There are inevitably mixed emotions surrounding the many revelations about powerful men using their position to harass, exploit and abuse others sexually. The disgust at their actions, the horror at the scale of the abuse and the tactics used to silence their victims, but also more positive feelings seeing brave women (primarily, but some men also) having their accounts now listened to and believed. Importantly it has been a time in which survivors of the abuse of power by these men got an opportunity to speak and be heard.
I didn’t have anything to add to those voices nor would it have been appropriate but I’ve been watching other aspects of the issue play out. In particular, I have been watching how this both is and isn’t a partisan political issue and that’s what I want to talk about here. In terms of discussing the other wider question of how the specifically Hollywood aspect of these scandals, I think others (again) have tackled it better. I’m not sure Anita Sarkeesian has caught all the complexities and conflicted feelings but she does a better job of it than I would here:
The politics of the issue though is something I think I can talk about in a way that adds something. Indeed, at least one regular reader of this blog seems very keen that I talk about the Harvey Weinstein case. So below, I do and at some length.
The fact that well know Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was a sexual predator has led to much commentary among the right-wing blogs that I track. On the furthest right it has been used to fuel anti-Semitic claims but on less extreme sites it has been seen as something that their perceived “SJW” enemies would find in some way discombobulating. For example, on a post about a book cover I received this post from a Sad Puppy advocate:
“Jeasus floppy, don’t you have anything better to do? Harvey Weinstine, one of the biggest movers and shakers in Hollywood, just got fired from his own company for 30 years of grotesque sexual misconduct”
As I discussed above, there are many emotive aspects of these cases but I find it odd that the right would see them as in some way demonstrating that the left is wrong and that the right is right. Aside from anything else it is the kind of issue that leaves you a hostage to fortune as inevitably such scandals then appear elsewhere on the political spectrum.
One part of the issue is a common error we’ve seen repeatedly on the right: a shortsightedness with respect to differences in ideology. Weinstein is a Hollywood elite and apparently a donor to the Democrats and other liberal causes and hence the kind of person conservatives imagine the left to be. Yet, it would be too easy to ignore Weinstein by pointing at the true political distance between him and the actual left.
That a commenter like Phantom has picked the wrong example, is not sufficient. It is too easy to pick on the more ignorant or poorly informed aspects of somebody’s argument, just at is too easy to pick on its poor expression or muddled thinking. Phantom’s target is a poor choice but the broader point is that there are people on the actual left who are scumbags and sexual predators.
The scandal Phantom should have picked on is one he probably is less aware of but which is playing out currently in British politics. Numerous political figures have been credibly accused of sexual harassment. The most notable have been associated with the government of the day but the Labour Party is caught up in this also: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/05/corbyn-defends-promotion-of-mp-reprimanded-for-inappropriate-behaviour
In the story above on shadow cabinet member Kelvin Hopkins we can see a lot of the mechanics of what has played out at different scales:
- A man uses his position of relative power over another for their own sexual gratification.
- The target of their harassment/abuse informs somebody else.
- The targeted person’s credible claims are either ignored or trivialized and/or
- There is no lasting damage to the man’s career
Hopkins isn’t Weinstein but the scale of the abusive behaviour isn’t the issue, it is the same mechanics at play. The net effect is that predatory, bullying behaviour faces little repercussions which in turn encourages such behaviour to continue – which in turn creates environments which are toxic to everybody but which in particular force women out.
A recent survey by The Bookseller shows how that plays out in the publishing industry:
“Just over half of the 388 respondents to The Bookseller’s survey on sexual harassment within the book industry said they have experienced harassment, with 54% of women and 34% of men stating that they had suffered abuse.” https://www.thebookseller.com/news/sexual-harassment-reported-over-half-trade-survey-671276
The piece goes on to explain:
“Where people have been harassed, it has often been carried out by more senior or high-status male colleagues, professional contacts, authors or clients, and the targets are often young, in junior roles, new in the workplace or working freelance. The risk of harassment also seems to be higher in certain roles; publicists, whose job often takes them on tour and puts them in close contact with authors outside an ostensibly professional setting, showed higher-than-average experiences of work-related harassment, with 66% saying they had experienced it. “
This is why I say that in one sense this is not a partisan political issue – the environment in which this kind of sexual bullying occurs occurs in political parties, in charities, in NGOs, in companies. Indeed, some straight-forwardly capitalist companies may now have less toxic environments because they have realised that such environments impact productivity and create legal liabilities. Whereas, organisations with more ad-hoc work practices such as groups involved in political advocacy maybe far more prone to letting sexual-abusers exploit their organisation. Being of the left is no kind of vaccine against toxic, bullying or sexually abusive environments.
Depressingly, this kind of shit is everywhere. Even more broadly bullying cultures, whether of a sexual nature or not, occur everywhere – from churches to fandoms to protest movements. There will be future waves of revelations of serial sexual abusers and those waves will include people that you may have previous admired or involve organisations you feel affiliated to. Importantly these revelations are important to diminish the impact of harassment. And while women are not the only victims and men are not the only bullies, the disparity is obvious and clear – this is a feminist issue and it is one in which women bear the brunt of the toxic behaviour of men.
Which is why this IS a politically partisan issue and it is also why commentators on the right are wrong to think this is in someway discombobulating to what they call “SJWs”.
That dismissive term “social justice warrior” and its associated baggage of stereotypes – the blue haired feminist railing against sexism and racism and demanding codes of conducts – is a bugbear of the modern right. However, they tend to forget the recent history. This tension between social-justice as a broad but specific cause of a section of the left focusing on the personal impact of power-inequalities has a deep history but played out in the past decade in some unusual places.
Those places were not particularly standard right-left conflicts. It encompassed communities such as the atheist and skeptic communities, video gaming, genre literature and other communities which while not being exclusively OF the left were arguably more left leaning than wider society or (as in the world of online atheism) actively opposed to at least one aspect of the modern right.
Consider, for example, the case known as “Elevatorgate” in the Skeptic community: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Elevatorgate The extraordinary backlash against one woman simply expressing how uncomfortable she felt being approached in an elevator demonstrated something quite deep. Any attempts to try and make environments/communities LESS prone to the kind of surrounding culture that supports harassing behaviour will get enormous pushback.
That pushback also was not confined to the right but in all cases it highlighted a stark difference in perspective.
For want of a better term, I’ll call what follows the SJW hypothesis – a theory about how the world is functioning that many of us labelled “SJWs” adopt and which is the deep point of contention:
There are deep, entrenched differences in political, social and economic power in society. As well as broad social impact, those inequalities impact people on a personal level and are used by more powerful people both consciously and unconsciously to exclude, demean, and exploit others at multiple levels. In particular there are dimensions of inequality in terms of:
- Gender identity
Those dimensions intersect and the exclusion, demeaning and exploitation occur systemically and individually across multiple layers of relationships and nearly everywhere in modern society.
In a better world the Harvey Weinstein case would be discombobulating because it would challenge a view of how the world is. However, it sadly isn’t – rather it is yet another depressing confirmation of the hypothesis above. This hypothesis keeps being demonstrated in all its complexity http://time.com/5015204/harvey-weinstein-scandal/ but the scale of these scandals can also serve to hide that if such extreme events are occurring then smaller scales forms of exclusion, bullying and harassment are also in play.
Working to improve representation helps mitigate some of this broad impact on less powerful people. Working to improve the culture within a community or a workplace helps make less toxic environments. Providing clear mechanism to express concerns, seek help or report abusive behaviour helps people being victimised. Doing these things takes effort and winning arguments but they are as important in terms of the human cost as addressing physical safety in a building.
So while the problem is non-partisan the solution is political. The push back against reform has not been confined to the right but it increasingly has become a point around which the Alt-Right has rallied. They have sought to exploit conflicts to recruit disaffected men who feel threatened by reform of sexist culture. They have demonised moves to reduce harassment in workplaces (for Vox Day “HR” is almost a synonym for Maoism).
Treating these issues seriously becomes characterised as being:
“about denigrating writers on the basis of their race (if white), Gender (if male), sexual orientation (if straight), etc. ” https://drmauser.wordpress.com/2017/11/05/the-science-fiction-is-settled/
Or as “reverse sexism” or “reverse racism” or somehow specifically oppressive to conservatives (itself a bizarre self-directed attack in which right inadvertently characterise themselves as the ones most likely to harass women or ethnic minorities when the whole point was these issues were endemic across political lines).
As time passes the lines become more clearly drawn. Not between the political affiliation of predatory people, psychopaths and bullies but between those who believe we can and should reduce the power and influence of such people in our communities and those who seek to protect the power of such people.