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.”

* * * * *

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.

 

FrankenMoore

Mr. Franken is being run out of town by fellow Democrats in large part for their own political purposes. They want him banished so they can claim to have cleaned their own stables so they can attack Republicans who support Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore and Donald Trump. Mr. Franken is political ballast who had to go.

We’d even have a little sympathy for him had he not chosen the disingenuous exit of claiming innocence but resigning anyway.

(Wall Street Journal) I’d say “it’s expedient that one should die,” but that would conjure up typology of which guilty Franken isn’t worthy.

People speak of mixed motives and say it’s all brute politics. The Democrats are positioning themselves for the high ground should Republican Roy Moore be elected. They’re aligning themselves with the passions of their base, while clearing the way for a probe into sexual-harassment accusations against the president. New York’s Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who led the charge that forced Mr. Franken’s departure, hopes to run for president in 2020 as a champion of women, so the move was happily on-brand. I don’t doubt all of this is true. Little in politics comes from wholly clean hands.

(Peggy Noonan, Al Franken Departs Without Grace) Noonan goes on to sound yet another call for Alabama Republicans to think twice, or thrice, about voting for Roy Moore.

“ ‘All this will I give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ ”

Matthew 4:9

The prospect of Sen. Roy Moore has been both horrifying and clarifying. It would be difficult to design a more controlled, precise test of the moral gag reflex in politics.

(Michael Gerson) For someone who is Biblically literate, that’s a really potent epigram, isn’t it? More:

In this political lifeboat dilemma, Republicans are being asked what principles they are willing to throw overboard in the interest of power. A belief that character matters in politics? Splash. A commitment to religious and ethnic inclusion? Splash. Moral outrage at credible charges of sexual predation against teen girls? Splash.

Those remaining in this lightened boat display a kind of shocking clarity. They value certain political ends — tax cuts, a conservative judiciary — more than ethical considerations. When it comes to confirming judges who oppose Roe v. Wade, the vote of a statesman is no better than the vote of a sexual predator — or, presumably, of a drug dealer or a murderer. This type of calculation admits no limiting principle.

So, in this view, it does not really matter that there is (as Ivanka Trump put it) “no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts” in Moore’s case. It does not matter that Moore’s explanations have been shifting and slippery. It does not matter that Moore has said that homosexual behavior should be illegal, or that he compared resisting gay marriage to resisting the Holocaust, or that he referred to Asians as “yellows,” or that he doesn’t believe former president Barack Obama is a natural born citizen, or that he believes there are communities living under shariah law in Illinois and Indiana.

Those willing to swallow all this — all the ignorance, cruelty, creepiness and malice — have truly shown the strength of their partisan commitment. A purity indistinguishable from mania …

The basic argument here — that ethics can be ignored in the process of doing great work in the world — is precisely what brings institutions into disrepute. The Catholic Church covered up sexual predation on the justification that it was otherwise doing great work in the world. Some evangelical Christians are now publicly playing down credible charges of sexual predation for the same reason. And they are doing tremendous damage to the reputation of the Christian church in the process ….

* * * * *

I would a thousand times rather have dinner with secular liberals of a certain temperament than with a group of religious conservatives who agreed with me about most things, but who have no sense of humor or irony.

(Rod Dreher)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Once more, slowly, for the idiots

David French tries to set the record straight on Masterpiece Cakes, scheduled for argument in the Supreme Court Tuesday.

Forgive me for starting a piece with the oldest cliché in the practice of law. As the saying goes, “If the law is on your side, pound on the law. If the facts are on your side, pound on the facts. If neither are on your side, pound on the table.” In the run-up to the oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission on December 5, we’re seeing a lot of table-pounding from the Left. In fact, I’ve never seen a case more mischaracterized in my entire legal career.

The actual facts of the case are crystal clear. Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to custom-design a cake to help celebrate a gay wedding. As a Christian, he finds same-sex unions to be unbiblical and immoral, and he wasn’t willing to use his artistic talents to advance a message he holds to be wrong. In fact, he’d frequently declined to design cakes that advanced messages he found to be offensive. But he never, ever — not once — discriminated against any customers on the basis of their identity. He baked cakes for people of all races, creeds, colors, and sexual orientations.

Two years ago, in the Obergefell opinion, [Justice Anthony Kennedy] wrote this:

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.

If Justice Kennedy holds to this view, then not only does the First Amendment win, nondiscrimination laws won’t lose. Phillips isn’t discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. If Kennedy changes his mind, then he’ll erode vital American constitutional traditions and doctrines. The sexual revolution, not the Constitution, will be the supreme law of the land.

That old cliché explains why it will be hard to set the record straight. Neither the law nor the facts favor what Colorado has done to Jack Phillips, the proprietor. Only the inexorable demand of the sexual revolution to eradicate all wrongthought and wrongthinkers supports it.

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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

The toxic default to “yes”

Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion.

(Harvey Weinstein, 2009, via Sean O’Neil, We are witnessing Hollywood’s long-overdue moral reckoning) I think it was C.S. Lewis who faulted flippancy for acting as if the joke had already been made, but sometimes it really has been made.

Another faulty moral compass is that of Masha Gessen:

The policing of sex seems to assume that it’s better to have ten times less sex than to risk having a nonconsensual sexual experience.

Er . . . Is it . . . not? Is this no longer an assumption we can agree upon? If so, it’s time to acknowledge that there might be something wrong with how we’re thinking about sex.

(Christine Emba, Let’s Rethink Sex (reformatted), quoting Masha Gessen’s New Yorker article When Does a Watershed Become a Sex Panic?)

More from Emba:

The backlash to the #MeToo movement has begun. As the parade of post-Weinstein exposés marches on, so do the unhappy reactions to a sexual landscape suddenly turned on its head.

There’s the skittish colleague (“If I ask a woman out at work, am I going to be reported for harassment?”). The nervous cad (“Will one unfortunate hookup land me on a public list of ‘sh*tty men’?”). And the vexing question underneath it all: “If we get so worked up about sexual harassment and assault, what will happen to sex?”

At the bottom of all this confusion sits a fundamental misframing: that there’s some baseline amount of sex that we should be getting or at least should be allowed to pursue. Following from that is the assumption that the ability to pursue and satisfy our sexual desires — whether by hitting on that co-worker even if we’re at a professional lunch, or by pursuing a sexual encounter even when reciprocity is unclear — is paramount. At best, our sexual freedom should be circumscribed only by the boundary of consent. Any other obstacle is not to be borne.

Angela Franks, a professor of theology with a focus on John Paul II (including his “Theology of the Body”) goes a level deeper than Emba’s sensible and accessible treatment of the problems with the novel doctrine of solum consensus. That makes for harder reading, but it gives an even greater reward (other than the psychic award of seeing Emba speak her peace in the Washington Post (yay!), while Angela Frank speaks hers in a relatively obscure blog).

 We swim in a culture marked by what Helen Alvaré has called “sexualityism”the conviction, springing from the sexual revolution, that any sex with anybody is probably a good thing. In this construct, non-procreative sexual expression is a simple necessity intrinsically tied to human fulfillment and personal identity (according to none other than the Supreme Court). This idea was also analyzed and criticized, in a somewhat different way, by Michel Foucault. A culture of sexualityism is not neutral; in it, the good of sexual expression as an end in itself cannot be intellectually challenged. All that is left is the will: do you choose it, or not? Consent carries the day.

If something is a basic human good, it is unreasonable to refuse it. One might consent not to sleep for obscure reasons of one’s own, but the burden of proof would be on the non-sleeper to defend her decision. I call this “the default of the yes”: it is reasonable to choose a good thing, and so it is expected that one will choose it. Thus has the seemingly freedom-friendly principle of the innate goodness of sexual expression become a weapon to attack the persons and institutions who do not agree. The apparent enshrinement of consent actually attacks the very foundations of consent itself: sexualityism puts a thumb on the seemingly impartial scales of choice. As women have observed about the “choice” for abortion, so too here: what begins as a right often turns into a duty.

What clearly emerges from the scenes in Harvey Weinstein’s room is that he did not feel defensive. It is the women who feel the onus put on them. Here we see how the burden of the “default of the yes” complicates the matter of consent. Is it consent to dress provocatively? Or to say no, but to give in? Or to keep saying no, but stop short of physical violence? How much refusal outweighs the default of the yes?

This is the web in which Weinstein’s victims find themselves entangled, at the very moment when they need all their wits about them. “The thing with being a victim is I felt responsible,” Asia Argento said. “Because, if I were a strong woman, I would have kicked him in the balls and run away. But I didn’t. And so I felt responsible.” The horror of the assault is compounded by the postmortem self-accusation, which reveals that the default of the yes shifts the moral responsibility from the perpetrator to the victim.

Is sexual expression really such an overriding good? If so, what do we make of the women’s unanimous experience of humiliation and anguish in Weinstein’s room? Sexualityism can make no sense of  the reality that sexual crimes reliably cause a trauma that, say, larceny does not.

Sexuality is not simply a matter of something that I have, as though my body is another possession just like my wallet or my car. If, as Gabriel Marcel said, I am my body, then sexuality has to do with my very person, which has a deep value.

(Bold and hyperlink for “basic human good” added)

I will begin believing that we’ve actually crossed a watershed when voices like Emba’s and Franks’ are the buzz instead of drek like Masha Gessen’s.

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.