FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

#MeToo: Women are Speaking Out, Are We Listening?

Photo by Backbone Campaign | CC BY 2.0

I’m not at all surprised by the recent explosion of allegations of sexual assault and harassment against men in powerful political, economic, and entertainment positions. Sexism has always been an integral part of American culture, and predatory businesses and men of power have long been exempt from responsibility for their transgressions. What did it for me was the Walmart class action lawsuit, which included an incredible 1.5 million women alleging sexual harassment of discrimination against the company, but was dismissed out of hand by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011.

Ignoring countless stories of harassment on the part of lawsuit participants, and dismissing out of hand statistical evidence documenting how Walmart hires far fewer women for management positions than other national retail chains, the late Justice Antonin Scalia assaulted the very notion of women joining together to fight against sexism. In the court’s majority decision, Scalia wrote that women involved in the suit failed to demonstrate to the court “a common answer to the crucial question, why was I disfavored?” Scalia lamented that the case involved “literally millions of employment decisions” and the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that there was “some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together.”

Scalia’s claims were remarkable. Rather than conceding that guilt of an accused party is to be determined through a court of law, he preferred the a priori conclusion that, because such discrimination had not yet been proven in a court of law, it should be dismissed out of hand. Furthermore, it was hard not to see Scalia’s derogatory comment about millions of workplace and hiring decisions as anything other than a “too many women are complaining” justification for dismissing the suit. The Supreme Court’s dismissal of this case was a massive red flag for the nation. That the highest court in the land could so brazenly disregard so many claims, on the flimsiest of “evidence,” suggested that sexual harassment in the workplace persists under a political-economic culture of impunity.

Fast-forward to 2017, and the almost countless allegations of sexual abuse and assault against affluent, largely white men operating in various avenues of corporate America, politics, and the entertainment industry. The list is staggering, including comedians Bill Cosby and Louis CK, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, athletes Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb, Democratic and Republican politicians Roy Moore, Al Franken, John Conyers, and Donald Trump, and journalists/pundits Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Thrush, among many others.

It seems pretty obvious at this point that the main catalyst for the #MeToo campaign was the election of p*ssy grabber-in-chief, Donald J. Trump. That a plutocratic white male could so shamelessly brag about sexual assault, and still be elected (with 42 percent of women supporting him) speaks to a culture of impunity surrounding sexism and sexual harassment, in which conservative women place ideological and partisan considerations over gender and sexual-assault based concerns, not to mention basic self-respect, in choosing to vote for Trump.

With the rise of Trump to national prominence it became more common to hear about a backlash against “political correctness,” with the president giving voice to a strong undercurrent of nativist, racist, xenophobic, and sexist views that have historically persisted throughout American history. But with the anti-Trump uprising and mass protests of the last year – including #MeToo – it is also clear that there is now a backlash against the backlash, with 60 percent of the mass public unwilling to normalize a Trump administration that is the most shamelessly reactionary and bigoted the country has seen in modern history.

The American public is at a crossroads in this fight against sexism. We can choose to take the harassment and assault claims seriously, and recognize that the country has serious problems with basic respect for equal rights, and take steps to try and transform our political culture. Or we can ignore the countless allegations made by victims as nothing more than “identity politics elitism” or the “fabrications of the melodramatic or egotistical few.”  To engage in the second choice would be a serious mistake considering the available evidence of mass sexism.

Consider some of the following polling results from the last few months, if you are still doubting the severity of this crisis. One October Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds that 48 percent of all employed women in the U.S. say they have been the victims of “an unwelcome sexual advance or other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature at work.” A second November poll from PBS/NPR/Marist finds that more than a third of women say they have been “sexually harassed or abused at work,” compared to just 9 percent of men. Furthermore, the poll found that 22 percent of Americans admitted they have “endured sexual harassment or abuse” in the workplace, rather than speak up.

Recognition of America’s sexism problem has been complicated by a lack of institutional accountability, despite growing accusations of sexual abuse and assault. On the one hand, the #MeToo campaign is producing positive, empowering results for women suffering under sexism. According to a November Harris poll, two-thirds of women now say that “the recent outpouring of accusations” make them “feel more comfortable speaking out and challenging” abusers, compared to less than a third of women who say the #MeToo campaign has had no effect on their thinking.

When asked why they would feel more comfortable speaking out, numerous reasons were given. In the PBS/NPR/Maris poll, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of women agreed “I would know I’m not alone because I can see others getting support,” and 56 percent of women agreed that recent events “show me that abusers can be held accountable.” On the other hand, just 47 percent of women said recent allegations against abusive men suggest that, regarding sexual abuse and assault, “I would know I’m not alone because I can see others getting support.” And only 20 percent of women said that, considering recent allegations, “I believe my company would listen and be supportive” if they came forward with their own allegations.

There are signs of progress, and serious challenges, confronting the nation in the battle against sexism.  First the positive: the increased willingness of women to speak up against sexual harassment and assault means that the nation is becoming more sensitized to the problem. A large majority of Americans – 75 percent – now agree that “workplace sexual harassment” is a problem, with 64 percent deeming it a “serious” problem. These numbers have increased by 11 and 17 percentage points respectively since originally polled in 2011. In other words, the #MeToo campaign, and broader efforts to fight sexism in the age of Trump, appear to be working. This is a positive development for anyone who cares about combating misogyny, respecting equal rights, and promoting democracy and the rule of law. On the other hand, a significant and loud minority of individuals are opposed to any serious effort to combat sexism. The “alt-right,” and Trump’s support base more broadly, of which only 7 percent believe sexism is a “very big problem,” will be the primary opponents of change. These individuals – white males particularly – have a vested incentive in maintaining their positions of privilege under a patriarchial, sexist system. Others, such as conservative women, will continue to endure this sexist system, as they elevate partisan and ideological concerns with electing misogynist males like Donald Trump and Roy Moore over any interest in combating gender repression.

There is also the problem of leftist sexism to consider. Historically, many on the American left have long demonstrated a disinterest in problems such as racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and sexism – preferring instead only to recognize the problems of imperialism and classism. The “if it’s not economics or anti-imperialism it’s shit” mantra is a serious roadblock to building mass movements which recognize that repression exists on many dimensions, as related to race and ethnicity, gender and sexual identity, nation of origin, militarism, environmental concerns, and economic/labor based identities – not to mention the intersections between these identities. It’s not a coincidence that most of this insensitivity on “the left” to sexual or racial repression is coming from white males, who themselves benefit from privileges denied to other groups of less fortunate Americans. Getting beyond this narcissistic privilege will be vital if progressives and leftists are to build a truly mass movement for societal transformation.

It will be extraordinarily difficult to build mass momentum for structural change without recognizing oppression across many different dimensions. Fortunately, the Trump administration is the starkest representation of multi-dimensional oppression that we’ve seen in many years. His administration combines blatantly plutocratic, racist, sexist, xenophobic, ecocidal, and homophobic identities, thereby increasing the potential for mass counter-mobilization. Critics on the left will caustically emphasize the reformist nature of #MeToo, and they aren’t wrong to think that the campaign, as currently constituted, is limited. While it is playing a positive role in spotlighting the problem of sexism and institutional impunity, the concern with sexism also needs to be incorporated into a broader program defined by concerns with repression across many different dimensions, in order to avoid charges of “identity politics” reformism.

More articles by:

Anthony DiMaggio is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University. He holds a PhD in political communication, and is the author of the newly released: Selling War, Selling Hope: Presidential Rhetoric, the News Media, and U.S. Foreign Policy After 9/11 (Paperback: 2015). He can be reached at: anthonydimaggio612@gmail.com

July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
George Ochenski
He Speaks From Experience: Max Baucus on “Squandered Leadership”
Ted Rall
Right Now, It Looks Like Trump Will Win in 2020
David Swanson
The Intelligence Community Is Neither
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail