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Sexual Harassment Hysteria

in response to Daphne Patai

Forum: WMST-L
Date: 03/17/2000

At 2:46 PM -0800 3/16/00, Daphne Patai wrote:

One of the really sad things happening is that teachers are afraid to touch even their very young pupils. At a presentation I gave a few years ago to the Massachusetts Teachers Association, many elementary school teachers told me that in the present climate they not only never touch pupils, they wouldn't even offer a kid a lift home. A *kindergarten* teacher actually said that her pupils often need cuddling but that she's afraid to touch them. She made a (to me) memorable comment: "In order to have just a little bit of human contact with them, I try to touch their fingertips as I hand things out to them in class." This is a 'better' society??

The tragedies you describe are more reflection of the legalistic regime in this country rather than that of what feminists wanted.

Feminist argument against sexual harassment is that certain patterns of interactions at workplace and school that are sexual and unwanted are discriminatory and thus illegal, and it has not changed. However, as lawsuits from the victims of sexual harassment became a realistic threat to corporations, government agencies and schools, they began to control their liability by the least progressive way possible -- by regulating friendly and romantic relationships. This unfortunately changed the public perception of the feminist anti-sexual harassment rhetoric to rigid, anti-men, anti-heterosexual and paternalistic, which in turn some unsophisticated feminists adapted themselves.

I work in the domestic violence field, and the same thing happened there too. In order to enforce laws against the domestic violence, police officers in this country are taught the list of behaviors that are considered abusive, rather than a broader perspective on how power and control is used and maintained by the abuser. The fact is, some hitting (such as in self-defense or in an S/M play) is not abusive while other non-violent behaviors (even sending flowers) can be part of an abusive dynamic at the hand of a particularly manipulative abuser, but majority of people do not understand this concept. As a result, many victims of domestic violence get arrested for fighting back and sent to jails or counseling groups along with other abusers -- which, to me, is a complete nightmare. Feminists did not want this to happen; it is the fundamental misunderstanding of feminist analysis that led to such tragedies.

It is true that feminist anti-violence projects have not been as successful as we would have liked at defending against being co- opted by law enforcement mentality, but attacking feminists for the error of the legal system and the law enforcement is unwarranted.

Emi K.
The Feminist Conspiracy