Sunday, April 06, 2008

Harassments, Part 2

Things look very bad for this fourth supervisor, so he called to ask me to write a letter in support of him as he goes before some committee or other. Actually, since last fall, he has been calling me fairly regularly, at odd hours, and without leaving messages. I haven’t been answering these calls because I felt as if I had left things peacefully and would like to maintain that charade while I put some years (and references) between that period of my life and me. This time, however, he found my office number and called at work. We have ancient phones without caller i.d, so I answered.

“I am the one being harassed,” he told me. The conversation that opens the last post took place with him. He does honestly believe this, as did all of the other harassers that I have encountered. At least, they put on a good show of honestly beleiving this. They are outraged at having their behavior questioned and can only interpret this outrage as harassment or victimization. Questioning their own behavior does not occur to them.

I told him that my testimony to the investigative committee should be enough. He doesn’t seem to realize that I did not do him any favors in that testimony. I don’t want to tell him so because that foreboding still remains. History is a small world. I don’t want him saying damning things about me, especially when I am uncertain of my own rights in this case and the university will not respond to my questions on the matter. Nor will the university bar him from contacting witnesses in the case, although they have barred him from contacting the people who filed the complaint (against whom he is already retaliating. He also said that he is filing a federal lawsuit of some sort againt the harassment policies of the university.)

There is an old saying that goes something like “if you keep running into the same problem, then maybe the problem is you” since all of the situations have the common denominator of “you.” I used to believe that. Part of me still does; and, yes, my own openness, my own idiotic naiveté, my own lack of self-worth does make me vulnerable to these sorts of men. I, however, am not the only common denominator.

Another common denominator lies in the common traits of these men. All of these men held positions of power, yet none of them would openly acknowledge that they in fact held that power. I understand this. In relation to department chairs, deans, provosts and so forth, they are in the subordinate position. They understand that aspect of their place in their institutions. In fact, I remember way back, over a decade ago, when a representative from the Office of Affirmative Action told all of the teaching assistants to remember that “you are powerful people.” We had quite a bit of fun at that statement because it felt like such a lie in the scope of our very dominated lives. Yet, in relation to the students that we graded, we did have a considerable amount of power. Many of us could not comprehend that. I think these professors experience that same incomprehension.

On some level, I think that a number of these men have a blind spot to their own power over the people subordinate to them, such as their advisees or their employees or their students. In fact, because of laws that empower the subordinates, such as those relating to sexual harassment and discrimination, these professors feel that the subordinates now have more power than they do in the supervisory position. They believe that they are squished between the direct power of their own supervisors and the indirect power of complaint now afforded their subordinates.

Still, I don't completely buy that line of argument. I'm not saying that it isn't true, in part, but it is not the whole truth. The whole truth includes the fact that some of these men refuse to acknowledge their own power because to do so would suggest that they are responsible for their own behavior and would force them to give up some of the privilege that they had in “the good old days.”

Times have changed since they started working. They must acknowledge women and minorities of all sort both as colleagues and as forces upon the way history is studied and written. They must acknowledge their own privledge, and they must acknowledge that some behavior is no longer acceptable and, in fact, is quite harmful. They must question their own assumptions about everything from the work that they produce to the way that they interact with other people. Many resent the hell out of this and, rather than do the work of adjustment, rail at the rules and ideas that have brought about the changes while doing all that they can to ignore the rules without overtly violating them. If they violate those rules, and if (big if) they face the consequences for the violation, then they become the harassed party in their own minds and cry "political correctness" and "reverse discrimination" in order to place themselves on a moral high ground. Retaliation, then, becomes self-righteous "self-defense" and woe be to anyone who does not realize this.


Ann said...

From now on, let your office voicemail or answering machine pick up. You might also inform the investigative committee that he's been hounding you for an exculpatory letter. Now that you've talked to him and said no, it's phone stalking if he contacts you again on this matter, and that may have a bearing on the complaints lodged against him.

Hahn at Home said...

In today's corporate world, all four of those guys would have been out on their ear - with no hearing. There is a presumption of guilt. And, that in itself is a whole different kind of problem.

Belle said...

I agree with Ann, and disagree with HAH. The corporate world isn't monolithic, and lots of harassment continues and is sheltered. Within academia I note that there is a presumption of awareness that I'm not sure is deserved. Yes, these guys should realize this, but they don't and don't have to because they are in that position of privilege. The need for some level of collegiality mitigates against enforcement of anti-harassment policies.

And that, my friend, sucks.


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