Some more on sexual harassment

In Monday’s Washington Post, Sally Kohn argues that “Sexual harassment should be treated as a hate crime”:

We have to stop seeing sexual harassment and sexual assault as some sort of flattery of women gone awry. In truth, sexual assault has nothing to do with sex, or sexuality, or flirting, or courtship, or love. Rather, sexual assault is a kind of hate. The men who gratify themselves by abusing women aren’t getting off on those women, but on power. These men don’t sexually assault women because they like women but because they despise them as subordinate creatures. We should call it misogynistic harassment and misogynistic assault, not sexual assault. These are hate crimes.

Had she stopped there, the column would have been another example of why “hate crime laws” are noxious weeds, but she didn’t stop:

I don’t mean this in the formal, legal sense. Hate crimes are already problematic ….

Whew! That’s a relief!

But then, what’s her point?

  • We need to fight the misogyny, sexism and the systemic marginalization of women and disproportionate empowerment of men. That’s what creates the society-wide dynamic in which men think they’re better than women …
  • the predictable dynamics of a society that hates women.
  • we need to see about how our boardrooms and stockrooms and classrooms and family dining rooms teach, incentivize and perpetuate misogynistic hate.
  • Employers also need to address misogynistic hate deep within corporate culture and rooted in business policies …
  • Whether we realize it or not, most men hate women. As do most women as well; studies show
  • we’ve all grown up inside the rotten barrel of a society that automatically grants men disproportionate power and privilege …
  • it’s the rotten air we’ve all learned to breathe. That’s the rot at the core of misogynistic harassment and assault — a rot within all of us, that has nothing to do with sex or affection and everything to do with hate.

My synthesis of that list of quotes is “our society is rotten, top to bottom and surface to core. Maybe even that nature is rotten.

I’ve complained that we’re not getting to the bottom of the sexual harassment revelations (and no doubt false accusations in at least a few cases), so I’ll give Kohn credit for trying to get more radical (that is, getting to the roots).

But her “woke” indictment is too sweeping to be of any use. It’s the secular counterpart to a generic Christian meta-explanation “Why? Because ‘sin,’ that’s why, dummy” or a Calvinist positing that it’s all fore-ordained to glorify God’s sovereign good pleasure.

The level of generality it too high to help. Only the “woke” will bite, and if they try to impose some specific top-down solutions to a society that is (according to Kohn) so fundamentally rotten, they’ll produce more populist backlash, more Donald Trumps, more Roy Moores.

Maybe there are a few nuggets in there, but I rate it, overall, “not helpful.”

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Maybe I’m too pessimistic about progress on sexual harassment thus far:

There is a radical change in culture. Things which used to be tolerated by both genders are now increasingly defined as inconceivable. And I find it interesting that this case focuses on the margins: You said, but you didn’t touch. It’s a good place for the debate to be. It’s an interesting indication how the culture has changed.

(Amitai Etzioni) “Inconceivable.” Oh! Wait! That was written 26 years ago! Never mind.

(H/T Joel Mathis, who’s somewhat skeptical himself.)

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Helpful—no, make that “Bracing”:

Sexual harassment is a filthy offense. However, it is impossible to restrain unless we acknowledge a standard of sexual morality.

To avoid conceding any such thing, workplaces have taken to defining sexual harassment as unwanted sexual attention toward another person. In other words, the point isn’t what one is actually doing, but how the other party receives it. It is entirely subjective.

Such a standard is unworkable, because the lecher cannot know whether his beastly attention is unwanted until he commits it. The rule merely encourages him to give it a try. If the other party is too intimidated to object, his behavior is not identifiable as harassment even then.

Suppose we define sexual harassment in the older way, as lewd attention toward another person. Whether attention is lewd does not depend on what the other party thinks of it.

Persisting in lewd behavior over the protests of the other person makes it still more despicable, of course. But it would have been despicable anyway.

(J. Budziszewski)

Note that the second paragraph is cognate with David French’s observation that for sex to happen, somebody must “make the ask.” French’s point was that consent is vitiated if the askor is disproportionately powerful relative to the askee.

Budziszewski is going a level deeper, and his definition would improve things. But even workplace flirtation strikes me as a problem when there’s a power imbalance.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.