after #metoo

It’s a bit disingenuous to be shocked. We may be surprised that a particular person abuses women, but we shouldn’t be shocked that it’s a common thing. Not after decades of complaint about sexual harassment. Not after a century of activism that tries to establish autonomy and safety for all genders.  It’s a sad truth that our culture tolerates violence against women. The only thing that shocks me is that someone is actually suffering the consequences of their actions.

But the real question is “what next?” Social conservatives will be quick to blame the culture of the sexual revolution and its view that sex can be enjoyable and diverse in form. Some have linked the voluntary expression of sexuality to violence perpetrated against women. Conservative critics are too willing to align the more general tendency to prey on people with a genuine reform of our sexual mores.

The waning stages of battle between social conservatives and their feminist foils are not important, but what #metoo means for everyday people is important. While politicians and entertainers have drawn the most attention at this moment, #metoo shows that harassment and violence are not limited to these rarefied spheres. This happens everyday.

No blog post can do justice to this issue, but we can start thinking about what does and does not work. Let’s start with what does not seem to work:

  • Private settlements: While private settlements may bring some restitution to victims, it does little to prevent future harm. The main issue is that victims, understandably, want privacy. Another issue is that settlements can be passed off onto third parties, like insurers. These do nothing to discourage future violence.
  • Institutional enforcement outside criminal justice: Many institutions – like universities – are called upon to police and monitor abuse. While institutions have an obligation to take reasonable measures to prevent employees from harming others, they are often ill suited to properly adjudicate claims. Another problem is that when abusers have status, it is people’s self-interest within the institution to not  push the issue.

What does work?

  • The current #metoo movement is facilitated by information and technology. It is really hard to imagine this movement would have succeeded in the age before social media. Similarly, high profile revelations of abuse rely on having friendly allies in the media who can collaborate and help with the story. This is also a relatively recent development.
  • Public push back: Another important thing that works is (justified) outrage. Not the faux rage of social media, but people’s genuine disgust with those who commit violence. Alas, this is a mechanism of control that is hard to trigger and it is rare.

What can we do to promote more safety and civility in everyday life? Here, I appeal to the work of my former colleague Elizabeth Armstrong, Laura Hamilton and Brian Sweeney as reported in their article “Sexual Assault on Campus: A Multilevel, Integrative Approach to Party Rape,” published in 2006 in Social Problems. The crux of the argument is that when men monopolize alcohol distribution on college campuses, they have more ability to assault women.

There may a similar dynamic at play in other situations. When men have a monopoly of resources (e.g., jobs in Hollywood or careers in academia), they feel they can prey on others. This suggests to me that sexual predation is facilitated by structures that allow a few to hoard opportunities and to do so in secrecy. If this analysis is correct, then it suggests that we can do much to prevent abuse by opening up opportunities to more people and doing so in public ways. Once the initial anger has past, I hope that we, as a culture, can develop social practices that allow men and women to work together while removing opportunities for abuse.

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Written by fabiorojas

November 29, 2017 at 5:19 am

Posted in fabio, gender, uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. What can academic sociology do about its own house? We have an idea: Gather information privately and release it publicly as a package. This is a way to harness the two elements you list as useful.

    Liked by 1 person

    Philip N. Cohen

    November 29, 2017 at 2:30 pm

  2. WHAT CAN WE DO? Assault is a crime. Lock up the blokes who commit this sexual violence against women (and men) and this would be a start. From Weinstein to Cosby to Lauer to conyers they all should be in prison.


    Earl Smith

    November 29, 2017 at 2:31 pm

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