Saturday, November 25, 2017

About sexual harassment

People know that I sometimes like to hold controversial opinions, sometimes just for the kicks. So first I will ask some questions, ask you to find your own answers, then read about what I think.

Why is sexual harassment different from any other type of harassment?
Why is leaving from a job where your boss or colleague is an asshole any different because they are sexual harassers as opposed to regular assholes?
Why is offering sexual services, including just dressing or behaving a certain way, a natural way of expressing oneself, but asking for them is illegal?
Why do these things seem to happen only in the US?

Now, I am a technical person. While I am certainly not for sexual harassment at work, I need to understand why some types of behaviors are punished so differently from others that are very similar. Consider an employee who is humiliated and disrespected publicly at work, but not in a sexual manner. How could they ever support this outcry against sexual harassment, when their own plight is getting ignored? I mean, do we need laws to tell us when we crossed the line while being jerks? Why is there a legal segregation of jerkness? Why is someone abusing their power more or less guilty based on the type of abuse they chose to exercise?

And, as you might think, my opinion extends to a lot of these special exceptions to civilized behavior. They are called positive discrimination, affirmative action, employment equity and so on, but they boil down to one thing only: another type of discrimination. In the end, like any sort of forced empowerment, they will get abused. The rallying cry of Gretchen Carlson will fizzle out in a sea of false claims and malicious law suits. In fact, it only takes a few to invalidate all the others. It's like trying to make a drink less bitter by adding sugar, rather than removing the bitter ingredient. Or paying someone after you had sex with them against their will, if you see what I mean.

But what am I advocating? Certainly if we abolish the special rules, then all one can do when sexual harassed is to find another job. The asshole in power will hire more and more people until some are weak or desperate enough to accept their advances. If we extend the rules to cover any type of harassment, we expose employers to abuses and tie their hands in how to run their business. Neither option is acceptable, but neither is cherry picking which type of behavior is bad enough to be illegal based on its popularity. This entire issue is systemic: there is no way for the system to self regulate.

When all this #MeToo business started going on, I went and asked women about this. And girls here were supportive of the women who were coming forward, but not supportive of the ensuing publicity circus and these arbitrary lines being drawn in the sand. While the virality of discussion inspired so many people to come forward, which is a good thing, we have to consider why they failed to do so in the past and what will happen when fatigue will inevitably remove this from the public interest. Company policy and employee training, harsher laws? No formalization of common sense (which doesn't seem to be so common anymore) is a good idea.

To summarize this, if you behave like a douchebag and people around you don't call you out on it, then it is culturally OK to continue. It is not right, but putting it into a law won't stop it from happening. The recent publicity around this seems to be coming not from the gravity of the behavior, but from the number of people who suddenly came forward to expose it. If that would have been naturally possible, it would not have been news, it would have just been the normal process of weeding out assholes, so it is clear to me that the problem is not as much the specific type of harassment, but the system that makes difficult the public exposure of it and a subsequent moral censure.

I don't have a solution. I am sure if I could figure it out, so would a lot of other people, and this would be solved already. However, it doesn't hurt to look at these cases from a different perspective from time to time. Like from a different country, with a different culture. Or from high enough to understand which of the social values you foster lead to assholes in power getting more and more power and then abusing it. Let's not get hung up on local solutions for specific problems, turning everything into a legal and moral labyrinth where no one is comfortable, and solve the big problems first.

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