a user’s guide to handling sexual harassment allegations

So, you want to run for president. And the fact that you have minimal political experience, can’t say Uzbekistan properly, and borrowed your tax plan from Sim City has somehow managed to keep you in the primary race long enough for your (alleged) history of sexual harassment to be made public. It looks as though you might not have the necessary PR wranglers, and, if you do, they’re definitely not attentive ones–so I thought I’d do you a solid and provide you with some helpful tips for not making yourself look like an even bigger asshole in the wake of a scandal like this.

When the news of these allegations is first broken, DON’T convince yourself that it’s clever or effective to turn the question “have you ever been accused, sir, of harassment in your life by a woman?” back onto the person asking it. When you’re accused of doing something bad, any response that sounds like “well, everyone does it” is not going to be a successful one. Most of our parents managed to drill that knowledge into us by the time we were in third grade.

DON’T refer to a woman who has more power and political prowess than you as “Princess,” regardless of your feelings about her political leanings. Don’t do it on your radio show; don’t do it during a nationally televised presidential debate; don’t do it in any capacity in which you have an audience who might be seriously questioning your level of respect for women. That is barely an appropriate way to refer to a girl throwing a temper tantrum at her fifth birthday party. It is certainly not an appropriate way to refer to the former Speaker of the House.

DON’T make jokes about the woman involved in the most well-known sexual harassment scandal of our time. I mean, I would probably say that there’s not a lot of times when an Anita Hill joke is appropriate or funny. Nonetheless, if I were to make a list entitled “the least appropriate times to make an Anita Hill joke,” number one on the list would, without question, be “while you are embroiled in a very public set of sexual harassment allegations yourself.”

(Taking a tonal break here: My friend Courtney recently pointed out that Cain’s terrible-answer response in these scenarios is similar to the one detailed in this Aziz Ansari bit, and I haven’t been able to get the comparison out of my head.)

Finally, the best solution I can give for dealing with sexual harassment allegations is a preventative measure: DON’T sexually harass people. Don’t make lewd comments to your employees, don’t ask for sexual favors in exchange for employment, don’t start any by acting like a creep and there won’t be any. It sounds crazy, I know. But there’s this thing called a filter that will help you out in this endeavor, and a lot of grown-ass people have managed to figure out how to develop one and put it to use in their professional lives. You can apologize all you want, but the most effective way to stop looking like an asshole is simply to stop saying stupid shit in the first place.

However, I’m going to be blunt here: Wanting to stop looking like an asshole is one thing, but wanting to stop acting like an asshole is a far more effective approach. Filtering will only get you so far on the not-sexually-harassing front until you manage to develop this weird little trait known as “respect for women.” This one seems a little harder to come by than a filter these days, but it’s a useful trait to have at your disposal in that it helps you consider women as diverse human beings with professional, intellectual, and interpersonal skills, rather than as a monolithic category of sexual creatures who have worth solely in your enjoyment of them.

And, for those of you who aren’t public political figures and are looking for a great way to demonstrate that you aren’t an asshole and that you would never treat women with disrespect? Discontinuing your support of a presidential candidate who doesn’t respect women might be a great way to start.

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joe paterno apologism 101

A handy flowchart, courtesy of Adulting.

The closer I get to the end of my first semester of grad school, the busier I become. It was going to take something pretty serious to get me to update this blog again any time soon, what with the numerous pages of written material I have to produce in the next month. So, congratulations, rioting Penn State students and Joe Paterno defenders. You win this round.

For as disturbing as it is for me to hear/read about the Penn State rape scandal (I think we can all agree that this is definitely not a “sex scandal”) as someone working in higher education, I can’t imagine how upsetting and distressing it would be to be affiliated with that institution in any capacity. It would be a difficult experience to negotiate, without question, but somehow I don’t think my distress would lead me to turn to defending any employees of Penn State’s football program–and I definitely wouldn’t be inspired to riot in the streets and overturn media vans on their behalf.

In fact, I think it’s more than appropriate to poke holes in the “logic” that has gotten people to this place and take apart some of the incoherent rape-apologizing arguments I’ve seen floating around the internet lately.

*

Argument #1: “Paterno didn’t do anything wrong.”

I have to give it up to people who are trying to excuse the actions of Paterno and other Penn State football employees from an ethical perspective. Really. It takes a very unique perspective to try to take a moral stand in favor of bystander apathy in a case in which children were raped. There are very few areas that I would argue are morally black-and-white, but I think doing what you can to make sure children aren’t being molested is pretty cut-and-dry.

Argument #2: “Paterno went to his superiors and did exactly what was required of his job.”

Even if you remove the obvious ethical issue inherent in turning a blind eye to the sexual abuse of children in one’s workspace, this scandal gets into more questionable legal territory in that school personnel in most states–including Pennsylvania– are subject to mandatory child abuse reporting laws. At least in my experience with them, they’re phrased in a way that makes it clear that you are required to report suspected or confirmed child abuse, even if it’s just a rumor– and even if your reporting turns out to be false, even if you have to testify against a colleague or a superior, you can’t legally lose your job for doing what is legally required of you. The risk for mandatory reporters is so minimal–which means there isn’t really much of an excuse for failing to fulfill that duty.

Argument #3: “Paterno was trying to protect a friend/colleague.” 

I’m a lucky lady in that I have several bad-ass rockstars I consider my closest friends, some of whom are my co-workers right now. I would have the backs of these jerks in any scenario you can throw at me–but “having their backs” doesn’t include allowing them to harm themselves and others and engage in unequivocally illegal, unethical, exploitive, disgusting activities. Maybe this makes me a bad friend, but activities like that are the best estimate I can give for where my loyalty to my friends ends–and, even if I still was able to muster up a single shred of good-friendship in a scenario like that, I think I would still have the wherewithal to figure out that the best thing I could do for a friend doing something that horrible would be to get him/her the help he/she needs.

*

Ultimately, Joe Paterno, and many other employees of Penn State, fucked up. There isn’t a coherent argument that will convince anyone otherwise. They didn’t do what was required of them in their jobs, and they certainly didn’t do what was required of them as decent human beings. The fact that people are rioting to defend Joe Paterno is a horrifying indication of how out-of-control the influence of athletics in higher ed has grown. And we can rage on these Penn State students all we want, but the worst thing about them is that they are not alone. This is not a problem exclusive to Penn State.

This scandal is a perfect storm of a lot of horrible things that go on in higher ed, things that I’ve seen in various iterations at both the midwestern D3 liberal arts college I attended during undergrad and the western D1 state school at which I’m working on my MA– the lionization of athletic programs, the value placed on maintaining institutional reputation at the expense of the protection of human beings, a passive-bystander culture, and a silence around sexual violence that leads to terrible administrative decisions and blatant rape apologism. It all has to stop, and I’m honestly disgusted by the fact that the rape of numerous children had to be covered up and subsequently uncovered in order for there to be widespread public acknowledgment of that.

But not as disgusted as I am by those who refuse to accept that acknowledgment and to see these obvious problems, those who are continuing to defend this broken system and the people who upheld it. Believe me, as someone who was raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin, I don’t think I could have a more accurate understanding of how much football matters within certain communities–but it’s absolutely inexcusable to suggest in any capacity that the culture of a sport should ever take precedence over protecting the livelihood of any single member of that community. I can only hope that a lot of people in higher ed and athletics (and, I mean, just generally) begin to not only acknowledge that fact but act upon it as well–and not just at Penn State.

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that post i promised on thursday.

I don’t expect everyone to be some kind of practiced scholar of feminist or gender studies, least of all anyone who’s a member of the mainstream media– but I’ve definitely been disappointed in coverage of the shootings in Tuscon over the past week. It seems to me that every story on this takes one of three angles, all of which are true, and none of which are complete, and acts like it and the other approaches are mutually exclusive when, in fact, the world is much more complicated than that.

Yes, gun control “regulations” in America are awful and that’s why we have such grotesquely high rates of gun violence for an industrialized nation, though I would argue that’s also exacerbated by other cultural factors. (However, that comment is not an invitation to chime in to tell me that knives, cars, and swimming pools are just as deadly. If a mass murderer goes on a car or a swimming pool rampage or someone manages to kill multiple persons from a distance with a knife, we’ll talk.) But all our shitty gun control laws did was facilitate this– they were not the catalyst for it.

Yes, Jared Loughner was mentally unstable. Yes, we have terrible mental healthcare in this country and mental illness is stigmatized in a way that is incredibly alienating for those who suffer from it. But it seems to me that this argument is implied in a way that removes responsibility from cultural trends, like “crazy” people don’t have political beliefs when Loughner obviously did, though they were extreme and not particularly characteristic of any mainstream party. Also, after reading Dave Cullen’s Columbine, I tend to be skeptical of armchair psychology on the part of the media– though it seems to me that they are doing better this time around. And, again, not all people who suffer from mental illness commit violent crimes (in fact, they’re far more likely to be victims of them than perpetrators), nor are all people who commit violent crimes suffering from mental illness. So, this as lone explanation doesn’t really hold water for me.

Yes, our culture is incredibly violent, particularly our political culture. You can’t argue that violent imagery isn’t a normalized way of talking about ideological difference in our country, and, whether Loughner was directly inspired by it or not, political figures need to be held accountable for their speech. Again, I see this as a facilitator and not necessarily a catalyst for this event.

But, between trying to prove that one of these three theories is correct when, in fact, a very extreme combination of the three likely made it possible, very few people seem to think it’s significant that this was an intended assassination of a woman perpetrated by someone with an extreme misogynist ideology. Sady Doyle has written about it on both her Tumblr account and on Tiger Beatdown, but other than that? I’ve just seen passing mentions of Loughner’s rejection from and hatred of women in articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

The most obvious examples came from an article published on the New York Times website yesterday, “Looking Behind the Mug-Shot Grin of an Accused Killer,” researched by Jo Becker, Serge Kovaleski, Michael Luo, and Dan Berry, and written by Dan Berry:

At a small local branch of a national bank, for example, the tellers would have their fingers on the alarm button whenever they saw him approaching.

It was not just his appearance– the shaved head and eyebrows– that unnerved them. It was also the aggressive, often sexist things he said, including asserting that women should not be allowed to hold positions of power or authority.

One individual with knowledge of the situation said Mr. Loughner once got into a dispute with a female branch employee after she told him that a request of his would violate bank policy. He brusquely challenged the woman, telling her that she should not have any power.

Not only did Loughner think women should not have power, some of his internet postings included some disturbing thoughts about rape. And he gunned down a female politician? What a strange coincidence!

It’s pretty clear that Loughner planned his attack, and it’s also apparent that he hated Rep. Giffords– not necessarily for political reasons, but, as the Wall Street Journal reported:

That interest might have triggered Mr. Loughner’s first meeting with Ms. Giffords in 2007. Mr. Loughner said he asked the lawmaker, “How do you know words mean anything?” recalled Mr. Montanaro. He said Mr. Loughner was “aggravated” when Ms. Giffords, after pausing for a couple of seconds, “responded to him in Spanish and moved on with the meeting.”

Wall Street Journal, are you trying to tell us that a man who clearly hated women got angry when a woman outsmarted him in a discussion? What? That never happens, except for, you know, on a regular basis to every woman who dares to overstep her “boundaries” in the presence of the people who are trying so desperately to keep her inside of them.

And that’s the worst part of Loughner’s misogyny: it’s not uncommon. People deny rape all the time, people still think women can’t be authoritative, people are still offended when a woman doesn’t hide her intelligence — despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. And maybe that’s why the media isn’t covering it– because they don’t think it’s unusual enough to be of interest. But something doesn’t have to be unusual for it to be notable, and the fact that these attitudes are so commonplace as to not be noted and called out? You cannot tell me that is not a huge part of the reason that they haven’t gone away. By not talking about this, we make it okay.

Not every person who thinks this way will commit an act of violence against a woman or women. But plenty of them will, whether on a public stage or in the privacy of their workplace or home. And instead of calling out the people who think and say and do these terrible things, we tell women to keep quiet and cover up, falsely implying both that the onus is on them and that passivity is somehow going to protect you from violence. And when a phenomenal act of violence is committed against an intelligent and authoritative woman by someone who hated intelligent, authoritative women? That’s as good a time as any to take note of this, to bring these attitudes into the light and point out why they’re not just unethical and incorrect but potentially dangerous.

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links that will make you feel generally better about humans.

I’ve been bumming about the Tuscon shootings since Saturday, and I’m trying to corral my thoughts into a semi-coherent entry about the fact that I think it’s the very sad outcome of many of the factors people have proposed as sole factors– shitty gun control laws, a totally unproductive systemic way of dealing with mental health, and violence not just in our political system but in our culture as a whole– as well as the distressing way the shooter seemed to have thought about/obsessed over his intended victim (and, also, women in general), which hasn’t been touched on much by the media for reasons about which I have several theories. So I’ll write that once my brain stops throbbing over the whole “blood libel” thing, as well as my long-overdue Black Swan post.

But! The good thing is that some really awesome people have gotten recognition as a result of this, so here are some stories about great people if you ever (understandably) start to get down on humanity. I know I’ve been making judicious use of these links lately, so I hope they can be helpful to others as well.

First of all, I know he insists he’s not a hero, but I think we can all agree that Rep. Giffords’s intern Daniel Hernandez’s ability to maintain a clear head and get stuff done is incredible. It blows my mind that Hernandez is my age– and it makes me want to step up my game. Clearly, being 20 and doing awesome things are not mutually exclusive. And, while I certainly wasn’t shocked to find that a gay man was capable of heroism like some news outlets seemed to be, I sincerely hope all the political leaders who wrongly suggested in their last-ditch attempts at blocking the DADT repeal that gay men wouldn’t know how to handle themselves in a battlefield situation have seriously reconsidered their position.

Also, I’m unabashedly anti-death penalty, but even if you don’t feel the same, I think it’s important to know about the work of Jared Loughner’s lawyer, Judy Clarke. I think those who defend violent criminals often get a reputation as being heartless, soulless bastards, but, even if you are the electric chair’s number-one fan, it’s hard not to admire Clarke’s ability to treat everyone, even some of the most foul criminals in history, as fully human. Some of the people she’s defended are people I consider the most absolutely foul, but I have massive amounts of respect for her.

And if that wasn’t enough for you, here’s a picture of a man saving a baby kangaroo from flooding:

And a video that reminds me that groups of people, not just individual persons, are capable of being good even when there’s not a disaster:

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blatant materialism and objectification

I’m taking a momentary break from semi-serious blogging to answer a very important question: If you were Oprah, what would you have given away as your favorite things of 2010? And since I couldn’t remember the quote from the 30 Rock episode where Liz meets “Oprah” on a plane about calypso music and pashminas or whatever, here’s my list:

-The second season of Community. Every episode has just been ridiculously perfect. Plus, Chevy Chase’s character reminds me of Diana’s stepdad, who is pretty much the source of every hilarious story I have to offer the world.

-Jon Hamm. I think we can all agree that he is really, really, ridiculously good-looking. I mean, come on.

-Kathleen Madigan’s stand-up special, which is currently available on Showtime On Demand. I don’t know if other people would like it as much as I do, but any comedy special that would fill my personal bingo card of things I love to talk about gets a thumbs-up from me.

(I now realize that these last four paragraphs make it seem like all I do is watch TV. I actually watch it rarely when I’m in school. And now that I’m on break, I’ve seen every episode of Tabatha’s Salon Takeover like seven times.)

-Nail polish. I rekindled my obsession with nail polish after work made my nails look janky this summer. Mostly, it’s just a good mindless calming thing I can do every few days to take some time to myself. I think my favorite colors that were released this year would have to be China Glaze’s Ingrid, OPI’s Tease-y Does It (beautiful despite its legitimately stupid name), Zoya’s Edyta, and Revlon’s Perplex. I mean, it chips like a beast on me, even with fancy-pants topcoat, but it’s fun and buying nail polish has actually curtailed my habit of needlessly purchasing neutral sweaters just because I’m bored. So that’s worth something, I guess.

-Tom’s shoes. I have two pairs of them– a turquoise linen pair and a white/silver canvas pair– and I am wildly in love. Having high arches makes it difficult to find flats that my knees don’t hate, but these are super supportive. They’re also really light, which is great for people like me who feel like shoes are oppressing their feet. And for every pair you buy, a child who needs shoes gets a pair. All-around fabulous.

-Convertible gloves/glittens/hobo gloves/whatever it is you call them. I hate winter, but I always get excited when it’s cold enough to wear these for the first time.

-Related: this coat. My mom gave it to me for Christmas last year, and it’s great– warm but not too heavy, flattering, and durable. It’s actually satiated my need to buy cute coats to feel more positively about winter.

-Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”:

I’m super indecisive, so it’s hard for me to make decisive claims like this, but this is without a doubt my favorite song of 2010. And I’m including “Home” by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros in the running.

-Other musical things I enjoyed that were released in 2010, beyond that song/the album it was part of: Vampire Weekend’s Contra, The National’s High Violet, Frightened Rabbit’s Winter of Mixed Drinks. Oh, and Pink Friday by Nicki Minaj did a wonderful job keeping me motivated while writing twenty-seven pages and three blue-book exams over the course of five days during finals.

-Related, although inspiring the exact opposite of productivity: the Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja apps for the iPod/iPhone. Addictive. In the words of Lara: “How do you ever accomplish anything knowing you can play Angry Birds whenever you want?!”

-Alterra’s Brazil Traditional Dry single-origin coffee. So dark and so smooth.

-Real Guinness– the kind that’s brewed in Ireland. Not everyone loves it, but I do. It’s like drinking a month’s worth of iron supplements, but tasty. (Related: I’m seriously missing Ireland lately. It’s getting to be a problem, since I’m in serious denial that I’m actually going to be at SNC next semester and actually graduating in May. Oh, well.)

-Sharpie Pens. I only jumped on that bandwagon last week, but I think it still counts for 2010.

So, yes! Those are my favorite things. Bear this post in mind for the day when I’m as famous as Oprah, which is sure to happen approximately never. The beginning of 2010 was wonderful for me, the end of it not-so-much, but it definitely wasn’t worthless.

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a few thoughts on DADT and assange-gate.

1. DADT was finally repealed, but you all already knew that. Here‘s an interesting article from The Atlantic about John McCain’s homophobia. I’m definitely not satisfied with the Obama administration’s record on issues of equality (though, disclaimers: 1. It would take approximately two fuckloads of progress on these issues to satiate me, and 2. I think they’d have gotten a lot more done if they would stop rolling over on every damn thing), but I feel better about it knowing that we didn’t elect this decrepit old bigot.

2. Another thing I think that everyone is at least minimally aware of: Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, is currently mired in a scandal over allegations of sex crimes. Again: I don’t have the authority to say whether or not they’re true. At this point, they’re still allegations. Which is a word that implies “we don’t know what’s going on, but we’re going to take this seriously until we do.” Not, “we don’t know what’s going on, so let’s totally blow it off.” Not that anyone would ever know that by looking at the way rape allegations are treated.

Because he’s so notorious and so famous, the less-than-stellar treatment one can expect from sexual assault allegations has been, in a way, better– the Swedish government is actually, you know, doing things about it– but the backlash against these accusations has been, frankly, appalling. Assange seems to have a small fan club of famous apologists on his side, because people have yet to grasp that they can support one thing a person does without being beholden to support all the things that person does.

The first famous person to take a stand in favor of Assange is Naomi Wolf, who has written two offensive columns for the Huffington Post on the topic, but the shit-storm really took off with the comments of Michael Moore, who offered the bail money for Assange, then took to Keith Olbermann’s show to totally mischaracterize the allegations against Assange. (If you’re borrowing your information on this from Moore, I’d suggest you look up the actual details of this cases, which are decidedly more significant than failed contraception.)

Fortunately, the online feminist community has taken them to task. Over at the fabulous Tiger Beatdown, Sady Doyle wrote a post about the frustration of seeing progressives take rape allegations so unseriously and called for action via Twitter.  This engagement spawned an argument over Twitter with Keith Olbermann over his softball-at-best interview with Moore about his comments on the situation, and his retaliation has caused me to lose all respect I might have had for him. Because, really? If you are so unwilling to admit you screwed the pooch that you’ll scour the internet for a picture of Sady Doyle smoking and try to turn it into an argument about her not being a feminist, you have too much time on your hands and too few thoughts to contribute to the situation. Or everyone else just missed the day of Feminist School where we learned the first commandment of feminism, which would obviously be “thou shalt not smoke,” not “thou shalt not be a misogynistic asshat.”

For summaries of everything that’s gone down, check out Tiger Beatdown, as well as this post from the always well-reasoned Kate Harding about the campaign and the responses to it. It’s a very valid look at the discourse about sexual violence and gendered power differentials in our culture. Only would this sort of stratification allow for people to act like taking rape accusations seriously is some kind of massive human rights violation. It’s decidedly frustrating, as a politically progressive woman, to see how willing the progressive movement and its figureheads are to throw women under the bus when it’s convenient for them, and this whole debacle is yet another manifestation of that. Lord knows other political groups aren’t doing any better, but that’s little consolation.

EDIT: Jessica Valenti just posted an awesome roundup of relevant links. Check it out.

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adhd roundup: an entry fueled by espresso. moreso than usual, i mean.

I tried to give up/cut back on caffeine in November. Today, I’ve decided that effort was futile, and my general outlook on life has drastically improved after a very dry cappuccino. I don’t think that’s coincidental. So, in my hyped-up state, I wanted to touch on a few things briefly that I may expand upon later that I’ve been thinking about over my over-a-week-long blogging hiatus.

1. Royal wedding hysteria.

My thoughts generally boil down to: stop that. Admittedly, I find televised wedding-related shenanigans super boring– except in the case of Say Yes to the Dress, which, like everything on TLC, makes me get all self-righteous, or if they’re really quirky/adorable, and then even I can only be so cynical. I mean, I’m sure it will do good things for England’s economy, but really. It’s a wedding. A really gratuitous wedding.

2. VH1 Divas.

I’m on the fence about this. I like that they’re giving people like Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Nicki Minaj (whose album is my studying guilty pleasure) a chance to show their talent and that the roster is diverse at every possible level. Including caliber of musical talent!

I don’t like to make fun of women who are just doing their thing, and I know she knows her music is shallow so I won’t call her out on that, and I find “Teenage Dream” and “Firework” super catchy– but, really? Katy Perry? On VH1 Divas? She has like a three-note range*. And she has more than enough exposure so it’s not like they’re showcasing an up-and-comer, and she’s not going to go down in history as one of the great vocalists of our time any more than Ashlee Simpson or myself will. I just feel like so many talented people could have been chosen in her place. Particularly ones who have never released songs titled “Ur So Gay.”

*And yet this doesn’t stop me from singing/car-dancing to “Teenage Dream” like a total doofus on a regular basis. Remember the movie version of Josie and the Pussycats with the subliminal messaging conspiracy? I think we may have a case of that going on here.

3. Christmas music.

It gets old. Fast. But I would like to take the time to attempt to call a moratorium on a particular song: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” I thought this song was adorable for a long time, because I love a good jazzy Christmas song (let’s be real, the only real reason Christmas in my life is to gorge myself and listen to Frank Sinatra, because I never, ever do those things during any time of year.) And God knows I loved the Zooey Deschanel Elf version as much as anyone. But… have you listened to the words of that song? Like, intently? Because it’s weirdly date-rape-y and kind of makes light of consent. I don’t like that– and I like the song, but since I’ve noticed that? RUINED.

Now that I’ve swooped in and done my feminist-Grinch schtick, here is a palate cleansing/apologetic carol, courtesy of Dean Martin.

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