Friday, November 11, 2011

What is WRONG with People?

This week, I must confess, has been slow going in writing. Part of the problem is that I don't really like the paper that I'm writing. It's a paper for an undergraduate audience and is very broad. I, of course, like the subject, it being my own and a boiled down version of my book -- very boiled down. Still, trying to take complicated and detailed arguments and make them very very short and coherent with one another is much more challenging that you would expect. At some point, I get them so short that I myself start to lose interest in them and then I get easily distracted. Still, this is a good exercise because eventually I will have to do the same thing when I try to get people to read the final product, right?

I'm also trying not to read the news. The news in general upsets me, but this shit with Cain and Penn State has turned into a trigger.  The stories about Herman Cain's history of sexual harassment came on the heels of the 20th anniversary of the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas case. Historiann wrote a post pondering the effects of the case, and I was going to comment, but the comment turned into a post, and the post was abandoned because I was working on something that I was enjoying writing. Then, the Cain stories emerged and his response to them, and then the attacks on the women, and that all put me back to the mid-1990s when I was sexually harassed.

That the women were barred from commenting, but he could say anything he wanted in his own defense pissed me off the most. In my case, I had gone in to make the report, talked with the affirmative action officer for about two hours in which she took copious notes filling about half a tablet. Then, she had to boil those notes down to a single page. One page. Including all of the headings and my signature. The report went to the accused and his department head, and he was allowed a rebuttal.

How many pages did he get for his rebuttal? As many as he wanted. He took fourteen. Fourteen pages in which he tried to establish me as someone who serially accused people of sexual harassment, who had entered graduate school with the mission of ending his career, and who was part of a conspiracy involving a job search at another college. This was all on top of a whole set of abject lies that turned me into something akin to a stalker and not someone who was constantly summoned to his office and to locations off campus under peril of being dismissed as his student or losing what little funding the department actually provided. I'm not joking. I'm able to laugh at how ludicrous his version was now; but, at the time, I took every fiber of my being and concentrated them into a steel rod down my center in order to keep from collapsing. I can still feel that rod right now.

After his 14 page rebuttal, the affirmative action office -- going through a completely fucked up scandal of its own at the time -- decided that, between the two versions, there really wasn't anything to investigate and dismissed the case.  The woman to whom I had originally reported the case had been interim in her position, and replaced by the time the rebuttal came in. She had already had been looking into some of the things that I had said. She had also contacted some of the women whom I had heard has similar experiences in order to establish a pattern of behavior for this guy, and found that they were true. All of her investigation and evidence was dismissed by her replacement because she had not followed proper protocol. Proper protocol involved the accuser issuing a one page accusation, the accused responding in as much detail as he liked, the office deciding if this was worth investigating, and then investigation beginning.

I wondered what a complaint worthy of investigation would look like. The accuser making a statement and the accused saying, "yeah, I did it"?

After the office decided that I had no grounds, they filed the case. Under my name. That's right, the cases were always filed under the accuser's name and not cross-filed or referenced under the accused's name. I was livid. This meant that they could track serial accusers -- which I get -- but it meant that they could not identify serial harassers. Unfortunately, I got that, too. The whole process from the one page complaint to the "he said/she said" form of investigation for a case to the filing system using the accuser's name did nothing to deal with the problem of sexual harassment. The process was designed to protect the institution. Heck, even the accused was only favored because he was part of the institution. Had I filed a lawsuit against the university in order to pursue the case, they could just say, "this is our procedure and according to procedure, we found nothing wrong." Had I filed a lawsuit against the professor, the university probably would have cut him loose, too.

My cynical lesson from this was that the office of affirmative action was there to ferret out the problems and cover the university's ass from liability, not to deal with the problem. My other cynical lesson from the response to the Anita Hill case was that the victim, if she makes an accusation, will be attacked harder and with less ability to defend herself than the person who did the harassing. My third cynical lesson, in my observations of all of the men who I had encountered who did the sort of things that would be harassment -- you know, the dating students, the sexual comments, the smacking-on-the-ass, and so forth -- they became bitter, and the truly insidious ones just learned where the legal line was so that they could get away with what they were doing. The guy who harassed me could quote you chapter and verse on the university's sexual harassment policy, and would be seen eating lunch with the head of the affirmative action office.

So, the Cain story, with the women silenced through the court order and he and his supporters saying what they want, really pissed me off not just because they were harassed but also because the agreement not to discuss the details of the case was rigged to work against them and open them up to this sort of victimization by the same creep yet again, except this time he has minions.

Then, the Penn State case broke. That was upsetting alone. I began to think about how many people I have know who were molested as children: both of my brothers, a former boyfriend, a friend from college, another friend from grade school, yet another friend from grade school, the child of a former friend. In that last case, the friend became former after her child was molested -- and she walked in on the molesting -- because the molester was the teen aged son of the former friend's boyfriend and she didn't want to piss off the boyfriend. She did tell her sister, who reported her to the authorities, but the former friend told the authorities that nothing happened, and they did not investigate. They said that, if the parent said nothing happened, then they can't investigate. WTF? That's not even true. If the authorities won't investigate, what do you do?

In my brother's case, when he decided to deal with what happened to him through official channels, he had passed the statute of limitations on his case -- it was five years after the last incident in the state at the time. The state later raised it to ten. Had it been ten when my brother made the first report, he could have sued. As it was, he found out where the teacher was working and reported him to the school district. What did the superintendent do? He went to the teacher and asked if there was any basis for the allegations. The teacher denied, and that ended it.

The teacher was later caught, but was not fired. He was asked to leave that school. He went to another school district, where (with help from my mom -- and I will always love and admire her for her role) he was busted by four different parents. How did the state respond? They suspended his teaching license (with help from my brother's testimony -- and I admire the hell out of his courage in putting everything on paper like that). He moved to another state and, last I heard, was getting certified there. My brother reported him to that state, but, last that I heard, to no avail there. The teacher's license was eventually revoked in the original state due to some house cleaning in their department of education.

Again, I see a pattern of the institutions not wanting to deal with the problem, just wanting to make it go away and protect themselves from any legal repercussions. They follow the letter of the procedures, but the procedures are fucked up and made up by the very people who are trying to protect themselves from liability. The fact that a crime was committed is, quite often, ignored simply by not having the police come in at any stage of the procedure.

So, as I thought about all of the children that I have known who have been molested -- and added to that the victims of rape that I have known -- I became very very sad about all of the ways that people are exploited because of who they are and how they are disempowered by the law and the way that society considers their concerns unimportant, be they children or grown women in vulnerable positions. I became very very sad about the ways that, in being victimized, they are considered expendable and then, because they were victimized, more expendable, a problem to be "taken care of" not a person requiring justice.

Then, the students started rioting and I became furious. I remember the sinister energy of the crowds on the Boston streets after the Red Sox won the World Series back in 2004, and all of the ways that energy was stupidly out of proportion to the occasion. I remember how fanatical people in my college became over football. Otherwise smart, rational, even compassionate people cut off friendships over such stupid things as the friend saying, "maybe the football team does take up an inequitable proportion of the university's resources" or even -- and I am not making this up -- "maybe the university shouldn't replace the recently deceased live animal mascot." These are the same people who, today, decades after graduation, used their undergraduate's university logo as their Facebook avatar. THAT is the "society" that I am  afraid of, that victimizes victims, and has a seriously fucked up moral compass.

Considering all of the people that I alone know who have been molested, raped, or harassed, I know that there must be hundreds of people -- students, staff, faculty, administrators, neighbors -- at Penn State who have experienced the same. How must they feel in the middle of that mess knowing that a rioting crowd supports a systematic cover-up, an institutionalized passing of the buck, to protect a child rapist? I want to riot against the rioters.

The comments of E. Goldman in response to Historiann's post on the subject made me think, if those were my students, I couldn't go into class because my rage at them would prevent me from seeing them as individuals who need some serious education on the sickness of their thinking. I couldn't go onto campus because I would be afraid of what I might say or do and I would feel somehow unsafe among people who were so baldly and violently dismissive of rape all in defense of fucking football. I wonder how the professors there are managing to work amid this. I wonder how the victims must be dealing with this disgusting dismissal of their victimization.

Tenured Radical put the pieces together much more succinctly, looking at the Penn State case and at the rape-culture climate encouraged at other colleges. "Every time one of these things happens," she writes, "what it exposes is the way social power is expressed through sexual power, and it requires a feminist response." Exactly. The details may change, but the general interaction does not.


nicoleandmaggie said...

OMG how awful.

Historiann said...

Thanks for the link to TR's post, which I hadn't seen until I found your post.

I'm so sorry.

Clio Bluestocking said...

No problem, Historiann.

Thank you both for your sympathy. It was a long time ago for me and I was a grown-up who at least had some primitive tools to muddle my way through. The kids aren't so lucky.

As for the creep in my case, there was a tiny bit of justice to come out of the situation. A few years after I filed the complaint, he applied for a higher level administrative job. A friend of mine worked for someone on the search committee who asked her what she knew about him. She told him about my complaint, so he went over to take a look at it. From what I understand, he found that they had a potential mess on their hands if they hired the creep. They cut him from the list.

Now, the creep is still a nasty, paranoid, joke whom no one wants to work with and whose last publication was a shill for an unethical lobby group, which cost him what was left of his credibility. I, on the other hand, have a degree he didn't want me to get, two books, a contract for a third, and am spending a year in Ireland with nothing to do but drink and write. I suppose that is about as happy an ending as I could hope for.

I'm hoping all of the kids get some gram of justice somewhere, and that Cain goes down in smoke. Still, the system is conceived in malice toward the victims.

Susan said...

I think the worst part of this is the way the "process" worked to silence you. Because of my scholarly specialization, I tend to believe in things like the rule of law and due process. But as we know, when "due process" is carried out by those with an interest in the outcome, it isn't due or process...

I'm sorry you had to go through it. But I'm glad that your work is flourishing and his, not so much!

Digger said...

"Still, the system is conceived in malice toward the victims."

There are so many points in your story, and the one out of PA (and ones occurring millions of times over), where the madness could have been stopped, but wasn't. Not only wasn't it stopped, it was justified and normalized.

And that means the madness lies in thinking that society believes that this kind of shit is wrong and will therefore respond consistently with that belief. And I freaking *hate* feeling like the crazy one.

Which is all my frustrated and pissed off way of agreeing with you. And wanting to channel some Hothead Paisan.

Pay *every* attention to the man behind the curtain.

(my word verification is poker. I have no poker face for this.)

physioprof said...

[I] am spending a year in Ireland with nothing to do but drink and write.

Don't forget to also sing and dance!

Clio Bluestocking said...

Susan: Thank you. I didn't really feel silenced -- and I think most people who know me and about this would say that "silence" was not one of my virtues! I did feel something more akin to cheated or that I had entered a rigged game. I was prepared to be attacked, I was not prepared to see it all disappeared.

Digger: I hate feeling like the irrational one, too. I think that's why the demonstrations supporting the coach pissed me off more than anything. They showed just how complicit EVERYONE was in the cover-up -- just how fucked up thinking and socialization are.

Physioprofe: Always!

Clio Bluestocking said...

Susan: Thank you. I didn't really feel silenced -- and I think most people who know me and about this would say that "silence" was not one of my virtues! I did feel something more akin to cheated or that I had entered a rigged game. I was prepared to be attacked, I was not prepared to see it all disappeared.

Digger: I hate feeling like the irrational one, too. I think that's why the demonstrations supporting the coach pissed me off more than anything. They showed just how complicit EVERYONE was in the cover-up -- just how fucked up thinking and socialization are.

Physioprofe: Always!


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