Education, Feminism, recent, Recommended

University Harassment Policy and Its Problems

Chatting with a student at the end of a long day, our conversation shifts from academic matters to the personal when I mention that I have to get home to my kids. He says I look too young to be a mother. I tell him I’m so tired all the time that I feel ancient. He asks if I have any time off coming up, and what I’d like to do to relax. It dawns on me that he’s flirting. And it occurs to me that I might be flirting back, awkwardly. I certainly didn’t mean to flirt with a student. I was just, you know, being myself. He’s 23 and I—ahem—am not. He’s cute. And clever. It’s not the worst conversation I’ve had with guy.

But it’s not the best, either. After a few minutes, I tell him I have to go, and that it’s been a great semester. We were just two people talking, enjoying a moment of unguarded informality in the empty halls of the academy. This kind of conversation has happened in the halls of the university everyday for decades, and should still happen. Is such an encounter ethically objectionable, or even harassment due to the inherent power imbalance of the professor-student relationship?

The University of Manitoba, a Canadian university at which I have taught in the past, has just approved a series of recommendations regarding sexual violence, harassment, and discrimination. The recommendations are specific to the campus, but reflect policies and trends within the academy writ large. Some of the recommendations are well founded in evidence-based research and will very likely reduce sexual violence and assault on campus, and do much to improve the lives of women. This is particularly true of the Sexual Assault Resistance program for women living in university residence that has a demonstrated record of reducing sexual assault. This program focuses on empowering women—huzzah!—and should have our full support.

Yet other recommendations, far from empowering women, take individual responsibility and adult decision making away from women—and from men. The report recommends that there be a complete ban on intimate relationships between teaching faculty (including part-time contract instructors) and the students they supervise, including graduate students. This means that even though most graduate students are in their thirties or even forties (the average age for a grad student is 33), institutional policy will now govern their intimate behaviour.

This policy has been adopted in large part to protect women from unwanted sexual harassment. “In a recent American report involving the largest survey of its kind,” the U of M’s report reads, “it was found that one in ten female graduate students at elite universities in the United States have been sexually harassed by a faculty member, and other smaller studies over several decades have reported even higher numbers. The same report found that women graduate students in the United States are harassed by faculty about three times as much as women undergraduates.”

One in ten is, I would agree, an alarmingly high number. Sexual coercion, forced touching, assault, and rape are serious violations. If one in ten female graduate students is experiencing sexual harassment, drastic measures are warranted. But there are some problems with this statistic. Why do graduate students report sexual advances from faculty members more than undergraduates, necessitating a ban on intimate relationships? It seems to me entirely likely that there is a higher rate of faculty-female grad student sexual behaviour because female graduate students are adults, and that faculty members view them as such—adults who are presumably capable of determining their own sexual behaviour (if we do not believe that female adults are capable of this, then we need to rethink the entire basis of feminism). Graduate students are also often close to the same age as many of the faculty members with whom they work. Is it really so hard to believe that some sort of ambiguous spark might be ignited with someone who is of mature age and who shares common interests with you? Is it so hard to believe that a university professor might assume that an adult is capable of saying “yes” or “no” according to her own will and conscience? And that what one person might interrupt as harassment the other meant as hopeful flirtation? That this isn’t usually, in fact, a case of assault, but rather of decent people poorly negotiating an awkward social moment?

While the introduction to the report states that “most harassment does not take the form of sexual overtures,” and that “harassment is not and cannot be primarily a means of expressing sexual desire or sexual domination,” the examples of sexual behaviour within the report itself are precisely these types of ambiguous sexual overtures. In other words, there is a worrying inconsistency within the report itself about what is and what isn’t “harassment.” “Whether a professor’s advances are welcome,” the report reads,

is determined by the perception of the student—she decides whether the advances are welcome to her. From the very outset, a professor may misinterpret a young student’s awe or casual “brown-nosing” to be an invitation to flirt. If she does not welcome romantic attention, and she makes her feelings clear, in most cases the professor will not yet have acted unlawfully if he then desists. But a student can often reasonably claim that she thought it better not to offend. Her response may therefore be ambiguous or misleading.

“An invitation to flirt.” Sure! And why not? Academics are usually pretty nerdy, after all. What a thrill, to find a kindred mind in a person of the opposite sex. I can understand an awkward (and perhaps overly optimistic) scholar making a social slip-up by misreading the grey area and giving a graduate student unwanted sexual attention. (Incidentally, without much difficulty, I can also imagine a female grad student finding a brilliant and successful professor sexy and making a sexual overture to him.) Because the term “harassment” is defined as a subjective experience, and because it appears that mature students are sexually approached more often than their younger and presumably more vulnerable counterparts, the one in ten statistic suggests that there is a fair amount of ambiguous social and sexual awkwardness in the halls of the academy because people—gasp—sometimes find each other attractive. I’m not certain why this should be cause for alarm.

The university’s policy on mutual adult attraction between an educator in a supervisory position and his graduate student is worrying. The policy is to “wait a year, wait three or four months. I know people who have dated students but they’ve waited until the [academic] relationship ended.” That’s right, adults, wait for official sanction before you become intimate with each other. I agree that this is a prudent course of action, but to legislate it contradicts what the university itself teaches about sexual values. Most people in the university believe that “waiting” for official approval is an unrealistic standard for every other faction of society, including for young teenagers, and they scoff when religious leaders recommend it as a moral course of action. The university’s policy, in its own words, states that the recommendations in the report surrounding sexual behaviour “are important tools for creating ‘community level norms to guide individual behavior.” Well then. If that’s the case, I would imagine that expecting all aspects of society to wait a year or so (the average PhD takes over eight years, but who’s counting?) before you become intimate, or even before you engage in ambiguous flirtatious behaviour with another adult, should be considered a “community norm.” Wait. Wait at least until there is no recognizable power deferential between you (so you’d better hope your earning potential is the same; that your health and weight remains balanced; that your relative social positions are equal, and so on).

While a few professors likely do take advantage of their power position, others may simply assume that grad students are capable of making their own choices, though it seems clear that the university administration does not share this belief in its student body since the a priori and inherent power imbalance between graduate students and their professors and supervisors apparently makes free action so difficult that it must be legislated for them. It is true, human relationships are in large part coloured by power dynamics. But we must also recognize that this power imbalance is not stable, nor even that it tilts in favour of the professors. If entering into a relationship with a student will, as the universities guidelines on consequences of intimate relationships make clear, result in a teaching staff member being suspended without pay, then the power to damage an individual’s life and career rests firmly in the student’s hands, and not the other way around. If I were a male professor in this post-#MeToo era, I would think twice about supervising a female graduate student. (An unfortunate consequence of these policies is that they may actually prevent equal opportunities for women.)

But most importantly, the policy is unclear about what qualifies as sexual harassment. And how can it be clear, since it is an entirely subjective feeling? If I am subjected to the unwanted groping of my breasts, this would clearly be considered assault. However, if someone I work closely with puts his arm around me, is this assault? It is if I feel harassed and assaulted. The same goes for verbal comments: no one would like to be subjected to filthy sexual remarks meant to demean one’s human dignity. But where is the line? If a professor says, “Wow. That skirt looks hot!” I might feel demeaned and believe it to be sexual harassment, but perhaps it was simply meant as a friendly compliment.

If you think that I might be overstating the case here—that the line isn’t that blurry, and that surely universities and the professionals who work within them are governed by a clear idea of common sense in these matters—then a quick look at the University of Manitoba’s own report will suggest otherwise. In its rationale of the ban on faculty-student relationships, the report cites this anecdotal evidence from a female graduate student:

I would like to say that I just started feeling very unsafe dealing with my graduate supervisor as he is… insisting on us to meet every now and then, even during the evenings … and during weekends… I feel he likes to see me just for the sake of harassment. It might be sexual harassment but I don’t really know. I am very concerned and I do not even know what can I do now?

The defining characteristic of this graduate student’s experience is uncertainty based on her own feelings. “I started feeling…”; “I feel…”; “I don’t really know.” What this student seems to be working through is not so much a case of sexual harassment, but a case of an awkward social situation that she does not want to deal with.

First of all, it is not clear how the university’s policy of a total ban on faculty relationships with the students they supervise will help this particular student. It is very likely that the supervisor in question is not aware that he is sexually harassing this student at all. She doesn’t even seem to know. And besides, her complaint is about the time of day, not any specific sexual behaviour. Secondly, since the university uses this example in the report justifying its ban on faculty-student relationships, what does seem clear is that what the university is in fact attempting to do is legislate ambiguous and potentially awkward social interactions.

The problem the university is faced with is how to determine what is harassment and what are ambiguous and sometimes uncomfortable social encounters. In our present cultural moment we have moved well beyond a murky “he said, she said” disagreement about what happened and into an absolutely inscrutable “I feel” scenario. How can one objectively examine another’s feelings? How can a university policy governing adult sexual behaviour ever hope to form clear guidelines around ambiguous and often awkward social encounters? And what if two people are really in love with each other? Just… ignore it, and do your job instead? The answer from the university is to put more and more restrictions on our behaviour so that the space for our personal lives is diminished—to turn us more into (paranoid) functionaries rather than full humans. If we as a society persist in adopting these policies—and the University of Manitoba’s report makes it clear that this kind of movement is the trend—what is the cost to our understanding of each other and ourselves as humans?

I doubt very much that policies which impose rules on ambiguous social moments will enhance our understanding of each other as people who are often embarrassingly awkward. I also doubt very much that policies such as this one will result in a bumper-crop of strong, confident, and independent women who know how to stand up for themselves (though it may do much to protect the university from legal liability, such as the suits the University of British Columbia is faced with after they mishandled accusations of sexual harassment).

Of course a relationship with a supervisor is a risky one; and of course getting involved with a student is an ill-advised thing to do. But half of the happy couples I know began their relationships after a bottle of wine and series of irresponsible choices. One of the best things about being an adult is that we get to make our own choices, even ill-advised ones. And we get to live with the potentially uncomfortable social results of our choices. But being made uncomfortable by my own poor choices still makes me more comfortable than living in a culture in which some choices are prohibited.

In its effort to protect its students from potentially awkward social interactions, the university is arrogating adult decision-making to the institution. At best this is nothing more than well-intentioned helicopter parenting. At worst, policy that governs adult sexual nuance and passion destroys our essential humanity: it is the encroachment of institutional laws into one the most ambiguous, often one of the most awkward, always one of the most emotionally mysterious aspects of what makes us joyfully, heartbreakingly, ridiculously, and wonderfully human. The university, which professes to educate our society in humanist values, may at least want to consider that the core of humanism is our awkward humanity.

 

Marilyn Simon is a Shakespeare scholar and university instructor. She is currently working on a book on Shakespeare, Eros, and Female Agency.

Comments

  1. Such is always the way when institutions or governments try to legislate manners.
    The common law and equitable traditon had it that it was the objective that was important. Hence the reasonable man test that applies in so many areas of the law.Unfortunately when ‘‘discrimination’’ became legal issue the old safegurds were often discarded and substituted by the subjective view of the ‘‘victim.’’
    If you are going to make rules about ‘‘sexual harrassment’’, you need to have an objective definition of the term. Otherwise it becomes a weapon in the hands of unscrupulous and the easily offended.

  2. “adult sexual nuance and passion” Err, no.
    “Nuance” “passion” & “humanity” are merely cover much like an insult delivered as a joke. They know full well the line & as usual ol’ Johnny on the spot Simons is only too happy to encourage the poor misunderstood real “victims” manipulation of doubt.
    It’s not rocket science. They are in a far superior position of power. Just because a person is over 18 doesn’t mean they can’t be coerced into submission. Professors can wield power beyond university life often with long tentacles potentially destructive to fledging a career.
    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar & not always a ‘well meaning’ shakespearean tragedy. So please, get some new material, we’re dyin’ here.

  3. “Even a well-intentioned person can commit unlawful harassment,” says the tutorial at one of my schools.

    So, basically, don’t speak to anyone about anything, ever. Keep your eyes on your work or the floor. Hands in pockets. Don’t ever smile.

  4. Ella,
    Reading the dossiers of a frighteningly large number of false accusations related to Title IX cases it is hard to see what you are talking about. In all those cases the women were taken extremely serious and the accused male did not stand a chance against the many females that stood by the accuser en-bloc. It was often not until the courts intervened that the ugly truth came out. If false accusations can already have such far reaching consequences I very much doubt that true accusations would be lost. As this article states, it is hard to not think that today a student holds more power over a professor than vice versa.

    That said, I am always flummoxed by the lack of courage women like you express. Without physical coercion submitting is a choice that has a price and a benefit. If you do not like the offer, fight it even if it means you have to sacrifice yourself for the greater good. Don’t look at daddy state to do your dirty work for you.

    Anyway, anybody that uses a hyperbole like “we’re dying here” only deserves to be taken not very serious I am afraid.

  5. The problem is that every corporation these days seeks to limit it’s liability at the expense of it’s employees these days- and that is exactly what the modern university has become, a corporation. It’s also incidentally why the corporate sector has bent over backwards to accommodate the introduction of expanded HR and diversity bureaucracies, because they correctly divine that they would not be able to withstand the negative PR from a track record of civil suits, even before one considers the potential legal costs. Because whilst legally the presumption of innocence remains intact within the sanctity of a courtroom, publicly the presumption always leans towards guilty, until proven innocent.

    Although I am somewhat less sympathetic towards the MRA movement, with the obvious exception of child custody cases within divorce proceedings, I can understand why a growing number of attractive, fit and financially eligible young men are joining the ‘men going their own way’ (MGTOW) phenomena. Often these men are exactly the men that women want to date. However, rather than negotiate the pitfalls and landmines that beset flirtation and romance in the office, workplace or social event, these men instead choose to opt into world of Tinder.

    The reason why this option is so attractive is because it tilts interactions back towards the point where the man has an equal standing in interactions. It defaults the settings of such encounters back towards the transactional understanding that was the defining feature of relations from the seventies onwards. The woman understands that if she doesn’t put out, on an escalating basis, that she will often lose a particularly desirable potential mate- because she knows that the competition certainly will, if she gives them half a chance. Many men insist on recording consent on their phones, to avoid future confusion.

    Now, all of this sounds rather tawdry and dull- relegating the role of a very human longing, to that of a particularly satisfying bowel movement. But that’s the world we’ve created with our insistence on top-down authoritarianism- throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. It denies the ‘every little thing she does is magic’ feeling, that can result from prolonged social contact with a potential partner and results in the bluffed confidence, but transparently nervous and shy, invitation to drinks or dinner. Tinder is also far less likely to end in romantic attachment as it is far less likely to engender that hormonal flush of brain activity called love, which becomes the basis for longer lasting relationships.

    But then that’s the problem with arbitrary rules like the ones discussed in this article. It becomes impossible to sort the wheat from the chaff. Banning unwanted flirtation necessarily also prohibits flirtation from more desired sources. Good job too, given the long-suffering silence of the other 80% of males, forced to watch as their more attractive coworkers were constantly forgiven behaviour that they knew would land them in HR, or on the wrong end of an industrial tribunal, finally get to see the office transform to a purely professional landscape, devoid of romantic entanglements. Personally I always used to find being on the receiving end of flirtation in the workplace, awkward and unprofessional, and found dancing at clubs infinitely more enjoyable than office flirtation- and good exercise.

    My dad always used to say ‘Never shit on your own doorstep!’ Same sentiment, different phrase- but words to live by, nonetheless.

  6. I started teaching in University in the 1980’s and even then I had colleagues who would never meet a female student alone in their office with the door closed. I never worried about it.

    Over the years I did have the occasional female student come to office hours with more on her mind than how to do well on the exam. These experiences were not pleasant. The last thing I wanted to do was acknowledge the situation, because I didn’t know how to get from there to a point where the student would not be leaving my office in an adolescent state of shame or embarrassment.

    So I would stick to the topic, answering questions to which the student clearly knew the answers. Eventually it would get to the point where I could suggest that she didn’t need any more help and she would do fine.

    I’m not sure what current faculty guidelines recommend for these situations, or if they even admit they exist. Maybe I could have handled things differently, but the “make yourself as boring as possible” strategy worked for me. The students kept taking my classes and seemed to continue liking me as a professor.

  7. I also doubt very much that policies such as this one will result in a bumper-crop of strong, confident, and independent women who know how to stand up for themselves

    Great line, and the point that needs to be kept front and center. These policies do have a reverse effect. These policies teach young ladies that they are powerless, vulnerable, and in constant need of Daddy to come and fight the icky-man for her. “I am woman. Hear me roar constantly bitch about feeling unsafe.”

  8. “If you are going to make rules about ‘‘sexual harrassment’’, you need to have an objective definition of the term. Otherwise it becomes a weapon in the hands of unscrupulous and the easily offended.”

    That’s so obvious that it seems, to me, it most be at least part of the motive underlying the regulation.

  9. ‘Just don’t start with your own students’ is not a bad rule. Students in another department? Should be no problem. But if I’m a graduate student - as I once was - and I know my adviser is bonking one of my lab-mates, I can see a problem there. How to the best projects get apportioned? How much time is spent overseeing research? Are calls made to get the ‘friend’ a good post-doc position?

    Flirting - good. Flirting with someone you are responsible for? Not so much. In a country of 237 million (USA), you should be able to find some nasty without working the natives.

  10. Ella,
    I did not claim in any way that false accusations cancel out true accusations, I do not doubt there is abuse out there and there is more abuse than false accusations.

    My claim is that looking at those dossiers that have become available through the many law suits it is abundantly clear that women that accuse a man are taken extremely serious by Title IX officers and are provided extensive support to make their claims. In several cases, it was clear that the officers went way beyond their call of duty.

    In this light, it is just very hard to see how a woman does not hold a might big ax over the head of men. And looking at several of those false accusations, it was obvious that the woman took revenge for the men ending a relation. Horrific examples of what can happen are Gomeshi and Galloway.

    If a professor would try to coerce me in something I did not want to do then I would stand up, damn the consequences. If women would do this more consistently and not only as a group I expect that abuse would go down significantly. So why don’t they?

    It is a very complicated area and I am not claiming to have the answers but you seem to look at this very one-sided.

  11. I’ve told my daughter a story that first upset her terribly and then much later, after her anger cooled off, she realized I had a point. It is about toilet seats … A long standing source of contention between the sexes is the problem that men either leave the toilet seat up, wreaking havoc on the next woman, or they forget to put it up and soil the seat, also ruining the day for the next woman. Generally, women want men to behave and put the seat up before and put it back down after. This makes men responsible for the toilet seat. Every men knows how it feels to be scolded by their mothers, aunts, and sisters for not obeying this sacred screed.

    However, in the case of toilet seats the female is clearly the interested party. (Men don’t care in general.) In my work I learned that the interested party should always do the work because they are the most motivated. Trying to get an unmotivated party become responsible will never work, trust me. Therefore, women should put down the seat before use and leave it up after use. Simple! All problems solved …

    The morale of this story is that you should never look at others for a solution when you can solve it yourself. Trust me again, you will never ever be able to teach all men how to behave. Not only do we have 15% of the population with an IQ below 85, few women even remotely understand how strong the effect of women between 15 and 35 is on all heterosexual men. (Almost all rapes take place in that age range.) Marilyn Simons, the fantastic author of this article, has tried to understand this in an earlier article but I still think she did not completely get it. I do not think women experience anything even remotely comparable. Our society knows this and therefore we made rape the most heinous crime after murder, even though assaults on men, that are as frequent as rapes, cause much more bodily harm. Rapists are even very low on the status ladder in prisons. It is therefore utterly delusional to think that you can change all men to behave themselves. Just thank God that the far majority of men are quite decent.

    The only solution I see is to make women more assertive. The best defence against rape is screaming and fighting because most rapists are, according to a study I read, not interested in killing the victim, or even harming her. Although in feminist circles the idea is that rape is about power but rape is really about sex. (Rapes have decreased more than 60% since 1996 according to the FBI despite your alarmist attitude, likely because the free porn on the Internet.)

    Maybe I live in a dream world but in my life women have a tremendous sexual power that is like kryptonite to most heterosexual men. Therefore, many stories I’ve read about sexual harassment could very likely have been prevented if the women had been slightly more assertive. This likely gets you upset because you’ll accuse me for blaming the victim. This is wrong because I am not blaming the victim, the perpetrator clearly is always to blame. However, if I do not lock my bicycle then the thief is still the bad guy but I am the idiot. Victim and perpetrator is not a binary relation as you seem to think.

    You also indicate that many women are not willing to be courageous over ‘minor’ abuses. However, that sounds like a compromise that all of us make in our careers. I find it hard to sympathize with whining actresses that slept with Weinstein in exchange for a role. Quid pro quo. Let us please not pretend that the sexual powers of women have not provided them with huge benefits over the ages. Without these powers we’d still be living in caves.

    And yes, I’ve had several times in my life that my conscience was terribly expensive but I can still look at myself in the mirror.

    Last, your bureaucratic approach to this horrendous problem has, and will always have, unintended side effects. It creates a hard to control power structure that is easily abused, already demonstrated by the falsely accused Title IX cases. It is also not just bad for men, it will also make it harder for women to find men to mentor them and it will further deteriorate the the relation between the sexes. However, the worst result of your misguided solution is actually increased vulnerability of women in public spaces. Women growing up in such a protected environment as you want will be utterly clueless when they are confronted for the first time with a bad guy, and sadly there will always be a bad guy. Already today, young women seem to be much more clueless in handling obnoxious men than the women I grew up with. Likely caused by the coddled upbringing of the nowadays all too prevalent helicopter mothers. Like hygiene with babies is likely increasing allergies, coddled upbringing is likely increasing sexual assaults because too many young women’s immune system has never learned to properly put a man in his place.

    To conclude. It all depends what your goal is. Is your intention to control males and/or feel righteous then I wish you bad luck on your road to failure. If your intention is to minimize the suffering you might want to seriously consider what I am trying to tell you after your rage has diminished :slight_smile:

    Oh, and btw, my previous mail was not a concession, it was an elucidation.

  12. The types of men who are successful on Tinder are in the top 20% for attractiveness, material success and status. The reason why this is a good thing is because it reduces the chances of these men interacting in the workplace in ways that women would probably want, but would find unacceptable if the other 80% of men tried the same techniques. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that a significant portion of sexual harassment that is inappropriate, but not an abuse of power, arises because less successful males try to emulate the behaviour of their more desirable counterparts. The tragedy is that for many of these young men their problems could be solved by trips to the gym, the dentist and an optician, eating a little more healthily, and perhaps spending a little more on clothes and a decent haircut- whilst standing up for themselves more, in male peer groups.

    I think we need to separate the guileless from the truly creepy, when negotiating these difficult matters. Thankfully, the fact that more desirable men, with any sort of brain, would be crazy to engage in office or workplace flirtation and romances, because of potential future repercussions (regardless of whether the woman expresses an overt interest), is likely to reduce the extent to which more socially awkward males, blunder into bad circumstances. Remove welcome flirtation from the workplace, and we also remove a significant portion of unwelcome flirtation.

    Perhaps one of the most difficult aspect of modern romance, lies in the realisation that as a general principle men have never been honest about the way they fall in love, because they know that they would be lynched by women, if they ever admitted the truth. The truth is that we almost never fall in love at first sight, although lust at first sight, or even infatuation from prolonged and repeated social contact are both quite regular scenarios.

    For a man, it is almost impossible to fall in love without shagging first, and usually repeatedly. Until then, the relationship is just too fraught with objectives and awkwardness, for falling in love to be a realistic prospect. In the end, it’s the relationship that makes you fall in love, as a man. Only after you’ve got past the first month or so, and are making love on a regular basis, can the relationship become natural enough, and sufficiently at ease, for the hormones to overcome the adrenaline. It’s then that you find yourself loving the way she chews her hair, or holds her wine glass- a peculiar fascination that can often lead to the formation of a much longer relationship, because even when it fades you have it’s memory, hopefully you have a true partnership in it’s place.

    In my experience, there really does seem to be a mismatch between men and women, as to when they fall in love and, of course, it doesn’t help that many younger men, in particular, tend to mistake infatuation, for love- not understanding that whilst the former is based on appearance and liking someone, the latter is always deeply reciprocal. I think that if women understood that men can’t really fall in love, until they have gotten over the performative hurdle and are comfortable in their burgeoning relationship, then they might be somewhat more forgiving towards men.

    Perhaps the biggest problem in male orientation to the world, is that just as women have their media-driven indoctrination into what men want that bears little resemblance to reality, we have our own far more pernicious and less talked about version- especially when it comes to the improbable love scenes, that permeate the movies. One thing that might help is if younger males were given an introduction to feminist porn makers like Erika Lust. Generally, much of what comes out of feminism these days tends to be pathologically man-hating and delusionally obsessed with some fictitious Western White Patriarchy, but feminist erotic movies that show men what women actually want is such an obvious exception.

    My fear is that in attempting to exorcise the Harvey Weinstein’s of this world, we might be needlessly victimising a whole subset of males whose only crime is to be basically inept, clueless and misguided around women. Tim Hunt was, after all, systemically sacked and stripped of his income, for what was little more than a bad joke, even though former coworkers and subordinates were at pains to emphasise that he had always been an ideal mentor to women in science, and had never indulged in predatory male behaviour. Call it clumsy or poorly chosen words if you like, or even make the case that it should have been sanctioned in some lesser disciplinary manner, but to call it collateral damage in a greater cause, betrays the fact that social constructionism is intent on forcing women to be reprogrammed against their wishes, and tearing down men so that they can’t succeed. It can only lead to an exponential rise in young male suicides on the one hand, and an increasing number of elderly women dying alone, lonely and smelling of cat-piss, on the other. An intersectional version of a socialist dystopia- which is, of course, what always happens when people try to drastically change society without really understanding it.

  13. I don’t know whether you could call sexual harassment rampant or not, unless you redefine it to mean anything that makes anyone uncomfortable, at any time. Under that rationale, a bloke cycling to work in his cycling shorts, to get fit or cut his carbon footprint, could be redefined as sexual harassment. The problem with a lot of these studies is that they are often written by gender studies professors, who have a nasty habit of shifting the cultural goalposts.

    Quite beyond the sheer idiocy of arguing that a husband and wife who go out for a romantic evening together, share a bottle of wine, and end up making love, are, in effect, raping each other, these surveys can have harmful downstream consequences. As an example, the original survey that determined that one in five women on campus had been raped or sexually assaulted, actually went against the woman’s own personal definition of whether or not she had been raped or sexually assaulted in 70% of cases, to reclassify things as innocuous as social or emotional pressure to get laid, as sexual assault. All in the service of the fudging the percentages to create a media-friendly narrative.

    On the subject of social constructionism, there have been instances in which boys have been barred from attending aviation school, whilst everything bar force has been levied at girls, to bully and pressure them into pursuing a well-paid maintenance or engineering job. All because, feminists are unwilling to accept that as a biological average, boys are more interested in things and girls are more interested in people. This was also the main observation that got James Damore sacked. In Iceland for example, they are trying to teach girls to be more adventurous and aggressive, whilst trying to teach boys to be more caring and social- which in the face of the fact of what we know, on a deeply intuitive and biological level. It’s tantamount to creating a generation of boys that are doomed to be incels- because recent history tells us that the absolute worst thing to call yourself on a dating website, if male, is nice.

    I apologise if this seems like a rant, but even if some aspects of life and custom are socially constructed, the biological systems that drive them are not. An example of this lies with competitive sport. One of the great innovations of the British Empire was the realisation that sport could have a profound impact on socialising males who are more likely than usual to be biologically aggressive. Remove this tried and tested method of socialisation and you literally guarantee that up to an additional 10% of your male population will end up in prison for some or all of their young life- especially if they happen to fall into an urban, marginalised, poor community, with few admirable male role models to inspire them.

  14. You make some very valid points here, and I agree that sexual harassment and all the other types of aberrant behaviour towards which a small percentage of men are prone, is a huge problem. But my point would be that by being vigilant and hyper-sensitising ourselves to these issues, we are finding fault with behaviour that is far more normal and has always been with us. I remember a stat from a while back that 50% of long term romantic partnerships, including marriage, happened through the workplace. My point is that mechanism of people meeting each other is now effectively gone, because no man would ever chance work-based flirtation, or even an invitation to dinner, in the current climate- because every time a man puts himself out there, he’s is effectively taking a risk with his career and reputation, because there is no way of knowing when someone is plain bat shit crazy.

    Perhaps this paints the picture as unduly bleak, I still have friends who flirt in the workplace- but this is largely due to being somewhat unaware of just how much the interpretation of behaviour in the workplace has changed. You cite the idea of culture of mediation, but the problem there is that is who is going to do the mediation? HR departments? That’s a recipe for disaster. A while back, my brother dated a woman who was working in the care industry, whilst working towards qualifications for mental health care. She honestly believed that people with mental health issues had no increased risk of violence, because it was what she had been taught. I understand that the reason why she had been taught that, was because of the misguided hope that reducing stigmatisation towards the mentally vulnerable would be a good thing, but it was just plain wrong. I actually managed to get her to watch a documentary on violence by paranoid schizophrenics, to alter her worldview.

    The problem with HR departments is that have largely been fed on a great deal of similarly bad information from the ideas laundry of Grievance Studies. For example, the reason why men comprise the majority of boards, is because cultural equality of opportunity only really became prevalent during the nineties, and it takes at least thirty years to climb the corporate ladder, at a minimum. But many believe that there is a patriarchy. The real difference is incentives. As a woman you can have a perfectly healthy work to life balance and still have a family. As a man, you cannot. If you are a man you have to take every hour your employer offers, and work for each promotion diligently, because otherwise you won’t find a mate or have a family. And it’s not men who set the agenda, it’s women- they are the ones who choose what they want in a prospective partner.

    But the real problem with HR departments in that they try to artificially impose a very arbitrary and poorly conceived low resolution reality on the world, by fiat. It’s the reason why profit margins are falling to zero. Not because of any failure of imagination on the part of humans, or because of the end of capitalism- I was watching Peter Thiel talking about it the other day, he hadn’t quite drawn all the right conclusions, although most of his formative thinking was bang on the money. It’s because our systems have been getting worse, not better.

    Basically, when you set up a new company, everything is chaos and dynamism, you rely on the initiative and problem-solving of a few talented individuals to get things done (if you don’t plan on doing it all yourself). As you grow, you systematise and make your processes more efficient, turning a niche business into a going concern- during this period, you have a balance between dynamism and order. Once you reach saturation point, the only way to continue to improve, and survive against your competition, it to accelerate your systematisation and efficiency- this is the point where dynamism inevitably gives way to ossification, and ultimately stagnation.

    The problem is that giving HR or Legal departments any power over who you choose to hire or promote, or any power over anything other than legal and HR bureaucracies, inevitably creates an additional dimension or axis or measurement, which tilts the structure of dynamism even further towards stratification. Choosing people on the basis of gender, race and sexuality also has one other very important downstream consequence- by choosing from the best candidate from within a demo arbitrarily you shut down almost all social mobility, so unless you add class as a criteria, you’re stuffed. Because people from the lower end of the income spectrum are inherently more dynamic, usually they have gone through a selection criteria that rewards measured risk-taking, whilst people from higher socio-economic background tend to be more invested in maintaining the status quo.

    It one of the reasons why until the tech revolution came along, a university education made you considerably less likely to be an innovator or an inventor, and why, incidentally, most invention used to occur in garden sheds and garages. In the UK, this manifested in the fact that at one point if you were a chairman of a leading company you would be far more likely to have attended the right school and have the right polished accent, but if you were a CEO, or a head of operations, you were far more likely to have come from humble origins, and worked your way up with good ideas, well-implemented.

    But the real reason I am opposed to arbitrarily imposing ‘fairness’ from above, is that it fails to recognise the real drivers for inequality of opportunity. With my first few stumbled attempts at writing, I asked friends and family for feedback. Big mistake- because no matter how many times you ask them whether they liked the piece in general, they will always come back with comments on grammar and spelling. I think this goes to the real issue at the heart of discrepancies in hiring practices. If you ask someone to be fair and impartial, does it always necessarily result in them being more critical, and unwilling to overlook the small weaknesses in most CV’s? An infinitely better mechanism for establishing fairer hiring practices would be to ask decision makers to trust their guts, and establish trust with applicants- it’s a far better way of getting an objective sense of someone, beyond the shopping list of achievements that tells you only so much about a person.

    I came across a talk with Glen Loury, just the other day in which he stated that what he really wanted for his people, would be a form of transracial humanism. What a marvellous phrase, and exactly where we should be heading. Because our companies and institutions will only begin to recover from the endemic sloth from which they are currently suffering, once outrage mobs begin to dissipate, and we regain trust internally within organisations. Any human social structure can only work effectively where individuals are free to both compete and cooperate, at the same time. Healthy human systems operate on trust, not power, and the establishment of arbitrary power to correct for the failure of some to trust beyond their group, is going the wrong way. A far better approach would be to get people to lean into their instincts, and see beyond the arbitrary distinctions of skin tone and gender.

  15. Define sexual harrassment.
    It seems to me that without telling us what you think sexual harassment actually is, it is very difficult to see how we can understand what you are trying to achive in this discussion.
    Geary quite rightly pointed out that the part of the problem is that too many people are trying to widen the meaning of the term to mean just about any behaviourby a man that a woman might find mildly annoying.
    To all of that you just keep comng back claiming that sexual harrassment is widespread. I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough. We need an objective3 definition of the term that does not rely on the feeelings of the woman making the claim but on sopciety’s reasonable expectations.

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