Posted on | September 25, 2013 | 57 Comments
Vanessa James is a British lawyer who wrote a column for the Guardian newspaper with the headline, “Formal complaints over sexism should be last resort for women,” which included this:
The point is that everyone has boundaries and communicating these to colleagues through behaviour is key to avoiding unnecessary offence.
It is also important to ensure that when a women is subject to treatment that falls outside her boundaries she can identify that and decide how to address it and move on.
If you do not define your own boundaries then you cannot expect others to be able to either.
This seems like good advice, as does her conclusion: “The formal route should be seen by women seeking career progression as a last resort, as the outcome is not always a happy one for the complainant.”
In other words, if a woman’s goal is to advance her career, filing a complaint for harassment is likely to be harmful, resulting in her being labeled a complainer — “not a team player” — and harassment may be more easily avoided or discouraged if a woman makes clear what behaviors are unacceptable to her.
However helpful this may be as career advice, it offended the feminist sensibilities of Katie Halper, who sees this as victim-blaming, and winds up ranting about rape and gay rights and stuff:
Given that rape survivors often face humiliation, intimidation, disbelief, and hostility from law enforcement and the criminal justice system in general, is the solution not to report rape? Should women just focus on setting boundaries that prevent their rapes in the first place? Does that mean no dirty jokes, no flirting, no short skirts, no leaving the house? This seems like the logical conclusion. In all seriousness, the advice James doles out isn’t that surprising, given the nature of her work. The Guardian just says she’s a lawyer at SA Law. But if you look at her website, she boasts that she has successfully defended corporations from being sued for discriminating and bullying against workers based on their gender, sexual-orientation, disabilities, and race. So, I guess it makes sense that a woman who makes her living defending employers who are accused of pay discrimination, abuse, and prejudice, wouldn’t have the best advice for women. Well, that’s not entirely fair. I’m sure she’s an equal opportunity offender, whose advice for LGBTI people, people of color, and people with disabilities is just as sound.
Vanessa James is a successful lawyer — and that’s a bad thing, says Katie Halper, who writes for a feminist blog.
This is the difference between pragmatism and ideology: Do you want to solve your problem, or do you want to construe every problem to fit political categories and intellectual abstractions?
If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, and if the only tool you have is feminism, every problem looks like heteronormative patriarchal oppression and “rape culture.”