Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lawsuits Do Not Solve Problems

I hope that no one still believes that we are going to solve the problem of obnoxious verbal behavior on college campuses by filing another lawsuit.

As everyone knows, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is investigating a complaint filed by sixteen Yale students, charging that a “hostile sexual environment” is impeding their right to an education. Link here.

The inquiry targets diverse behaviors, from rape to harassment to foul language, but Wendy Kaminer and Jessica Davis O’Brien have focused specifically on the repulsive verbal behavior.

I do not think that they are purposefully ignoring rape and sexual harassment, but the criminal justice system punishes rape severely and universities have strictly proscribed professor-student sexual contact, to say nothing of trading grades for sexual favors.

The Title IX complaint addresses the hostile sexual environment that women feel at Yale. While we tend to be drawn toward the verbal insults, the most important word is "complaint." Even if there is a problem, complaining about it does not put you on the path to a solution.

Self-proclaimed libertarian feminist Wendy Kaminer rejects this approach because, to her, this is not really what feminism is about. She feels that relying on an external authority is a throwback to the bad old days when women prized their femininity and could not stand up for themselves.

I find it strange that Kaminer is most concerned with whether the complaint is feministically correct.

Kaminer points out that the complaint mostly focuses on speech acts that are constitutionally protected. She adds that on many college campuses today a man who is accused of date rape or harassment is presumed to be guilty, thus judged through an extra legal process which deprives him of constitutional rights.

In Kaminer’s words: “Reviewing the charges of sexual harassment underlying the Title IX complaint by a group of Yale students and alumnae, I can't find feminism -- at least not if feminism includes independence, liberty, and power for women. Instead I find femininity -- the assumption that women are incapable of fending for themselves in the marketplace of epithets or ideas, the belief that women are rendered helpless by misogynist speech and the sexist tantrums of their male peers.”

As right as she is about free speech and due process issues, Kaminer is wrong to denounce the women who filed the complaint for trafficking in “femininity.“

Her own stereotyping feminine women as weak, helpless, and hopeless may be ideologically correct, but it is fundamentally wrong.

Of course, many feminists take this caricature for reality and then overcompensate by veering toward the opposite extreme by becoming inappropriately shrill and angry.

Then again, it may be true that feminists are the ones who have been rendered too weak to speak up for themselves.

As it happens, and I speak from more than my own experience, feminine women are more capable of standing up for themselves than feminists. Since they have greater self-respect, they are more likely to find a way to defend that self-respect. They might do it with charm and panache, but, as long as you defend your dignity, it is probably better to do it in a way that feels more natural and less manufactured.

Standing up for yourself requires self-confidence. A woman who feels good about being a woman will be better at it than a woman who feels that her gender has consigned her to the ranks of the oppressed. A woman who is proud of being a woman will speak up more quickly and decisively than would a woman who rejects being a woman in favor of being a feminist.

Feminism demands that women reject the pride that comes from feeling feminine in favor of a false pride that comes from belonging to the cult of feminism.

In my view Jessica O’Brien makes the most important point, namely, that the Title IX complaint is likely to do more harm than good.

In her words: “Title IX is meant to address hostile environments, but in this case, its invocation is likely to make the environment at Yale even more hostile.”

She continues to examine the practical fallout of this complaint: “The protestors become alienated from their peers as their arguments get boiled down to finger-pointing and bullet points. Meanwhile, the rest of the student body, sensing a witch hunt, rallies around the accused, who tend to grow emboldened by the attacks. We’ve seen this drama enacted time and again on Ivy League campuses, such as when people have called for the end of Harvard’s final clubs, or the Yale Women’s Center has threatened to sue a frat over an offensive sign, or lawsuits have been filed against Princeton’s eating clubs. This atmosphere of accusation and ridicule is hardly the climate in which to work toward the goal of equality.”

She adds: “This week, 10 of 16 students interviewed by theYale Daily News said that they didn't think the complaint was warranted….It seems that many women on campus feel their situation has been over-exaggerated (a friend of mine used the word ‘hijacked‘) by a small group of litigious feminists.”

After all, the point of the complaint is to enshrine the notion that men and the institutions they control are intrinsically hostile toward women. While the complaint pretends that it is trying to address an endemic condition, it is actually turning women against men and men against women. This can only be detrimental to both men and women.

And finally: “Ultimately, using Title IX as a weapon in this case will make college kids think that ensuring female equality comes down to legal enforcement, rather than the much messier business of changing a community’s most stubbornly ingrained habits.”

Two cheers for Rebecca Davis O’Brien for cutting through the legalistic haze and framing the issue sensibly and directly. She offers the crucial insight that lawsuits do not solve problems. More often than not they aggravate the problems they are attempting to solve.

My only quibble is her notion that we should all be advancing toward equality. Given that this concept is an abstraction, it tends to be ill defined and ill applied.

To many minds, it seems to say that men and women should seek out the goal of perfect sameness, without distinction, or difference. One can measure the true idiocy of this idea by recalling that no less an intellectual luminary than philosophy professor Nancy Bauer once suggested that equality meant that women should consume as much alcohol as men.

Let’s assume that men at Yale do have a tendency to use vulgar language, even obscenities, when referring to women.

The interesting part of both these articles is that both authors do not have any idea of what women can do-- beyond ignoring it or talking back-- to remedy this situation.

Neither author seems to have any idea about how the culture of campus intersexual relations can be changed. They seem to feel that women are powerless when faced with the horrors of the male mind.

I will tell you that my own, distant memories, of being in college tell me that men did not talk like this at the time, that they did not harass and harangue women, that they did not shout out derogatory terms in front of the Women's Center, and that they were not yelling out slogans about anal sex.

I will not claim to have been at all colleges, but, most will agree that before the counterculture, before contemporary feminism, before the sexual revolution, and before political correctness, men and women treated each other with far more respect.

As it happens, feminism has been militating for sexual freedom all these years and, along with the therapy culture, it has strongly recommended free and open discussions about sexuality.

Let’s remember that Ana Marie Cox, whose claim to fame was her blog, Wonkette, helped make a name for herself by talking openly and honestly about anal sex.

And let us never forget that Jaclyn Friedman once wrote a column entitled, “My Sluthood, My Self” wherein she laid claim to the title of slut, all the while explaining that it was a highly offensive, derogatory term that no one except for her and her friends should ever use.

Yes, Yale frat boys have picked up the gauntlet that these feminists have thrown down, but everyone should have known that having an open conversation about sex is an invitation to vulgarity.

But that is not the real issue. The real issue is that if women want to be treated with more respect, they should behave as though they respect themselves.

This does not mean, I hasten to add, that women who are victims of crimes should feel responsible for what happened to them, but you cannot use this extreme to render women powerless to assert any level of control over their own reputations.

This bad male behavior is taking place within today’s hookup culture. This culture exists because women are participating in it actively. How come the sex positive feminists who have been promoting this culture did not understand that they have been inviting young women to tarnish not only their own reputations, but the reputations of other women too.

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