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Kick Against the Pricks and Other Unsexy Truths About Sexual Harassment

  • Part 1: The Unsexy Truth About Harassment
    • Sexual harassment is often understood, like other forms of gender-based violence, as a violation of consent. It is more than that.
  • Part 2: Kick Against the Pricks
    • Will men ever see women as full-fledged human beings rather than ego salves and receptacles?

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Part 1: The Unsexy Truth About Harassment harassment is often understood, like other forms of gender-based violence, as a violation of consent. It is more than that.

Melissa Gira Grant, The New York Review of Books / Portside 

December 8, 2017 | On both sides of my subway stop, an ad campaign for the local public radio station, WNYC, has rotated for a few months now. The ads use text message-like taglines: one about the station call letters being your safe word, and another that asks, “You up?” After this week, when two more WNYC hosts were suspended as of Wednesday and placed under investigation for “inappropriate conduct”—Leonard Lopate and Jonathan Schwartz, joining John Hockenberry, who we learned over the weekend was also accused of workplace harassment—the station’s ads now read like leaked transcripts of unwanted sexts.

That’s how I read them. My AIM window once used to light up with messages from my editors and other writers at all hours, though it was one editor who was responsible for most of the late-night notes. This is how I knew he was editing my stories in bed with his wife, and he wanted me to know that he enjoyed it. He told me repeatedly, treating me like I was a secret, though it was one of his own invention, and I was not a participant. I don’t have the messages. It was years ago. I can’t say the words upset me, not then, not now. What they left me with was doubt, a sharp jab coinciding with the moments of accomplishment that I should have been able to enjoy as a writer. To detach myself from that editor meant I had to look at my own work with distance and suspicion. Did it only merit attention because I had? The editor didn’t have to say anything more; I did this doubting to myself. Over time, I stopped. Melissa Gira Grant  is a journalist and author, covering sexual politics, criminal justice, and human rights. She is a contributing writer for Pacific Standard and the Village Voice, and a writer in residence with the Fair Punishment Project (a joint initiative of Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice and its Criminal Justice Institute).

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Part 2: Kick Against the Pricks Donald Trump with Allie LaForce (Miss Teen USA), Natalie Glebova (Miss Universe), and Chelsea Cooley (Miss USA) at a launch party for Cara Birnbaum’s book Universal Beauty: The Miss Universe Guide to Beauty, Trump Tower, New York City, April 2006 Gabriela Maj/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

  • Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back ~ Gretchen Carlson
  • Will men ever see women as full-fledged human beings rather than ego salves and receptacles? Until that day, the accusations and exposés will continue: the floodgates have opened and aren’t closing anytime soon.

Laura Kipnis, The New York Review of Books Gretchen Carlson shortly after she was crowned Miss America, September 1988  Michael Schwartz/New York Post Archives/Getty Images

December 21, 2017 | At first it was a lot of enormous media potentates crashing to earth, followed by a bunch of lesser despots and lords, many employed in the media industries too, and it soon expanded to include half the men in Hollywood and ancillary trades like politics. The accompanying din was the clamor of pundits (those who hadn’t yet been felled themselves) attempting to explain what had happened—then reexplain, then explain some more—because the picture kept changing: soon the not-so-powerful were under fire too (freelance writers and experimental novelists were among those anonymously charged in an online list), and it was becoming unclear whether it was “toxic masculinity” or masculine panic we were talking about.

But at the beginning, the story seemed plain enough. It turns out that in the tallest skyscrapers and plushest hotels of the most advanced economies, many high-profile men have been acting the part of feudal lords, demanding droit du seigneur from their vassals, the vassals in this case being their female employees and others wishing entry into their fiefdoms. Evidently there’s been a covert system of taxation on female advancement in the work world, with the unluckier among us obligated to render not just the usual fealty demanded by overweening bosses but varying degrees of sexual homage too, from ego-stroking and fluffing (which is gross enough), to being grabbed and groped, to the expectation of silence about full-on rape.

Laura Kipnis is a Professor in the Department of Radio, TV, and Film at Northwestern. Her books include How to Become a Scandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior and Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus. (December 2017)

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