December 04, 2017

A case of sexual harassment?

Eric Zorn at the Tribune has written about a case of alleged sexual harassment in the Illinois legislature, most recently in "It's time for the secrecy to end in Springfield's highest-profile sex-harassment case" (and originally at "Messages between Silverstein and Rotheimer read more like adolescent flirtation" with references at "Highlights from the Silverstein-Rotheimer papers" and "The Zorn/Rotheimer email record")

One interesting aspect of this original exchange is that in fact there is already more evidence than in a lot of harassment cases, so a casual read of the situation may make it seem that Eric is badgering her (indeed, a particularly negative interpretation would be that he is sealioning her) for further evidence as a way to discredit her.

I think, on reflection, that there really is an important and useful distinction to be made, though. First, the evidence that was provided undermines her case in two different ways: his texts don't seem especially harassing, and hers seem to be consenting to and participating in the back-and-forth. Second, this is not a case where she's alleging one particularly bad but evidenceless thing and presenting the text stream as a way to corroborate the pattern. It seems that she's looking at the text stream itself as the bad thing she's calling harassment, and others of us read it and don't see it in the same light. So Eric isn't, or shouldn't be, asking so much for additional evidence as for whether there are any additional allegations.

I do appreciate that Eric's fighting the good fight on this, though. One of the strongest threads of pushback against #metoo and related movements (going back for decades!) is that "feminists are trying to outlaw flirting" and "how can we even know if we're harassing someone, what do we need to do, get them to sign a contract?" It's framed as a reductio ad absurdum argument, but it's really a straw man... or at least, it should be. The actual feminists I know are certainly not trying to outlaw flirting, and point out that if you pay attention (and aren't a sexist jerk) you should easily be able to tell, on the first response, that the person you ventured to flirt with is not interested, and so you stop. But, if this text chain is really all there is, and the in-person parts that we're not seeing is more in this vein (as opposed to some categorically different interaction), then this is exactly the sort of thing that the concern trolls have been imagining. Which, if this is all there is, and this is determined to be sexual harassment, will ultimately undermine the #metoo movement more than any direct pushback possibly could.

"Having a deep understanding of compilers is what separates the wheat from the chaff. I say that without having the slightest frigging clue what "chaff" is, but let's assume it's some sort of inferior wheat substitute, possibly made from tofu." --Steve Yegge Posted by blahedo at 10:20am on 4 Dec 2017

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