Lessons from the Kavanaugh Hearings: Himpathy, Bro Culture, and Sex Education

Anemona Hartocollis and Dana Goldstein of the New York Times write that the Kavanaugh hearings reminded Americans of the entrenched strain of aggressive hypersexualized “bro culture” that still persists today on high school and college campuses (and in many businesses). The bro culture described during Kavanaugh’s high school and college days is not a thing of the past. Studies show that most assaults of young women today are perpetrated by an acquaintance. One in five women in college experience sexual assault on campus. Peggy Orenstein writes that high school and college boys are more likely to rape when they are drunk—without consequences. She explains, “He . . . goes on to professional success and even a happy marriage. Meanwhile, he may have derailed the life of another human being, causing her years, decades, of pain and trauma.” Why is sexual assault in high school and college still so common? No parent wants to think that his or her son is capable of sexual assault, but Orenstein notes that a recent survey of more than three thousand men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five found that “more than 60 percent of respondents had never had a single conversation with their parents about how to be sure that your partner wants to be having sex with you . . . about ‘the importance of not pressuring someone to have sex with you,’” or about how to stand up to other young men to stop a sexual assault. In other words, parents of boys are not educating them about responsible and ethical sexuality. Instead, most boys get their sex education in locker rooms, frat houses, and other all-male spaces where they hear that sex is about conquest. They also get their sex education from video games and movies, in which women are frequently portrayed as scantily clad sex objects, and from both everyday and celebrity role models. As for the messages about gender that boys receive from society, Kate Manne writes about the “himpathy” advantage, or “the inappropriate and disproportionate sympathy powerful men often enjoy in cases of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, homicide and other misogynistic behavior.” Recent examples include President Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Brock Turner, Thomas, and Kavanaugh, all of whom received sympathy from some while the perspectives of their accusers were erased or dismissed. Manne writes that it is now time for a mass moral reckoning because of “gendered sociopathy,” which relentlessly casts suspicion on female accusers while excusing the behavior of boys and men. Manne notes that this pattern in which the powerful are believed while the vulnerable are dismissed is actually a source of systemic injustice. It sends a clear message to boys and young men that they can treat women disrespectfully and will not be held accountable. If anything is ever going to change, we must

  1. Learn to recognize this pattern of protecting men rather than believing women within ourselves
  2. Listen to girls and women and believe them
  3. Educate boys and young men about the tendency of alcohol to fuel aggressive behavior and about their responsibility to treat women and girls with respect
Are you the parent of boys or young men? What conversations are you having with them about sex?   Photo courtesy of Gratisography.]]>

The #MeToo Anniversary: After One Year, Has Anything Changed?

Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published the first story on Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times on October 5, 2017. Their story gave much-needed momentum to the #MeToo movement launched by Tarana Burke more than a decade earlier, which brought to light African American women’s experiences of abuse. The Weinstein accusations started a public outpouring of abuse stories from women, and some men, around the globe and exposed the pervasiveness of this problem. Kantor and Twohey note that it has become clear over the past year that nothing is going to change for women unless we keep speaking out. They state that a reckoning “wide and deep” was reignited one year ago and is likely to continue. In fact, the voicing of sexual assault experiences needs to continue if there is any hope of societal change. The recent Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation process added new fuel to the #MeToo fire by revealing that not much has changed. Women witnessed the demeaning mockery and dismissal of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford by the president and several GOP senators after her public testimony about her assault experience. Kantor and Twohey note that we must continue to tell our stories, in public and in private, because honest sharing of previously hidden traumatic experiences causes subtle adjustments in our collective understanding of the line between right and wrong. They explain, “Progress requires a correct accounting of what women have really faced.” But is anything different after a year of #MeToo? While societal attitudes do not seem to have changed much yet, Zoe Greenberg of the New York Times writes that some laws have changed at the state level and some industry practices are changing as well. For example, since October 2017

  • Some states have passed laws banning or limiting nondisclosure or other confidentiality agreements as a condition of employment.
  • A few states expanded sexual harassment protections to apply to more workers.
  • Certain private companies, including Microsoft, Uber, and Lyft, eliminated forced arbitration agreements when settling sexual harassment claims.
  • Some private companies are including “morality clauses” or “Weinstein clauses” in merger deals or book contracts requiring full disclosure of accusations of sexual harassment.
  • The Screen Actors Guild has published a code of conduct that calls for an end to auditions and professional meetings in homes and hotel rooms.
  • Several women, including Christiane Amanpour, Jennifer Salke, Hoda Kotb, Jennifer Lee, and Tina Smith, have been elevated to replace powerful men like Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer who were forced out by multiple sexual harassment accusations.
In another New York Times article, several prominent authors offer warnings and suggestions about what lies ahead:
  • Sarah Polley urges us to notice “how quickly we went from looking openly at the challenges women face to how the conversation about misogyny affects men.” She urges us to stay focused on unearthing women’s experiences.
  • Catharine A. MacKinnon, a legal scholar, notes that the norms of rape culture still permeate the law. She points out that the burden of proof for sexual assault in criminal law are difficult for survivors to meet and statutes of limitation are too short to allow victims of sexual violation to get past their trauma enough to report the event.
  • Stephen Marche writes that men are largely absent from the conversation. He notes that “the only way out of the intractable problems of gender—harassment, the pay gap—will involve robust male participation.”
  • Shanita Hubbard states that race and class have always been the deciding factors in whose pain is prioritized. She explains that “research indicates that African-American women experience higher rates of rape and sexual assault than white, Asian and Latina women. At the same time, their reports of sexual violence are less likely to be recognized by the legal system.”
  • Katie J. M. Baker writes that it is unrealistic to think that men accused of sexual misconduct won’t try to reappear as though nothing happened. She points out that there is a big difference between shunning and effective gatekeeping. The industry gatekeepers must facilitate these comebacks responsibly and with public accountability.
In conclusion, MacKinnon notes, “#MeToo may be the first change toward women achieving human status since the vote.” Our rage and our stories are moving us forward, and we must not be silenced again.   Photo courtesy of GGAADD (CC BY-SA 2.0)]]>