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WildlyParenthetical is a cultural theorist, a feminist and queer, with a tendency towards fierce indignation, amusement and random (and not so random!) caring. Also to longwindedness, which kind people occasionally suggest is Extremely Useful.

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  1. Mary
    Mary at | *

    I am a fan of social sanctions in an ideal world. There tend to be two problems with introducing it in practice:
    (a) some people at either the level of instinct or the level of rational analysis find it almost impossible to distinguish from bullying (see the Geek Social Fallacies, especially #1) and refuse to participate or actively attempt to defend the person sanctioned or sanction the sanctioners, causing a lot of internal community conflict.
    (b) it often turns out (at least in communities that I’m a part of) that not as many people are opposed to sexual harassment as one might hope. So a substantial fraction of participants oppose social sanctions or vow to not enforce them because it turns out they like sexual harassment just fine.

    (b) is always a really distressing conversation to have in a community you felt safe in; you seldom feel safe after it turns out that a loud minority feel that sexual harassment is the effective/normal/desirable (at least, but not exclusively) heterosexual mating strategy.

    On a slight tangent (in your first comment! sorry!) we’ve had this discussion in the geek community a fair bit lately, and it led me to discover Section 316 of the NSW crimes act, which does criminalise not involving the police in some matters. (See 3.27 through 3.30 of a review for some possible negative effects on victims.)

  2. elaine
    elaine at |

    As an (unwarned) former grad student of a misogynist, my experience is that the power imbalance directly stemming from the cash generation by senior academic staff such as by heading Centres of Excellence or being appointed a Federation Fellow mean that entire departments will turn a blind eye to by problem for fear of losing much needed research funds. It’s ‘better’ for the university to have funded research and a couple of ‘disgruntled’ or ‘failed’ students than lose all that money.

    Junior academic staff are concerned about their limited career opportunities in australia and wont rock the boat.

    For my part, I would always warn anyone who asked me about the graduate experience they could expect under such supervision. Warning I wish someone had given me.

    I can’t see social sanctions working under these conditions.

  3. tigtog
    tigtog at |

    Nice elucidation of the difficulties there, Mary.

    In an ideal world I’d love it if everybody who witnessed an act of sexual harassment would just give that person a 24-hr timeout display of the cold shoulder, just telling the harasser if he demands an explanation “you are on a timeout – bye” or similar. In theory this would allow the harasser to modify their behaviour the next day and be dealt with normally as a reward for catching the clue. If the behaviour is not improved, another day in timeout.

    In practice, I can foresee it all going horribly wrong.

  4. Chris
    Chris at |

    Mary @ 1 – I think that many in the geek community reflexively oppose ostracism in their community because of the what they experienced in school and general life because of their geekiness.

    And as you kind of allude to ostracism probably on works effectively when you have a majority support in the community for your actions. And in a geek community where many have suffered through ostracism because of what other non geek people believed to be true about them, geeks are going to require a very high level of “proof” before participating.

  5. Mary
    Mary at | *

    I turned my comment into a Geek Feminism post, if people want to pursue the Geek Social Fallacies angle a lot.

  6. Rayna
    Rayna at |

    On another note, does anyone know of any resources that would be useful to give to someone who has been a victim of sexual harassment that helps empower them to talk to someone about it? All I can find is really basic sheets with definitions and some generic advice to talk to someone, but I want something that addresses how they might feel and actually helps put them in a space in which they feel comfortable telling someone. So far I have downloaded some stuff from the Equal Opportunity Commission, and I’m looking around elsewhere too, but I thought less formal resources would be valuable – blog posts dealing with these issues, for eg.

    Sorry if this is derailing, I’m just on the search now and.. I’ve read so may articles and posts on this I’m not sure where to begin finding something that would be useful for someone in that situation, and who probably isn’t familiar with a lot of the language and feminist discourse around the issue.

    This person is mostly a stranger and I just want to give them stuff that might help, with the hope that they will talk to key people so that the professional relationship between organisations ends and others like her aren’t put in that situation. But obviously I myself don’t want to pressure her into telling anyone, for reasons that I’m sure most of you here will understand.

    (And as grad students the issue of power differentials and personal stakes is very relevant)

  7. Rayna
    Rayna at |

    PS Just because I wasn’t clear – despite my last part in parentheses, this person’s actual professional relationship with the harasser is long over, the stakes not as high now as they were at the time. So this person does not face dire material consequences for sharing the information in terms of her job and studies. I *think* (but obviously can’t say with any authority) the barriers are the usual social repercussions for people who have been harassed and intimidated. I don’t think she feels comfortable approaching the relevant authority figures, I’m presuming that’s why she hasn’t done so.

    I just want to help so that she feels she has options should she ever be in this position again, and so that she might consider telling an authority (or allowing me to do so anonymously) so that future grad students in our course are not placed with this person who harassed her. These are my concerns, feel free to tell me if I’m out of line here. I’m not in a position to ‘shun’ nor am I in a position of power, but if I can do anything to help then I want to.

  8. tigtog
    tigtog at |

    @Rayna, sorry that your posts above sat in moderation for a while – I suspect that WildlyP was asleep over in the Netherlands. I don’t have any suggestions right now, I just wanted to bump this thread to the top of the sidebar so that people get a chance to read your comments.

  9. WildlyParenthetical
    WildlyParenthetical at |

    @Rayna My apologies too! :-)

    As far as reading material goes, I don’t really have any, although many universities and other institutions will have a flyer/brochure about harassment and discrimination, usually with contact details for people to talk to. What I think it sometimes missing from those brochures is the point that if you are feeling uncertain about whether or not something counts, about what the consequences are etc, those people are usually available for that purpose as well. Also counsellors, woman’s room co-ordinators and equity people can be good to approach.

    The alternative I might suggest is sending her somewhere like What is is like to be a woman in philosophy?, just because reading others’ stories, and discovering a community of people who consider these behaviours problematic (or illegal, or whatever) can be enough to help you reassess your own experience, to realise that your injured feelings are not markers of your own hypersensitivity, but recognition of injustice… sorry I don’t have more thoughts though!

    Thanks for thoughts, everyone; it’s been interesting to think about. I also wanted to update you all that there’s a new blog called ‘What are you doing about what it’s like: Making thing better for women in philosophy’ which, when it opens, is seeking to tell some of the more positive stories about institutional change. I like this ideas-sharing, and hope that it gives us some more ideas about how to tackle misogyny. Whilst I like the shunning idea, as others have suggested, it’s insufficient on its own, and can create bigger problems. But I for one would like to give especially men explicit approval for not being okay with sexual harassment and discrimination, and to make that visible (shunning is not the only way to do that, but it is one). Because although their status in the masculine bloc can be at stake, and I get that that can be a scary thing to put at risk (yes, there’s a privilege conversation to be had here too, but I’d like to acknowledge why it can be hard), it also means that that move (disapproval or shunning) has more significance for other harassing men than when women do it.

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