Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Daphne Patai: Feminist Against Sexual Harassment "Vigilantism"

My friend Daphne Patai (University of Massachusetts, Amherst) has penned a splendid book skewering what she calls the "sexual harassment industry." Patai's life journey is from radical feminist of the 1970s to independent-minded feminist of the 21st century. She is a feminist who believes "men are people too." This Wikipedia article is an accurate summary of her career:


Ten years ago, Professor Patai spoke at SIUC campus to a packed University Museum auditorium. The topic was her book Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism (1998).

In Heterophobia (pp. 29-30), Patai mentions SIUC as representative of the problems with then-current codes:

"In their voluminous writings, the proliferating group of experts in this new field blur major and minor infractions, conflate gross offensiveness with a mere word or gesture that made someone--perhaps only a bystander--"uncomfortable," and even suggest that rape is implicit, if not inherent, in every unwanted touch or look. The connection is made explicit in a typical brochure, distributed at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, which states, 'Sexual harassment can be as subtle as a look or as blatant as rape.' And even lawyers specializing in sexual harassment write without embarrassment about the difficulty of defining the offense. . . ."
[Patai summarizes sexual harassment lawyers' view that "they know it when they see it"]

"The power of the charge of sexual harassment is, at the present moment, enormous. It can unleash formidable institutional forces against an alleged harasser, often with a complete absence of due process. Institutions, which, . . . are required by law to take allegations seriously, go into action as soon as the words 'sexual harassment' are uttered. Southern Illinois's brochure, for example, contains not a single word of warning about filing false charges of this extremely subjective offense. To the contrary, it promotes vigilantism: 'All members of the university community are encouraged to speak out when they see, hear of , or experience incidents of sexual harassment.''"

NOTE: This was a year before the U.S. Supreme Court laid down the "severe, persistent, or pervasive" standard which is lacking in SIU's new (proposed) code.

Dr. Patai has granted me permission to post links to

1) her critical analysis of SIU's code ten years later; and

2) her essay "Women on Top" (a lengthier read; readers strapped for time might scroll down to the last two pages where she describes a typical witchhunt at University of Wisconsin and the forces that sap the accused, even if found innocent, of the will to fight universities that go back to doing what they did before.

For other independent women against sexual harassment codes, see the Independent Women's Forum (http://iwf.org/) and search for "sexual harassment" stories.

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