The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Subjectivity of ‘Harassment’

Posted on | August 30, 2018 | Comments Off on The Subjectivity of ‘Harassment’


If you wish to understand what feminism actually is, and how it affects daily life, I recommend Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism by Daphne Patai. First published in 1998, Heterophobia examines how claims of “harassment” are weaponized to destroy the careers and reputations of men and,in chapters 6 and 7, provides an exegesis of the feminist theory that justifies this deliberate destruction. Professor Patai once taught Women’s Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and knows whereof she speaks. Most of the examples of harassment claims Professor Patai cites are from academia, and she focuses on the “hostile environment” concept that feminists have embedded into law and policy:

Hostile-environment actions are now based upon the subjective experience of “unwanted” or “offensive” conduct (including speech), as perceived by the accuser and tested by the “reasonable woman” standard . . . It is becoming increasingly clear that this development transfers the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused, in violation of American due process. In addition, this shift has profound repercussions on the conduct of daily life. And such a consequence is . . . no accident. It is precisely what the proponents of sexual harassment regulations have in mind. (Emphasis added.)

One of the basic problems of “sexual harassment” is the extent to which it is based on subjective perception. Many older Americans may think of “harassment” in terms of the quid pro quo, in which male supervisors extorted sexual favors from female employees as a condition of their employment. Such practices were what the earliest sexual harassment lawsuits sought to punish and prohibit, but in recent decades these stereotypical cases (e.g., the lecherous boss imposing himself on a young secretary) are no longer what most “harassment” complaints are about.

In many cases, the claim that a workplace is a “hostile environment” for female employees is supported by a catalog of incidents — separate and unrelated to each other, occurring over a period of many months or years — which are portrayed by the plaintiffs as forming a coherent pattern of anti-female prejudice. When examined in detail, the various incidents cited as part of this “hostile environment” are often disputed; that is to say, an incident may be remembered differently by some participants, so that what the plaintiffs claim happened is contradicted by the testimony of other witnesses. This tactic of accumulating a pile of grievances (none of which were particularly egregious, when viewed as separate incidents) and then presenting them as a pattern proving that the workplace was a “hostile environment,” means that a disgruntled employee can become a ticking time-bomb of sorts. A male employee never knows whether his female co-worker in the next cubicle might have decided to start collecting “evidence” for a future complaint. He may consider her a friend with whom he can joke around casually, and then one day — BOOM! — he’s called into the human resources offices and confronted with the accusation of harassment. Something he said or did has been cited as “offensive” in the catalog of complaints made by his female colleague and he is expected to rebut the complainant’s tendentiously one-sided characterization of this incident. “It didn’t happen that way!” he will protest, only to discover that his version of the story counts for nothing.

As Professor Patai says, the way sexual harassment law has developed shifts the burden of proof from accuser to accused, and it is difficult (if not impossible) to disprove such accusations. The nature of the claims typically involved is subjective — the complainant’s feeling that someone’s words or actions were “offensive” — and the accused will find it useless to defend himself by saying he did not intend any offense.

As a general rule, the more directly familiar you are with how “sexual harassment” claims happen in real-life situations, the less likely you are to sympathize with the complainants. Any manager or executive who has witnessed a few such cases is apt to be quite cynical and, when thinking in terms of prevention, will keep a close eye on personnel policy. A smart manager wants to be sure he doesn’t hire a certain type of woman, i.e., the marginally competent employee who arrogantly over-estimates her value to the company, and who therefore is prone to imagine that she is a victim of discrimination if she isn’t treated with extreme deference.

Because an unhappy female employee can be a ticking time-bomb, we may observe that the larger the proportion of women in a given workplace, the more time and effort management must devote to making sure their female employees never become disgruntled. These preventative measures impose costs on the company (e.g., hiring “diversity consultants” to run training seminars), to say nothing of the general drain on employee morale caused by paranoid fear that your co-worker might be plotting a lawsuit. One way a company can deal with this problem is as simple as it is obvious: Don’t hire women.

This is the great irony of sexual-harassment law: Originally conceived as a way to bring about “equality” in the workplace, to a surprising extent it has had the opposite effect, creating incentives to discriminate against women in hiring. Say what you will about white males, employers are at liberty to treat white guys like crap, without fear of being targeted by a “civil rights” complaint, whereas if you say anything a female or minority employee may consider offensive, that’s a lawsuit. One explanation of the so-called “gender gap” between men and women is that women are less likely to be hired by private-sector firms and more likely to work in government or non-profit institutions, such as schools. All the talk about “women in tech” arose, after all, because feminists working in academia or in tax-exempt activist organizations looked at Silicon Valley and realized that men were about 4/5ths of the workforce in this lucrative field. But why? Whose fault is it that women are majoring in Sociology or Gender Studies instead of Computer Science? And where is the incentive for an entrepreneur, struggling to launch a tech start-up on a shoestring budget, to take a chance on a female software engineer if hiring her means he has to treat her with kid gloves lest she accuse him of “discrimination”? Unlike the gigantic conglomerates, the entrepreneurial start-up firm can’t afford a human-resources staff and “diversity” consultants; still less can they afford the costs of defending themselves against a disgruntled former employee’s lawsuit.

The risk of a “discrimination” or “harassment” complaint is like a shadow hanging over the 21st-century workplace, undermining the spirit of teamwork and cooperation by infusing a paranoid sense of hostile suspicion into every interaction between male and female co-workers. This climate of fear is not the fault of ordinary men and women who just work their 9-to-5 shift, collect their paycheck and quietly endure the routine hassles of working life. Rather, the shadow of suspicion is the result of ideologues and activists — many of them ax-grinders in academia, who’ve never done a day’s work in the private sector — who have labored to foster a victimhood mentality among young women, encouraging them to believe that they are surrounded by misogyny.


When we behold the carnival of “social justice” protests on university campuses, we can see how this victimhood mentality has become central to the curricula of 21st-century higher education, inflicting permanent damage on the future prospects of students. Having been indoctrinated to believe that oppression is everywhere, they cannot function effectively in the competitive workplace where an ability to endure hardship without complaint is often the most valuable skill of all. Why would any manager want to hire these snowflakes, who are unable to cope with normal life, requiring “safe spaces” to protect their fragile feelings?



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