Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Price of Coming Forth to Denounce Sexual Harassment

By now we know that the #MeToo movement has produced mixed results. In some cases it caused male managers and supervisors to be shamed and fired. In many cases it has produced hostility toward women in the workplace. It persuaded many men in upper management that mentoring young women was not worth the risk. In many cases, as reported here, such men’s wives strictly forbade them from taking unnecessary risks with their livelihood and the well being of the family.

But, what about the women who were leading the #MeToo movement, like feminist firebrand Rebecca Traister. Linked here. And also linked here. Since she is unwilling to evaluate the way that the movement made work life more difficult for women, Traister examines what happens to the women who came forward.

In many cases, bad things happened. Being a zealot and a fanatic Traister does not take any responsibility for encouraging behavior that has ended up damaging women. To her mind they have become martyrs for her cause. She thinks that in the long run things will work out for the best. 

Evidently, there are times when victims should definitely speak out. And yet, there are other times when the risks exceed the rewards. Traister believes that the #MeToo movement will put yet another nail in the coffin of the patriarchy and of white supremacist capitalism, but many people whose livelihoods derive from such businesses do not look kindly on someone who threatened their jobs by going public. Given the choice between their love for justice and their love for their jobs, most people, male and female, will opt for the latter.

And besides, declaring that women are the vanguard of the Revolution is not going to make women more respected or trusted in the workplace. Why would a company risk hiring a potentially zealous feminist? Why would anyone trust someone whose loyalty to a cause exceeded her loyalty to the company? Radical feminist hyperbole has made life more difficult for women in the workplace. It is good to underscore the point.

For a Traister the #MeToo fallout showed that men are omnipotent, that they maintain absolute power, that they are beyond reproach and beyond punishment. Hers is a mythic mischaracterization of men, made even more empty by the fact that many women were none too happy with #MeToo.

In Traister’s words:

By and large, those tales of harassment and assault told mostly by women were heard (and are still understood) as stories about men, stories about what powerful (and middling) men had done with their hands or their words or their workplace authority or their penises. We have spent far less time considering those who told the stories that purportedly ruined the lives of these men. How did the storytellers themselves fare?

So, what happened to the women who came forth. Traister continues:

What we found out, I should warn you, is not uplifting. The women who came forward were most often not received as heroic actors who had already suffered real losses and were chancing further degradation and penalty. There has been very little acknowledgment that the risks of speaking up in many ways replicate the risks of harassment itself: the pressures, the humiliations, the possibility of having one’s professional record obscured by smears. Of course, the scale of the harm done to the storytellers differs, as does so much else, depending on their class and race, the stability of their points of entry into a public and perilous conversation.

She continues:

But many others described isolation and loneliness. The treatment they’ve received — further abuse, insult, blame, guilt — has made some of them leery of human connection. Despite the fevered view of women jumping hastily onto some party bandwagon, few say they were actually eager to talk about harassment or assault and sometimes delayed saying anything for months or years.

With the exception of those who were already famous movie stars and the few whose testimony riveted a nation, many who told stories, even on the record, remain largely anonymous, their names quickly forgotten — until a prospective employer Googles them, at least. This stands in contrast to the view expressed by many in a critical press, and by many accused men, that women come forward for personal gain. While the question of whether accused men will get their jobs back has been treated in certain quarters as a moral quandary — a test of our society’s capacity for forgiveness and the possibility of redemption — few have noticed that getting hired again after having gone public about being harassed can prove to be a significant hurdle.

In truth, she should have known this. It seems grossly unfair, but it has been happening for decades now. Women who call out powerful men for a variety of offensive behaviors-- and there is a variety-- become radioactive. They sometimes win lawsuits. They rarely get another job. This counts as a risk factor. Women should consider it when they are deciding whether or not to go public.

One Christie Van worked at Ford Motor Company. She had been harassed and came forward to denounce her harasser. Traister reports:

Christie Van says that she was propositioned and shown sexually explicit material by multiple supervisors at Ford’s Chicago Assembly plant and that when she filed a report to the company, she was removed from work assignments, called a snitch, and attacked in the plant’s parking lot. Ford did not substantiate her report, but the EEOC later found she had experienced sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation.

And also:

“I would never do it again, and I would never recommend another woman do it,” says Christie Van, who complained of harassment at the Ford Motor Company and has since been homeless and separated from her son. “Why would I tell someone to go up against a billionaire company like this and destroy their life?”

When former NBC newswomen Linda Vester denounced Tom Brokaw for his harassment, other newswomen at NBC turned their backs on her:

What was possibly more shocking was the letter from the NBC women. While it was so carefully worded, so nuanced, it was effectively saying, if you come forward, other women will shame you. Not only did it hurt me personally, I thought it did such damage to every other woman who was trying to summon the courage to come forward. Some people who I had worked with — one of whom had called herself my mentor — had signed that letter. I was also very disappointed in Rachel Maddow.

You would think that things would have been better for a woman who denounced accused rapist Harvey Weinstein. Once Lauren O'Connor's name became public, things got very bad indeed.

This story should serve as a counterpoint to the glory that is being heaped on one Emily Miller for identifying herself as Brock Turner’s rape victim. I will repeat myself, to the effect that those who praised Miller for taking control of the narrative should have understood that sacrificing anonymity was not a good thing:

In 2015, 28-year-old Lauren O’Connor, a production executive at the Weinstein Company, wrote a memo indicting a “toxic environment for women” there. An executive leaked it to the New York ‘Times’ in what became the first story to expose Harvey Weinstein. She left the company with a settlement and a nondisclosure agreement, one of several negotiated by Weinstein over decades.

In O’Connor’s words:

I don’t think I understood the necessity of the New York Times using my name. I felt like all control that I had over my own life was taken from me. I felt stripped of my right to privacy. Because my name was going to become two words in a newspaper and no longer my own. I associate my name in print with a fear of retaliation, with a loss of privacy, of losing any sense of agency over the way you might be perceived in the world by strangers or people you know. You worry your intention will be questioned. You worry your credibility will be questioned.

To come forward is expensive in a way I had no idea about and has cost more than double my financial resources. Nine times out of ten, it will involve legal entanglements that cost money. I’ve come to learn how expensive it is to get a photo pulled down or out of print. Therapy is expensive. All in all, we’re talking easily six figures, even with some pro bono representation, and I’m still paying it off. I have questioned whether I would do it over again. It’s also emotionally expensive. There is a literal tax on integrity.

The worst part is the infamy. Remember the story of Paula Coughlin, the woman associated with the Tailhook scandal during the first Bush administration. You recall that Naval Officer Coughlin had been harassed and groped during a convention of naval aviators. When she came forward, people shunned her. In her words:

It just baffled me that anyone else in the military would want to protect the men that were really destroying the Navy-officer-aviation reputation. The secretary of Defense was Dick Cheney at the time. He said to me, “You know, I had to fire the secretary of the Navy because of you.” Wow. Not because of me — because of every fuck-up between me and the secretary of the Navy.

There was no way my life was ever going to be normal going to work when everybody around me didn’t get their promotion because of me. It was over. When I left my squadron, not one single person walked me to my car.

It was a nonevent, like I didn’t even exist. It was really one of the worst days of my life.

I was so infamous. This was when the internet was really taking off. There are still to this day websites dedicated to destroying my reputation. They know where I live; every time I move, it’s updated. My dad’s golf buddies from the Navy, they had a lot of crappy stuff to say about me. It dissolved some of my dad’s lifelong friendships and my mom’s. In my own hometown, when Tailhook was in the paper and on the news, I went to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant near my house, and a woman threw a drink on me and said, “God forgive me, but you got exactly what you deserve, you whore.”

There is no good solution here. If a woman destroys the careers of dozens of naval officers, she should not be too surprised to discover that she is not greeted as a conquering hero. As noted above, there is no good solution to this. 


trigger warning said...

"There is no good solution here."

True. In fact...

“There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.”
--- Thomas Sowell

I suspect that, in most cases, had the disappointed women not imagined - or been encouraged to imagine - their future to be one of heroic empowerment and social justice, they would not have come forward. As noted, the tradeoff between a damaged career and the satisfaction of justice done is not one to be taken lightly. Deliberate martyrdom has always been a choice best taken with eyes open to a worst-case scenario.

Complicating this is the "twitter bandwagon effect", when women with increasingly less credible, or wholly falsified, complaints jump on the bandwagon, diluting the credibility and impact of actual harms done to others. The bandwagon effect has been especially visible in the related domain of so-called "hate crimes". "Hate crime" hoaxes have all but reduced the impact of inflammatory racial "hate crime" complaints to skeptical eye-rolling, and #MeToo is obviously suffering from the same problem when simple handshakes are perceived to a potential minefield. VP Pence wisely, IMO, traded off possible reputational damage against the cost of public ridicule.

Sam L. said...

And all those trade-offs are negative. Likely, VERY negative.

Sam L. said...

I don't know that men are now hostile to women in the workplace, but they should be very, very wary. I'm glad I'm retired.