Gaslight Nation

I have made a point to keep my blog free of all political discussion purposefully because I don’t run a political blog.  21st c. political discourse tends to be characterized by fear mongering, polarizing and pedantic language, a lack of civility, ad hominem attacks and other logical fallacies, and a ferocious but presently normalized invective that was not culturally familiar or acceptable twenty or even ten years ago.  I am most likely the millionth person to observe that something has shifted in the last five years in the United States in terms of what Americans accept as ‘normal’ behavior from our local, state, and national leaders.  Where we were once scandalized by a sitting president engaging in oral sex with an intern in the Oval Office, we now condone (in the form of electing him to office) a father’s brazen admissions of sexual attraction towards his daughter as well as permit a known sexual harasser and batterer to occupy the highest office of power in our country.  This is where the culture wars, political partisanship, ideology substituting itself for good politics, and excessive corporate campaign contributions led us.

They led us to the great disaster of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday, September 28.  The nation was on pins and needles because this was not just another hearing.  Something about this hearing felt nauseatingly familiar to many men and women tuned into C-Span, and I’m not talking about politics.  Something else was afoot.

Judge Kavanaugh was nominated by Mr. Trump in July 2018 to replace Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.  While I’m very interested in the political reasons for Mr. Trump’s choice not the least of which is Kavanaugh’s view that a sitting president cannot be indicted, I am far more inclined to examine Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) outburst during the hearing in which he explodes in anger towards the Democrats questioning Kavanaugh:

“What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open, and hope you win in 2020.”

The Republican from South Carolina then turned his attention back to Kavanaugh and asked: “Are you a gang rapist?” Kavanaugh replied: “No.”

The Republican senator also asked Kavanaugh, “Would you say you’ve been through hell?” Kavanaugh responded, “I’ve been through hell and then some.”
Graham expressed sympathy for the Supreme Court nominee and his family, saying, “I cannot imagine what you and your family have gone through.” He added, “I hope the American people can see through this sham…”
Earlier in the day, Graham compared the judge’s treatment to Ford’s experience, the woman who came forward to accuse him of sexual assault.
“I’m not going to reward people for playing a political game, I think, with her life,” Graham said. “She is just as much a victim of this as I think Brett Kavanaugh (is). Because somebody betrayed her trust, and we know who she gave the letter to.” (CNN)

Certainly, this outburst has a political context, but there is a wide stream of that something else flowing through this dialogue; and it should not to be missed.  I want to break it down, but before I do I want to note that Sen. Graham spoke with Chris Wallace on “FOX News Sunday” prior to the hearing.  Here’s what he said:

What am I supposed to do, go ahead and ruin this guy’s life based on an accusation? I’m just being honest. Unless there’s something more, no, I’m not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh’s life over this. But she should come forward. She should have her say. She will be respectfully treated…I will listen, but I’m not going to play a game here and tell you this will wipe out his entire life,” Graham noted. “‘Cause if nothing changes, it won’t with me.” (CNN)

There it is again–that idea that Kavanaugh’s life will be ruined somehow were Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations found to be credible, and Graham is…what? The harbinger of Kavanaugh’s downfall should he hold him to account with rigorous questioning or further investigation?  As CNN’s Editor-at-Large says, “If the very people who hold in their hands — and votes — the power to make or break Kavanaugh’s nomination are admitting publicly that almost nothing Ford says will change their mind(s), isn’t that the sort of rank partisanship that has gotten us into this morass in the first place?”  Logically speaking, if Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a young woman in high school, then isn’t he the cause of his own ruin? Of course, a young man can hardly conceive that one day he might be a Supreme Court Justice nominee, but that is neither here nor there.  Young men shouldn’t be drunkenly sexually assaulting young women and expecting to win a gold medal in ‘Character and Ethics’ a few decades later when past bad acts come to light.  The Senate Judiciary Committee’s job is to sniff this sort of thing out and make certain that Supreme Court Justice nominees are fit for the role: beyond reproach.  Sen. Graham and the entire committee lost sight of that role in the midst of their pursuit of power:

“A judge must be a person with strong character. A judge who has strong character has the ability to apply broad, general law to a narrow, specific set of facts without abusing the court’s authority, letting his or her personal views get in the way, or overlooking important facts and law…a judge should be a visionary. The judiciary is responsible for making sure our laws serve justice and uphold the Constitution. When our laws fail to do so, a judge should search for a way, within the confines of the law, to right a wrong and see that justice is done, even in the face of a disapproving majority.  Finally, a judge should be a patriotic American. By this, I mean that a judge must be concerned for the country and the people the law serves more than his or her personal agenda or self-interest.  Justices must have intellectual integrity. Supreme Court justices ordinarily are accountable only to their own consciences. Justices must be able to build consensus. The court’s opinions only have force when a majority agrees; fractured decisions leave people struggling to understand what the law means.” (What Makes a Great Supreme Court Justice?)

Alas, Sen. Graham indicates that holding Kavanaugh to account is akin to ruining his life, but this is not something that jibes with Graham’s past actions or his ambitions.

“Graham, who was first elected to Congress in 1994, came to national attention in 1998. He was a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. Graham then served as a “manager” of Clinton’s Senate impeachment trial.

The irony of his demonstration is that Graham, who wants to chair the Judiciary Committee someday, sought to use a sex scandal to take out a president at that time. Now, two decades later, Graham is defending a Republican Supreme Court nominee from accusations of sexual misconduct.” (Politico)

Moving on, the first question that Graham asks of Kavanaugh is whether he is a gang rapist.  That would be a legitimate question if Judge Kavanaugh were accused of gang rape, but Dr. Blasey Ford never alleged that Brett Kavanaugh gang raped her.  She never declared, “Brett Kavanaugh is a gang rapist.”  So, why ask such an absurd question? Well, this question is a logical fallacy called argumentum ad absurdum in which someone appeals to the extremes in an attempt to disprove something.  Notice that Sen. Graham did not ask Kavanaugh whether he had engaged in forced sexual touching with Dr. Blasey Ford.  That would have been a legitimate question.  No, Graham comes up with some absurd caricature that offends the imagination, triggers victims of rape, and strikes skeptics as ridiculous: “Judge Kavanaugh as high school gang rapist?” P’shaw! No, he’s not a gang rapist!  Well, if that’s not right, then the whole allegation must be false; and therein lies the deception and utter brilliance of argumentum ad absurdum.  Brett Kavanaugh, however, can be innocent of gang rape and still be guilty of sexually assaulting Dr. Blasey Ford.  It was, well, an absurd question.

Sen. Graham’s next question makes Brett Kavanaugh look pitiable, and it is a brilliant juxtaposition considering the public just watched a prosecutor take Christine Blasey Ford apart for four hours under high pressure questioning in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Who looks like a victim now? The victim of sexual assault or the alleged perpetrator? It was a clever redirect.

Sen. Graham then goes on to offer sympathy for Kavanaugh’s “suffering” going so far as to call the hearing “a sham”.  He then takes it further by comparing Kavanaugh’s present circumstances–being heavily scrutinized, questioned, and potentially investigated–to Dr. Blasey’s high school sexual assault at Kavanaugh’s own hands.  Yet this is the purpose of a hearing! A Supreme Court Justice nominee is supposed to be heavily scrutinized and questioned.  If I, as a citizen, am supposed to abide by the laws this man interprets, then I want to know that he isn’t guilty of breaking any himself particularly in the realm of sexual violence.

So, what is all this then? What is the “something else” that we are witnessing aside from obvious partisan politics and sniping? This is gaslighting.  Perceptual manipulation and minimizing in the public forum.

Why is it gaslighting? This is where I have to speak politically for a moment.  This hearing was indeed a sham largely because the GOP is trying very hard to confirm Kavanaugh before the midterm elections.  I understand their zeal and impatience.  They have an agenda, and they want to see it through.  This hearing was a formality for the conservatives.  Sen. Graham’s irate posturing and belligerent bloviating accusing the DFL of a sham was manipulative.  The entire hearing was a sham from the beginning.  The GOP did not seem interested in the true quality of the contents of Judge Kavanaugh’s character or past actions that might reveal his deeper nature.  If they were, then Sen. Graham would have been open-minded and quietly considered every word Dr. Blasey Ford spoke last Thursday during her four hours before him and his colleagues.  The Senate Judiciary Committee would have called for an FBI Investigation right away and postponed all proceedings.  Some things just matter more than a political agenda.

Had this been the DFL pushing through a favored nominee with little opposition due to lack of votes, then it would have likely played the same way.  Their hearing would have been a formality, too.  Each party has its own idea of who should occupy this most coveted seat on The Bench.  That being said, what is more important? The next two to six years of the GOP political agenda, or the next forty to fifty years of judiciary competence, ethics, and rigor? I know that POTUS has openly boasted about: grabbing women by the p*ssy (2015 “Access Hollywood” Interview), treating women like sh*t (New York Magazine), calling women who breastfeed disgusting, and going so far as to find 12 year-old girls attractive among so many other offensive and misogynistic misdeeds (Telegraph), but Mr. Trump’s anomalous, abnormal, and likely personality-driven behavior should never be normalized because it is not, in fact, normal or something to be modeled.  In fact, America’s elected officials should raise the bar–or, sadly, return the bar to its previous height–and demand excellence from each other in conduct, behavior, speech, personal and professional ethics, and character regardless of their party affiliation.

The issue at hand should not be: “There wasn’t a problem with Kavanaugh until you pointed it out; therefore, you must be the problem, ____________.” (insert Dr. Blasey Ford, another accuser, or DFL) . In my mind, the most pressing issue is the possibility that a Supreme Court Justice nominee may very well have sexually assaulted at least one woman, and the majority of the GOP does not seem to care about that.  This reeks of cronyism, elitism, and that old institution that must crumble: The Boys’ Club (well, you know, generally for privileged white boys and men).

For many people, this “something else” feels so familiar because it is familiar.  For survivors of sexual violence, we’ve seen our perpetrators defended while being blamed ourselves because we “looked” like we wanted it.  Our perpetrator didn’t understand; we should feel sorry for him/her.  S/he sure is going through hell now being held accountable.  Besides, they have such a bright future.  Why make a big deal out of a misunderstanding? (That’s minimizing or trivializing, and that’s a form of gaslighting)

Perhaps we were told that we didn’t remember it like it happened (This is called countering, and this is a form of gaslighting).  The following ever-popular accusation is often made and was made by Trump himself: “If it really happened, then why didn’t you come forward?” You need only look at the four-hour ordeal Dr. Blasey Ford has been subjected to not to mention everything else she is currently enduring to understand why men and women don’t come forward after sexual violence.  I was raped when I was 22 years-old on a date, and I never told anyone.  My refusal to disclose doesn’t mean a rape never happened.  It only means that I didn’t talk about it.  Period.

Gaslighting is pervasive, and one can encounter it in myriad environments both professional and personal–and political it seems.  Be savvy.  Pay attention.  When you begin to feel crazy, like you’re the only sane one around, start really listening to what is being said to you or around you.  Educate yourself on perceptual manipulation aka gaslighting.  Learn about logical fallacies.  Logical fallacies are commonly used in political arguments and rhetoric.  The culture of our political system can change.  It changes when we vote and get involved.

So, get out and vote in the people who line up with your values and ethics, and vote out the people who do not.  Also, pay attention to how your current political favorites behave when they are politicking.  Do they rely on gaslighting and logical fallacies to push their points and agendas? Do they often align themselves with those who do? Carefully consider that.  It matters.  A lot.

Further Reading:

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Meet the Parents

If you are new to my blog, I will bring you up to speed.

In January 2017 I enrolled in 4-year graduate degree program in order to specialize in Traditional Chinese Medicine and integrative medicine.  A month after I began my program, a man in my program began harassing me.  At first, I brushed it off as obnoxious behavior, but I started changing how I dressed in case it was more; I was anxious.  I stopped wearing make-up and started wearing hoodies, ponytails, jeans, and Converse sneakers.  In other words, I dressed like my 14 year-old.  Alas, he continued to target me including unwanted sexual touching and battery.  This continued intermittently for a year.

I documented every encounter in detail.  I reported it to my college’s administration, thusly, beginning what has come to feel like the Battle Royale.  The college administration would not implement Title IX procedure or policy due to cronyism.  I had to attend classes with him, tolerate continued nonverbal harassment, and then finally another confrontation.  Finally, I petitioned the court for an Harassment Restraining Order (HRO), and it was granted although temporarily because the Respondent (the harasser) contested it meaning I have to appear in court for a hearing.

This brings me to the present.  His family asked to meet with me in order to reach a settlement agreement to avoid the hearing.  Initially, I thought, “Why would I do that? I’m going to do my best to keep that HRO.”  Then, I spoke to another woman at my school who has endured the same process.  I’m incredulous.  What are the odds? Two women in four months filing for HROs from two male students in the same graduate program? I then opted to file an official complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), and, after a telephonic interview and review of my complaint, they will be officially investigating my college for discrimination.

So, yesterday, I met with the Respondent’s family for three hours at a local restaurant.  It was surreal.  They don’t want a hearing.  They want to reach a settlement agreement.  It was long and exhausting, and, to be honest, I truly empathized with them.  I’m a mother.  I understand their point of view.  They were honest with me.  They recognized their son’s deficits and his wrongdoing.  It must be noted that his family is from another country and culture.  Their culture’s family norms differ from popular American family norms.  If an eldest son commits acts like he has towards me, then it brings shame to the family as a whole; and, the family as a unit takes on the debt–not just the individual.  I understood this, and this is largely why I agreed to share a meal with them.  I am not litigious by nature and prefer negotiations when at all possible.  As a lawyer who is near and dear to me said, “If you are litigating, then both sides have lost.”  The pending hearing would require litigation.

They did not bring their attorney with them.  I mirrored that as a sign of cooperation.  And, what I can say with complete confidence is that you should never attempt to do anything like this without an attorney.  They wanted me to sign a contract agreeing to drop the HRO.  They were very concerned that their son’s life would be ruined with the label of “harasser” or “sexual harasser”.  As concerned as they were for me and my sense of safety, their concern was always first and foremost for the future of their son.  I expected that.  Parents are the best advocates for their kids–even when their kids behave very badly.

I had to push quite hard for strong contractual stipulations and be able to defend my position in a persuasive way in order to convince them.  I succeeded on the points that mattered the most, but the experience did not feel empowering.  I felt blamed somehow.  They blamed me because I sought out the legal system for help because their son would not respond to “Stop,” and “Leave me alone.”  This morning as I negotiated on the phone, his father asked me, “Are you trying to ruin his life and future?” I paused, took a breath, and answered, “No, we are in a settlement agreement because your son refused to comply with the school’s code of conduct and violated his second warning.  He is now suspended for a third violation and restricted by an HRO granted by a judge.  He is ruining his own life.  I’m merely insisting that the document I sign is enforceable in a court and protects me and your son.  Isn’t that what you want, too? Legal protection for his interests?”

After that, the negotiations went smoothly.  I am not thrilled with any of this.  In the end, the Respondent will continue on with his life and educational privileges, and I will have absorbed the wrongful acts.  It doesn’t feel just enough.

I have been sitting around in my pajamas all day today.  I have midterm exams next week, and I just don’t care.  That will pass.  I will rebound, but what I can say is that this is the “real” reality of sexual harassment.  The other woman at my school who was forced to file for an HRO? Her harasser will return to complete his education after she graduates.  My harasser will continue his medical education as well.  What are the truly meaningful consequences for these men for harassing two women for over a year? What kind of medical practitioners will these men become?

I am profoundly troubled by the unknowns, but this is what I do know:

Never sign anything without consulting your attorney.  

Also, attorneys cost not a little money which is likely why victims of harassment probably don’t receive the advocacy they deserve nor report the harassment.  It has been a pain in the ass the whole time complete with insomnia, panic, anxiety, and crying jags.  And, it’s not over.  The OCR investigation is only just beginning, but I’m ready for it.  Appropriate changes will be made and enforced–by the Feds!

At least when I leave this school, I’ll have left a mark on it–for the better– even if my harasser still gets to attend classes there.

 

 

 

 

What’s Behind Victim-Blaming?

I feel like I’m writing installments for a weird soap opera–“Tune in today for the continuation of the saga.  Will there be an investigation? Will the administration give up their lazy ways and comply with Title IX? Will there still be a hearing? What about the other known harassers at the college? What happens when parents get involved? Find out what’s next on ‘The Cowardly and The Compliant’.  Brought to you by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.”

The current situation is not what I imagined when I decided to return to grad school.  Sexual harassment was not on the menu.  Sure, I anticipated that a graduate medical program would be hard.  It should be difficult.  And, when I realized that my harasser was going to continue in his pattern of predatory behavior after a year of intermittent harassment, I anticipated that reporting him would be unpleasant.  Reporting sexual harassment is always unpleasant because you are forced to disclose what has happened to you, and that inevitably provokes feelings of vulnerability and shame.  It also raises internal doubts like, “What if no one believes me?” and “What if I am blamed for the harassment?”– and the oft asked question “Why did you wait to report it?”

The questions that are asked of victims of myriad types of harassment and sexual harassment in specific seem to inherently blame the victim, and I suspect that this is the case because there is a culture of blame surrounding sexual misconduct embedded in our culture.  Anyone who has been sexually assaulted, raped, and/or sexually harassed knows this.  The psychology that arises within victims after experiencing the aforementioned is almost always one of self-blame as well: “Did I do something to make him/her think I wanted that? I think it might be my fault.”  And, too often, others are more than willing to agree with that sentiment–“Well, maybe you were too friendly with him/her.  You are sort of flirty.”  There is, however, something more at play…

“I think the biggest factor that promotes victim-blaming is something called the just world hypothesis,” says Sherry Hamby, a professor of psychology at the University of the South and founding editor of the APA’s Psychology of Violencejournal. “It’s this idea that people deserve what happens to them. There’s just a really strong need to believe that we all deserve our outcomes and consequences.”

Hamby explains that this desire to see the world as just and fair may be even stronger among Americans, who are raised in a culture that promotes the American Dream and the idea that we all control our own destinies.

“In other cultures, where sometimes because of war or poverty or maybe sometimes even just because of a strong thread of fatalism in the culture, it’s a lot better recognized that sometimes bad things happen to good people,” she says. “But as a general rule, Americans have a hard time with the idea that bad things happen to good people.” (The Psychology of Victim-Blaming)

I have encountered this phenomenon for 26 years.  Generally, people are very uncomfortable with the idea that they could do all the right things in life and still suffer.  The summer before I started undergrad in the 90s, I unknowingly lived next door to a man wanted by Interpol for human trafficking and other crimes.  He had multiple aliases.  He was extremely charming and very smart.  On a hot, summer day in August, he abducted me, and I got to experience human trafficking.  I can’t begin to count how many times it has been insinuated to me that I should have known he was a criminal.  I have been told directly a few times that it was my fault.  I understand the reasons.  People cling to the idea that if you do everything right, then you will escape tragedy.

You won’t.  Sometimes the unspeakable happens, and there is no good reason for it.  And, I don’t know about you, but that is hard to live with.  I’ve lived with the fallout of that horrible experience for the last 26 years of my life.  Consequently, on good days, I feel a strange sympathy for the people who blame me for being trafficked or harmed in other ways.  They have to in order to feel safe in the world.  It is, of course, a grand illusion.  I know that, and there is cold comfort in my understanding their perspective.  Still, that understanding prevents me from feeling re-victimized when I have to make difficult decisions like filing a complaint against my college with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

And how is that going, you ask?

An investigator with the OCR called me last week for a phone interview.  We talked for an hour and a half.  She said that she would notify me this week via email if their office decided to open an investigation into my college.  I learned last night that the OCR is probably going to investigate my college.  This is not a small thing.  This will likely take six months.  This is a federal investigation.  The school will know that I am the one who filed the complaint.  It’s somewhat anxiety-provoking.  If I’m not currently on their Shit List, then I certainly will be once they get wind of the investigation.

Why did I go so far as to file a complaint with the OCR? I did it because I learned of three other harassment cases at my school that took place within a year of each other, and the administration of the college failed to act in all cases.  Another student also had to file for an harassment restraining order (HRO), and it was granted.  A teacher is currently being stalked by a student, and the student who harassed me also sexually harassed another woman at my school engaging in unwanted sexual touching.  A female student even went so far as to publicly retaliate against another student for attempting to report a student for sexual harassment.  In all cases, the college sided with the harassers, thusly, creating a sexually hostile environment.  By definition, this is discrimination based on sex which is why it is reportable to the OCR; it is a violation of Title IX.  It is also wrong.  Something should be done about it.  I’m in a position to be the person who does something.

As for the dreaded hearing, it is scheduled for next week, but the parents of the man harassing me have requested that we meet.  He is 26 years-old, but it appears that his parents take responsibility for him and his actions.  They do not want a hearing.  They want to have a “sit-down” this week.  None of this feels real to me.  Honestly, I’d just like to go to school and become a doctor, but there are dragons to slay, I guess.

Next week, I have midterms.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment of “The Cowardly and The Compliant”.  Will MJ meet The Parents, keep her HRO, and pass her midterms? Who’s to say…

Further Reading:

“The Psychology of Victim-Blaming” The Atlantic

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Reporting Harassment Matters

Amidst the #Metoo movement and Harvey Weinstein perp walk, one might begin to believe that dealing with the nuts and bolts of reporting sexual harassment would suddenly get easier.  It really hasn’t, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.  You totally should.

Realistically, it might cost you something.  Why? Well, reporting it doesn’t mean that it will stop.  You might actually experience retaliation.  You could get fired if you’re being harassed in the workplace and report it.  Teachers could treat you differently if you’re being harassed at school.  You could become a pariah if the person harassing you is well-liked.

In the past month, I’ve witnessed all of this, and I am trying to figure out exactly how I feel about it.  I was never naive about what could happen when I decided to report my harasser to my college’s administration.  The last time I reported sexual harassment I was fired.  I actually lost my job! The company was in the middle of an IPO, and they didn’t want any trouble.  Rather than fire the harasser, they fired me–the woman who talked.

The best part of this story, however, is that, during that time, I was having coffee once a week with a man who was a former FBI special agent.  We originally met at Starbucks where I often studied.  He was a regular.  I was a regular.  Somehow, his regular coffee visits turned into coffee with me.  We discussed politics and current events, and he liked French literature which is what I was studying.  He always wore a seersucker suit with a bowtie.  His name was Charlie.  He retired from the FBI and became a foremost expert in administering polygraph tests.  Think Robert DeNiro’s character in “Meet the Parents”.  He traveled all over the world administering polygraph tests.  I would try so hard to tempt him into telling me stories about his latest trips, but the man was a vault.  He would just smirk and redirect the conversation.

On the day I was fired from my job for reporting sexual harassment, I went to Starbucks seeking sugary consolation and ordered the most fattening drink they had.  I found a hidden corner table, licked whipped cream off a spoon, and cried.  Charlie came in for his regular black coffee and saw me.  He was always very affable and gentle, but, when he saw me crying, he wasn’t affable at all.  He became the FBI agent.  The interrogation began.  Why was I crying? Who did it? What happened? I told him the whole story complete with the disgusting details of the harassment and the humiliating firing while stuffing a peanut butter cookie in my mouth.  He nodded.  He pulled out his business card, wrote a number on it, and said, “Call this number and tell them I sent you.”

It was a lawyer.  I groaned and told him that I didn’t want a lawyer.  I just wanted to put the situation behind me.  He insisted.  I reluctantly called the number the next day.  The woman on the other end of the line curtly told me that everyone was busy until I said, “Charlie told me to call.”  Suddenly, she said, “One moment please.”

In a matter of seconds, a male voice was on the line.  He arranged an appointment the next day, and I met with him.  As it turns out, the lawyer I met that day was former White House counsel, and he was exceedingly polite and accommodating.  He listened to my entire story.  Had “The West Wing” been a TV show at that time, I would have felt like I was in an episode.  In the end, it was decided that there was nothing I could do.  I was wrongfully fired, but some injustices you just have to swallow.  That never felt right to me.  I think men and women are just plain tired of swallowing against their will.

Ten years later, a class action lawsuit was filed by a class of women in that company that fired me, and they won.  And, I received a check in the mail for a few thousand dollars.  As it turns out, that company made a habit of firing women who reported sexual harassment.  My reporting the harassment–and being fired–established a record.  There is no legal record if you don’t report the harassment.  That is one reason why you must report harassment.  It is vital to establish a record.  In this way, if someone is harassed after you and they report it, the record shows that others have made reports as well.  And, this is how you build a case.

Why is building a case important? Well, in the case of institutions, it becomes vital because an individual case of harassment can rarely take down an institution or, at a minimum, bring disciplinary measures.  Institutions have far more resources in terms of money and legal representation than any one person; but if a group of people (like a class) can show a pattern relating to an institution (like a group of women and my former company), then traction can be made in terms of legitimizing complaints.

In my current situation, I reported to my school’s administration that I had been harassed.  They failed to implement Title IX policy.  I documented that.  My harasser harassed me again.  I documented that and reported it.  The school failed to implement Title IX policy again.  I filed for an HRO and a judge granted it.  My harasser is contesting the HRO, and I have to attend a hearing.  I also reported the Title IX implementation failure to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).  The OCR has contacted me, and I speak to them this week via a phone interview.  If the OCR decides that my case is not severe enough to pursue, then at least there will be a record.  If anyone else reports anything to the OCR in the future, then my case will be on record and will also establish a pattern.

Proper documentation and reporting are vital even if you are afraid.  In fact, I can guarantee that if you are experiencing harassment, you will be anxious.  I am, but fear of intimidation and retaliation is exactly why harassment in various settings has been allowed to persist.  Yes, this is exhausting.  Yes, I don’t even want to go to school.  I’m weary of looking at the administrators.  Had they done their jobs in the first place, I wouldn’t be in this position.  I can state with certainty that I don’t want to go to court.  Alas, the rest of society is in a position to put a stop to a culture that condones harassment because large numbers of people standing together with a unified voice are far harder to intimidate and retaliate against than a select few.  Maintaining that unity over the longterm is how we will change this culture.

I encourage you to initiate change by educating yourself and those around you.  We can potentially build a world where #Metoo won’t even be a thing anymore.

Sexual Harassment 101: What Everyone Needs to Know (The Guardian)

Resisting Rulemaking: Challenging the Montana Settlement’s Title IX Sexual Harassment Blueprint (this is published in Notre Dame Law Review and provides an excellent “blueprint” for what schools, colleges, and universities should do under Title IX policies and procedures in the context of harassment.  It is also excellent in terms of educating oneself in the language of Title IX and what one’s rights are as well as what one should expect in terms of what Title IX provides.  It is a must read if you attend a school that receives federal funding aka FAFSA funding.)

 

 

 

Filing for an Harassment Restraining Order and Title IX

I never thought I would entitle a blog post as such, but, alas, I now know how to file for an HRO–an harassment restraining order.  I’ve been writing about sexual harassment in my medical school program because I’ve been experiencing it for over a year now.  I’ve followed every procedure to the letter, and the harasser will not stop.  He has escalated to making veiled threats against my children.  He is a 26 year-old dude for crying out loud.  Only five years older than my daughter!  And yet he has fixated on me.  It has created a very strange reality; I’m actually afraid.

On Tuesday last, I went out to dinner with another student who has experienced similar circumstances in our program, and I had a wonderful time.  She is a very courageous woman who has navigated the legal system with the help of an advocate from a local women’s advocacy center.  I felt profound admiration for her tenacity and deep anger for the injustice of her situation.  As she narrated her story to me over dinner, I could scarcely believe it.  A restraining order? Against a fellow student? In our school? And the very next day, I had to do the exact same thing.

The student who has been harassing me escalated his behavior.  I felt paralyzed.  Lo, guess who was just a room away.  My new friend who was just with me the previous evening.  She swept in and took me to the women’s advocacy center.  I disclosed the situation to two advocates, showed them all my previously filed legal documents with the Office of Civil Rights, the legal disclosures filed with the school, and personal documentation of his past actions.  The advocates unanimously agreed that the best course of action was to fill out and file an HRO.  In this way, the police could act upon my behalf, and steps could be taken to keep me and my minor children safe.

Can I just say that none of that felt real to me? I felt out of body and triggered by the entire circumstance.  I was having a problem speaking words.  But, I did it.  I filled out the HRO and printed out every piece of supporting evidence for the court.  My new friend and another woman from school went with me to the courthouse on Friday morning as I filed the HRO.  At that point, it is a petition for an HRO.  A judge has to grant it.  We went to a diner across the street, had breakfast, and waited together.  The court called me a few hours later.  My hands were trembling when I answered the phone.

The judge granted it.  I now have a restraining order against my harasser.  He has 20 days to contest it, and, if he does, I have to go to a hearing with an attorney.

There are obvious reasons why this situation is unjust and wrong.  I could go into great detail about it, but I won’t.

To me, however, there is one reason why this situation has been really good.  I have experienced the support of fellow women in a truly meaningful way in the context of social injustice.  There have been people in my program who have looked the other way and pretended that nothing was going on.  Teachers and administrators as well.  Even worse, other students have observed the harassment and buried their heads in the sand so to speak.  The community at large has condoned the harassment, and this is what perpetuates it.  Think about it.  If an entire workplace of employees protested sexual harassment, then would it continue? If an entire university or college protested sexual harassment and violence, would the administration continue to support the student perpetrators? Consider Penn State.  Well, they couldn’t.  They must get tuition from somewhere.  Sexual violence, hatred, and bigotry are as much a community problem as they are an administration problem.  One blames the victim while the other condones harassment and violence through silence.

It’s a difficult subject because once you start to speak up on behalf of someone else, you start to become an advocate; and advocacy will always cost you something.  You could experience retaliation.  Other people may distance themselves from you because they associate you with the people you are advocating for–guilt by association.  You could become a proxy representation and begin to receive more abuse than anyone else.  Look at Martin Luther King, Jr or Harvey Milk.  Advocacy doesn’t end well sometimes.  There are risks, and, let’s be real, who signs up for this? No one.  But, who signs up for harassment? No one.  Someone has to do something.  Don’t they? Who’s going to be the person who stands alongside victims and say, “I stand by you.  This won’t continue.  I’ll do something about this”?

Here’s the thing.  Nothing will change in a meaningful or permanent way if we don’t start standing up for one another.  And, I’m not necessarily talking about change on a macro-level.  I’m talking about micro-changes.  Using my college as an example, there is an established and documented pattern of sexual harassment within the school environment as more than one student experienced it.  We also experienced and continue to experience an apathetic response from the administration.  We are referred to law enforcement if we need help.  One might say, “Well, that is the school’s right.  They don’t have to help their students deal with harassers.  What’s the problem?”  Good point.

The problem is that if a school receives federal funding, then they must comply with all Title IX laws concerning discrimination.  Under Title IX, sexual harassment falls under discrimination, and the legal language is very specific about definitions and what a school is required to do about it.  If a school does not comply with Title IX, then they are in violation of it.  They have broken federal laws.  If a school is aware of discrimination and fails to address it, then they are not in compliance and must be investigated.

This is where documentation and reporting are absolutely vital.  The more people who are willing to report what they see, the better.  The more people who are willing to do this in a legal sense, the better.  Victims of harassment on school campuses can get little action from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) without documentation.  This is, however, how real social change comes about.  We’ve seen it happen right before our eyes this year what with the Weinstein Effect.  Story upon story came forth, thusly, destroying Harvey Weinstein and Miramax Entertainment.  Witnesses finally came forward to corroborate other witness statements.  It was never one big event that took down the giant.  Just a community of people who stood up for each other in real time and risked something.

I, therefore, challenge you.  We can’t complain about sexual harassment and terrible bosses, fellow employees and students if we ourselves won’t say anything or support another person experiencing it.  If we see it and know about it but fail to do anything, then how are we essentially different from the harassers? We are creating the environment that enables the abuse.  Social injustice will not stop until the environment that supports it makes no room for it any longer.  That begins with you.  And me.

Title IX: Know Your Rights

The Office of Civil Rights and Harassment Complaints

About the Office of Civil Rights (OCR)

 

The New Year Begins

Happy New Year, y’all!

So far, 2018 has been eventful.  Two weird things have happened.  I shall begin with grad school.

I just started my second year at a Traditional Chinese medical school.  Only three more to go!

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Anyway, I have zero complaints about my program excepting one.  His name is Sean, and he’s been harassing me for about a year.  I didn’t recognize his behavior as harassment until it was pointed out to me and labeled as such.  I thought he was just a really annoying, clueless arse of a guy who needed some serious mentoring.

Last Friday, I reported his behavior to one of my professors in an attempt to get some advice.  Sean is in one of my classes this term, and he targeted me in class almost as soon as class began.  He then used your run-of-the-mill intimidation tactics later on the same day.  I found his behavior to be annoying at best and fear inducing at worst.  My professor happened to be the newly appointed chair of the Bio-Western Medicine Department; I didn’t know that.  With that position comes legal responsibilities such as mandated reporting.  After I ran my situation by him, he went ballistic.

He has a strong “dad energy” about him and an established moral code.  My seeking advice on whether I should ask the teacher of my shared class with Sean to run interference for me turned into a huge legal matter.  The college’s attorneys were called.  I had to write a statement for a legal record.  I now require escorts.  The police may be notified in order to establish a better record.  They will seek to expel Sean due to the nature of his harassment.  Frankly, I was and continue to be stunned.

And, I’m now somewhat scared.  I don’t know what’s going to happen in the coming weeks.  Sean is also retaliatory.

So, as I pondered all my interactions with Sean as I wrote out the disclosure, I wondered why I waited so long to say anything.  Why did I not report the harassment sooner?

I think the primary reason that I didn’t report anything was that I didn’t know that what I was experiencing was truly sexual harassment.  I’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace before, and it was severe.  A fellow employee started with highly inappropriate remarks like, “Wow, you look really wet today.”  If I he found out that I had been on a date, he would pass my desk and taunt me: “I bet you rode that guy like a bucking bronco…”  Finally, one day, he cornered me in the women’s bathroom and refused to let me leave.  To me, this is a clear example of sexual harassment.

I reported him after a few months of his on-going acts, and the company fired me.  Not him.  They were in the middle of an IPO and didn’t want any trouble.  That’s how it was twenty years ago.  If a woman reported sexual harassment, she was often not believed, or she was punished in some way.

In this case, I had to ask myself if I was still operating under that premise.  No.  That wasn’t it.  What caused my inaction? I think that one of the primary causes of my personal confusion was the fact that there were witnesses to almost all of Sean’s misbehavior, and no one acted surprised or indicated that his actions were out of the norm or a violation of social mores–save one person.  She and I both agreed that he should not be working with patients.  He was predatory.  Neither of us knew what to do about it.  I don’t know why it didn’t occur to us to report him.

I realized yesterday that we do look to those around us to gauge the normalcy of a situation.  If everyone seems okay with someone else’s behavior but I’m not, then what? Am I overly sensitive? Do I have a reason to feel uncomfortable? Am I easily “triggered” because of past trauma? There is a lot of room for self-judgment here, and other people judge, too.  There is such a long tradition of sexual misconduct and its normalization within our culture.  Simply look at Harvey Weinstein and the narrative accounts that have exploded and expanded around him.  His actions against women are utterly deplorable, and many people knew what he was doing.  There is no defending him.  And yet when questioned, the people who lived and worked around him say, “Well, he was a terrible guy, but we didn’t know he was doing that…”

That isn’t true because when these same people are pushed to tell the truth, they confess, “I suspected, but I was afraid of him.  I didn’t want to lose my job.”

Fear of retaliation is a very real thing.  Fear of not being believed, I think, is the other reason people don’t report.  Bullying and sexual harassment are largely normalized behaviors, and targets of said behaviors have to prove that they didn’t misunderstand the “attention” far more than the accused has to prove, well, anything.  Women also have the burden of defending their lifestyles, choice of clothing, and sobriety in terms of whether or not they made themselves vulnerable to harassment.

In fact, sexual crimes against men and women are the only crimes in which a perpetrator can openly admit to the crime but be declared innocent of any wrongdoing.  What do I mean by this?

If a man is accused of sexual assault, he could say that he was confused because the woman was dressed quite scantily.  He thought she was interested in him sexually, and he never recalled her saying ‘no’.  This explanation is still enough in some states to exonerate someone.  He could even admit to raping her and still use this explanation and muddy the waters.  If a woman got drunk at a party and became apparently flirtatious even to the point of dancing in only her underwear, a man could rape her and claim that he misunderstood because she was almost naked.  And, he could go so far as to say that he heard her say ‘no’, but her state of drunken undress communicated–to him–otherwise.  She would then be blamed for her sexual assault and told to keep her clothes on and refrain from drinking at parties.

Now, if we apply this logic to other crimes, then anyone standing outside holding their wallet would be blamed for getting mugged.  A thief could easily say, “Well, they were holding their wallet right in front of me.  I assumed they wanted me to have it.  So, I took it.”  Car thieves should be jacking far more cars since cars are everywhere.  If it’s in public and on display, then isn’t that an invitation to steal it? Well, no, that’s just ludicrous.

And yet we still blame victims of sexual crimes and find ways to normalize myriad forms of sexual harassment.  Women, I have found, are especially good at this particularly when they witness it, and I have been wondering why this is.  I wonder if it’s because most women have been sexually harassed at one time or another, and we have grown accustomed to it.  Perhaps we don’t recognize it when we see it, or we believe that we just have to put up with it because it’s just part of being female.  Sort of like cramps.  We see another woman enduring harassment, and we shrug.  Welcome to the world, honey.  It’s a man’s world.  Get used to it.

Also, many successful men and women are often judged to have domineering, entitled personalities.  Women can sexually harass, too, and the idea of ambitious, entitled, mercurial personalities binging on success and bringing in loads of money to corporations is practically a trope.  With that cliché comes the meme of the handsy boss who takes what s/he wants, and everyone who works with him/her just has to put up with it.  This is exactly why Harvey Weinstein got away with rape and sexual harassment for so long in Hollywood.  It is, in part, why sexual harassment in work and educational environments is known about and tacitly condoned–these people are really good at what they do.  So what’s a little ass-grabbing here and there?

I think the tide is changing around this issue.  That may be why my college is taking such swift action.  I am not especially angry about any of this.  I have questions more than anything.  How could this have gone on for a year? Why didn’t I recognize it for what it was? Why didn’t anyone else even after witnessing it? Sexual harassment is very slippery and hard to pin down, and it is this way by nature.  It is subjective in experience, and, when left unchecked, it can become dangerous.  This is where I’m at now.  He has the potential to become retaliatory, but that is something that can be reported to both the school and police.  I watched and waited for too long.

The other weird thing that occurred happened yesterday as I was studying.  A patron of Caribou Coffee approached me as I was hard at work, nose deep in my text books.  He is a rather inappropriate personality, always telling disgustingly shocking jokes involving body parts and sex.  I have never liked him.  And, he loves to find me when I’m sitting in the corner unable to flee so that he can blitz me with his dirty jokes.

Yesterday, however, he apologized to me for “being that guy”.  He explained that he had been at a bar and witnessed another man harassing women with shock jokes and crude sexual energy.  He observed how the women responded to him, and he didn’t like it.  He realized that he was that guy.  He said that he knew he needed to grow up and stop.  His mother had recently passed, and he wanted to do something better with his life.

I was truly surprised to hear him say this.  Sometimes I feel a little cynical and wonder if people want to be better.  He did.  It was a welcome reminder considering the circumstances.

People can and do change.

So, what does 2018 hold then? Well, I think I can say for sure that it is worth investing energy in your own safety and personal care.  What you would do and want for others close to you, you must do and want for yourself.  This is how my boyfriend put it to me last night as I was voicing my concerns over this current legal matter.  He asked, “What would you do or want for one of your daughters if they were dealing with a guy like Sean at their college?”

Are you kidding? I would be driving to school daily to pick them up and lining up escorts until it was all settled.  I would be seeing to their personal sense of safety 24/7.  He indicated that this was what I should be enforcing for myself.  Oh boy…

So, for you, whatever situation you may find yourself in currently, ask yourself how you would handle it were it happening to someone beloved by you.  Then, apply that answer to yourself.  That is your standard.  It’s hard, isn’t it? This is the beginning of self-compassion.

Perhaps this is the theme of 2018.  Practicing self-compassion.

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This is really worth exploring says MJ

Do for yourself what you would do for others.  This is an outstanding starting point when you don’t know what to do.

Happy New Year once again.

Keep going…

The High Maintenance Woman and Self-Care

A few weeks ago while I was browsing through Facebook, I came upon one of those ubiquitous quizzes.  This particular quiz was entitled “How High Maintenance are You?” and the women who had completed it were more than happy to post and comment on their results.  They went something like this:

“I got a 2! I must be low maintenance lol…”

“A 2?! I got a 1! I think my car is better maintained! haha”

“I didn’t even score.  Did I shower today?”

“I got a 3 but that was only because I got a manicure for my sister’s wedding.  I would have scored lower.”

“I haven’t had a haircut in over year, and I think I have a unibrow.  I would break the test.  I didn’t even bother…”

On the surface, I can see the humor, but it almost reads like gallows humor.  Are these women serious? You treat your car better than you treat yourself? Notice the competition.  Five women are competing for who takes top honors in treating themselves the worst.  Who practices the poorest hygiene? Who practices the poorest personal grooming? Who cares the least about themselves? This is something to be validated and rewarded? And someone came up with a quiz to measure this?

Let’s think about this from the other end.  Let’s think about the “high maintenance woman” for a moment.  If there is honor in being The Martyr–the woman who throws herself under the bus in the name of Low Maintenance or no maintenance at all, then what about the other end of the spectrum? What of that woman who averages a 5 or above? That woman with the foiled hair, gym membership, gel nails, and spray tan.  She’s probably got a Brazilian wax ‘down there’, too.  She’s following some vegan gluten-free diet or something trendy.  Doing wheatgrass shots and refusing to eat sugar.  Blah blah blah.  High Maintenance.  Who has time for that nonsense? Right?!

The first thing that struck me about this quiz is that men generally don’t do these quizzes.  I rarely hear men ask their friends, “Hey, do you think I’m high maintenance? Do you think that my preferring a microbrew over a Bud Light makes me high maintenance? Do you think my liking socks with no seams and tagless t-shirts makes me high maintenance?” It sounds like a situational comedy.  Change the script, however, to a few women in a restaurant:

“Do you think my preferring a microbrew over a Bud Light makes me high maintenance? I mean, I just prefer it! Do you think that my refusing to wear socks with seams makes me high maintenance? Or t-shirts with tags? They really itch me! It distracts me all day! I can’t do it.  I’m not high maintenance, am I?”

I theorize that you would have mixed responses.  Some people would say, “Yeah, you are high maintenance.”  Many men would just make their choices and feel okay about it.  He likes what he likes.  Why? In part, I suggest, because there are no quizzes and labels such as these aimed at men.  Men have other labels to deal with to be sure.  The idea, however, that women are judged on a spectrum, particularly by each other, for investing in themselves should be shocking.  Oddly, it’s not.  The first time I heard the phrase “high maintenance” was in the film “When Harry Met Sally”:

“Well, I just want it the way I want it,” Sally says.

“I know.  High maintenance,”  Harry answers.

Hmmm.  That’s interesting, isn’t it? In 1989, the year “When Harry Met Sally” hit theaters, a woman knowing her own mind and asking for what she wanted defined “high maintenance”.  In 2016, investing in yourself unapologetically seems to be the new definition particularly if you are a mother.

What does all this mean? What can it mean for you and me?

I used to be a woman who neglected herself.  There was no simple reason for it.  There were a lot of reasons.  I was ashamed of myself.  I had gotten married too young.  I had children too young.  I felt trapped in my life.  I had trauma issues to deal with, and I didn’t know how to do it or where to start.  I had gained weight in my pregnancies, and I didn’t know how to lose it.  I was the primary caregiver to my young children, and I had no friends.  I couldn’t see that there were any resources available to me.  I was very lonely, and I felt like a foreigner in my own body and life.  Nothing felt like mine anymore.  My then husband ignored me all the time.  I felt almost hopeless.  It didn’t feel like neglect.  How I treated myself seemed appropriate.  I just drifted along with the current.  I put everything I had into my children.  That felt like the thing to do.  In reality, the more I put into my children, the more I was erasing myself.  I hated what I had become.  I was so disappointed in my life and my state.  I completely forgot how to truly be myself–how to maintain my own identity and continue to develop it.  It is impossible to maintain and develop yourself if you’re running from yourself.  Personal growth and development do not mix with avoidance.  They are mutually exclusive.  If shame is in the mix, then it becomes doubly difficult.

There is no such thing as a high maintenance woman.  Before you point and say, “Kim Kardashian…”, I will say that we only see what we are allowed to see when it comes to other human beings even more so when commercialism, exploitation, and virtual reality are at play.  As women, we know first hand how hard it can be to try to meet the tacit and spoken expectations surrounding us.  It’s hard enough to meet our own much less everyone else’s.

So, I propose something.  I propose that we all erase the phrase “high maintenance woman” from our vocabularies.  Going further, I suggest that we stop comparing ourselves to other women altogether.  If you like your unibrow and weekly shower, then keep it! You are not lesser than your neighbor who waxes her face, legs, and bikini area and showers four times a day while getting a mani/pedi and Botox while holding the Warrior pose at the same time.  What matters here is that you like yourself, know your own mind, can express your wants and needs, and live a fulfilling life with rewarding relationships.  Your ability to practice self-care and invest in yourself is an expression of the quality of your life and self-esteem.

As women, when we observe other women participating in self-care and self-expression, applaud them because this has not always been available to women.  It is often still not available to women here and in other parts of the world.  So, eschew that quiz.  Don’t do it.  Take care of yourself.  Love yourself.  And encourage and enable other women to do the same in whatever way is most meaningful to them.  If you are not sure how to begin taking care of yourself in a way that is meaningful to you, then I recommend this book:

While you’re thinking about how to do that, consider donating to Days for Girls International, an organization that provides hygiene “kits” for girls in developing parts of the world so that they don’t miss school due to their menstrual cycles.  Yeah, that’s a thing.  Hygiene kits–the most basic self-care for women and girls.  You and I can actually change the lives of girls in other parts of the world by fulfilling this most basic need.  To see this in action, watch this four-minute film.