to senior management and that women were just as central as men in the workplace's social network.

Yet men were advancing in the hierarchy and women weren't, and at each higher level of management there were fewer women.
Our analysis suggests that the difference in promotion rates between men and women was due not to their behavior but to how they were treated. Gender inequality is due to bias, not differences in behavior.
In other words, the cause is sexism. The existence of sexism in the workplace is well-established, so it's not so much that this is new information, as it is meticulously researched information, with the very meticulous nature of the work adding to the outrage of the message it carries.

Sexism, the assumptions that constitute sexism and the sense of privilege and power those assumptions breed, even if unconsciously, in men, is the problem.

It's sexism. Sexism is the reason why women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America, the reason why women don't advance in business despite earning more college degrees than men for thirty years and counting. Sexism is the reason why despite improvement women still get paid only 83% of what men do.

And sexism and the corrupting influence of power it feeds is why women have been forced to pretend to ignore the smirks and sneers, to abide the grabs and gropes, to fear the silent street and the empty elevator.

It is good, it is needed, it is brave of this growing number of women to speak out about the harassment and even assault they have experienced, to let other women know that they are not alone and no, their own experience was not an outlier; it is necessary for men to hear this message, to absorb it, and frankly it's even necessary for some women who will continue to deny it.

In realities ranging from stifled dreams and blunted careers to harassment and brutal assault we have the chills, the throbbing aches, the raging fevers; in sexism we have the disease.

I have, yes, several times denounced racism on this show. It's about time I denounced our other great social wrong, the outrage, the monumental outrage, of sexism.

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