gender, language, politics

Outing the Pervs

 

I wish I could feel triumphant at the Outing of the Pervs. But I fear the law of unintended consequences: the overturning of one important signifier of male prerogative will surely bring with it some backlash. And I notice that, although the scandal has been percolating for over a month, nothing really has changed, aside from the firing of a few of the more prominent offenders. Again, this is gratifying, but barely counts as even the tip of the iceberg.

 

On a recent PBS NewsHour, Rebecca Traister raised a relevant concern: since the offenders have been male, and attention along with sympathy naturally focuses on males, most of the media discussion of the problem of sexual harassment has focused on the perps, not their victims. This is unusual in crime stories: usually in a lurid case, media attention fixates on the victim, especially if female: her beauty, her virtue, her accomplishments. But discussions of sexual harassers focus on the men and their prominence, as well of course as their peculiar behaviors. So, Traister suggests, it may be only a short time before the objects of our attention become the objects of our sympathy – the poor guys, they couldn’t help it, it wasn’t so bad after all, was it, the women were asking for it… all the usuals. I hope not, but our society is not used to seeing males as blameworthy, and along with Traister I wonder how long we can keep it up. Our President is leading the way in his exculpation of Roy Moore: “He has denied everything.” (And since when does a “not guilty” plea equal a verdict of innocence?)

 

Trump’s evasions on Moore are more astonishing since, when asked about Weinstein, who has similarly denied engaging in nonconsensual sexual activity, Trump responded, “I’m not surprised,” which conversationally implicates, “He’s guilty.” Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

Depth Charge

I know I have dealt with this topic before, but it keeps turning up, unresolved and unresolvable, in new guises, so I keep worrying it (and vice versa) like a problem tooth. It is our inability to distinguish between root causes and superficial symptoms, so that we think we are resolving the former when in fact we are just scratching around at the latter: putting a band aid on a cancer.

 

Too many problems that we try to resolve at a superficial level are about some form of deep societal malaise – things we really wish would go away, things we really hate to look at – so it’s not surprising that we don’t have the moral stamina to get down to the nitty-gritty and figure out how to change ourselves and our minds in significant ways.

 

Two such problems, involving the ancient triangulation of language, gender, and power– how we use language to hide the depth and breadth of power differences between the genders — have been in the news a lot. I’ve talked about one before, sexual harassment in universities and other prestigious institutions. The other is the topic of an interesting article in the May 8 New York Times Magazine. By Emily Bazelon, it asks what we should do about prostitution: continue to keep it criminalized, or decriminalize it? Continue reading

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gender, other topics, politics

Keeping Women Out

 

A very interesting, if depressing, article appeared in the New York Times’s “Sunday Review” on March 6. In it A. Hope Jahren, a professor of geobiology, offered one answer to the question, “Why are there too few women in science?”

 

The problem doesn’t stop with science. An article, “Emoji Feminism,” by Amy Butcher, in the “Sunday Review” on March 13, notes that:

 

In most professions, women make less than men, but in academia this pay gap is compounded by the fact that women tend to spend more uncompensated time advising students while also being subjected to student evaluations that studies show are consistently biased against them. Female academics are promoted at much slower rates, and fewer still choose to stay in the field as a result, and even fewer, then, are even present when the time for tenure comes. Perhaps it’s no surprise that men hold three-quarters of full professorships within the United States.

 

The problem is arguably worse in the physical sciences (the STEM fields) because they are especially prestigious, so women lose more if they are kept out of those fields. But the reasons why fewer women than men hold tenured positions in all academic fields are similar. In the humanities as well as the social sciences, there is a curious downward spiral: in most of these fields, the number of women admitted to Ph.D. programs is at least equal to that of men, and often greater; but women fail to get their degrees, or drop out early in their careers, at disturbing rates. Something is keeping smart women from using their intelligence. Continue reading

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gender, language

Sexual Harassment: They Still Just Don’t Get It

 

You have probably heard about Berkeley’s current sex scandal: Geoffrey Marcy, prominent astronomer, has been forced to resign his tenured position after acknowledging repeated acts of sexual harassment against female students, staff, and colleagues. The harassments consisted of “groping, touching, and massaging” his victims under their clothing. Such behavior violates the University’s code of conduct, and the University claims to have a “zero tolerance” policy toward it. Continue reading

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