Last week we wrote a post, “What is to be done about sexual harassment in the philosophy profession?,” and our colleague Catarina Dutilh Novaes added a post “Sexual harassment: the victim’s perspective.” After several important links (Brian Leiter and IHE among them), several thousand page views, and over a hundred comments, it’s time to take stock.
To recap our intentions: we are following the lead of our colleagues at Feminist Philosophers and What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?. We thought we should call attention to their work, and the work of generations of women in philosophy fighting harassment and other forms of discrimination in our profession. We thought we would pick up on one of their suggestions – not to invite known serial harassers to conferences – and ask what would happen if it were extended it to other forms of informal social sanctions – not inviting to contribute to collections, not participating in conversation, and so on. We also noted two factors: 1) the repeated – though certainly not absolute – failure of formal institutional mechanisms and 2) the absence of a recognized “naming and shaming” mechanism. We thus asked for collective consideration of what is to be done informally given those two factors.
We would now like to clear up some confusion.
First, we did not call for instating a “naming and shaming” mechanism. We asked what is to be done in the absence of such a mechanism.
Second, we are not inventing out of whole cloth the practice of informal sanctions. It is already up-and-running both in cases of sexual harassment and in many other instances. We do not think it likely that our colleagues are in the habit of extending invitations to those known to be overt racists, homophobes, anti-Semites, and the like. Moreover, regardless of how one regards the self-governing nature of a profession (and if we really are a profession), as a *discipline* we are constantly evaluating each other informally and formally as well as tacitly and explicitly in all kinds of ways. These evaluations influence the way we run our business all the time. What we find objectionable is the apparent willingness to ignore known instances of sexual harassment as one of the more important factors to be taken into account in such everyday decisions. We thus wanted to bring publicity to, and to provoke discussion on, these existing practices, suggesting to our colleagues that when warranted, informal social sanctions on known serial harassers can supplement often-failing formal procedures.
Third, we did not make light of the epistemic warrant problem. Our precise wording was:
Many of us have heard first-hand accounts of harassment from those who have been harassed; almost all of us have heard second-hand accounts from those who know the harassers or the harassed. In the case of some of these figures accused of harassment, the allegations come from a wide range of sources, sources who are more than willing to discuss the issue privately.
Noting the plural on “accounts,” and considering the quality of evidence given in first-hand accounts, as well as the “wide range of sources” who are “more than willing to discuss the issue privately,” it is frustrating to be accused of advocating informal sanctions on the basis of “rumor” as was repeatedly done by several commenters.
Fourth, we of course do not deny the existence of men as victims of harassment. Indeed we explicitly note that, though we also note that relative to the number of female victims, one can only say that men are “occasional” victims.
Fifth, we do not deny the problem of false accusations. We should note however, that the failure of a formal mechanism – institutional or legal – to find in favor of a complaint does not render that case a “false accusation.” It may simply mean that the case did not meet the standards for “conviction” of that formal mechanism. Even the finding that a claim is “unsubstantiated” or similar wording speaks only to the formally admissible evidence. Only a positive finding of a false accusation should be seen as evidence for false accusation. That being said, we firmly and clearly state that false accusations are terrible and unconscionable. They do not only victimize the immediate targets, but also tremendously harm others who have been victimized. So the danger of them and the damage they cause are very much in our minds and in the minds of all the people involved in the struggle against sexual harassment.
Moving now to expanding on our original post, we want to stress that sexual harassment is only one aspect of the gender issues in the profession. Another crucial aspect is the “pipeline” problem, that is, the structural problem of the low percentages of women who are graduate students and faculty members. And among faculty members, in addition to the low numbers, we also face the issue of the over-representation of women in non-tenure track appointments (instructor and post-doc) as well as in Assistant and Associate Professor levels. And even at the level Professor, there is the relative lack of women holding endowed Chairs, named professorships, etc. In short, our profession faces many significant problems with regard to the treatment of women, and the different factors all require attention and active struggle.
Finally, readers will note that Catarina has joined us as a signer on this follow-up. It is a bit disturbing that our initial post received so much attention for repeating things women feminists have been saying for years. Men who are feminists need not apologize for taking action in their own names and as feminists – indeed, we urge them to do so - but at the same time men need to be aware of, and to disavow, the privilege their words receive even in the context of feminist intervention. Such privilege is a mark of how much work remains to be done. Let’s get to work, then!
Catarina Dutilh Novaes