Sunday, October 22, 2017

Where Focus is Needed...

Recently, I had a long conversation with people I care about deeply about the problem of rampant sexual harassment in US society.  I tried to convey that I am entirely sympathetic about the point, including agreeing it is FAR more often directed at women than men (and numerically at least, than trans-gender people).

I tried, ham-handedly, to express that restricting the discussion of who was impacted to women, would/could have the impact of having others say “Hey, why only women?  Why not men too?”  Why are you creating a double-standard of concern?  My reason for raising an objection to that approach is I recognize that other people are going to see that the narrow focus as unnecessary and hypocritical.  Those observers are the exact people you need to convince to win your point politically.  They will say, correctly, that you don’t gain anything by excluding one sort of victim vs. another (I’ll explain that thought in a moment), but BY excluding them, many people, not people who FAVOR harassment or abuse (who favors abuse?), but other people, will see the complaint as seeking to define the debate in a way that establishes one group as “more special” than any other.  It is that sort of message which will lose that audience right from the start (or enough of it to matter) because the audience will see you as purposefully focusing more narrow than you need and more narrow than is fair.  The other question is, after the "Me Too" campaign, what focus would you seek to change?  Would you seek to limit the funding for the abuse toward transgender?  I'll bet not, so then, what focus are we saving?  Sexual abuse and especially sexual harassment is an epidemic and has been in this country (and others) for decades/centuries, with the difference being we don't seem to be getting very much better, but no policy at any company or law within any government is made better by limiting the discussion to one set of victims, and so, neither is the discussion.

To illustrate the point, please consider your reaction to the following.  Men, overwhelmingly, serve in our armed forces (and those of other armies).  Men who serve in combat, especially those who serve in longer wars or repeated deployments where they see combat, nearly always suffer from some form of PTSD.  Whether it’s nightmares, the “1000 yard stare”, flashbacks, depression, the issues are there and they are VERY real points of pain for those men.  Were someone to say, “We need to stand up and help MEN who suffer from PTSD.  If you are a MAN who is hurting, please reply with ‘I’m Hurting’”, would you feel that was appropriate?  My question would be, why exclude women?  Even if less prevalent, is it less real?  Should we only provide funding for treating men, as a result? Yes, men are the by far and away more impacted group, but failing to include women in the conversation is a glaring hole, and does not help the cause at all.   There’s no reason to do so.  You don’t “lose focus”, nor is there a better time for talking about women’s cases, because it’s not the sex of the victim which is important, it’s the illness or in the case of Sexual Harassment (or abuse), it’s not the sex of the victim, it’s the act.  Seeking to limit the discussion to one sex marginalizes the impact to anyone else.  I’m fairly certain that transgender people suffer massive amounts of sexual identity discrimination and taunting, taunting which leaves them feeling cheapened and abused in the same way casual sexual harassment causes a sense of being cheapened and abused.  They are no less deserving of our sympathy and support and the issue is not any less “focused” by including them.   My son made a brilliant comment about this whole point, people seek empathy, not sympathy. Empathy is learned from many experiences and it is not necessary those experiences be the exact same for the other person to have empathy.
Also, while it might seem like it, I don't feel this is a debate of having too few resources to confront the issue.  Would anyone truly argue we should deny equal protection to men (or women) in court from abuse?  Would they argue that a perpetrator shouldn't have to pay if the victim were transgender?  We aren't "short on resources" here and even if we were, we'd never (should never) condone a dividing line based on sex, or religion, or race.  As an example, would anyone support a stance saying we should only focus on female drug addicts, because they very often have kids and we only have limited resources? 

The purpose of this post and point is this, Liberals, me and people like me, have long stood for inclusion.  We defend the rights of unpopular people, we consider everyone the EQUAL under the law and since law is the lowest rung of morality, to be moral, we have to consider their rights to be our moral responsibility to protect, not just our legal responsibility.  When we start creating special categories, we start to create the very divisions we strive to tear down.  When we do it needlessly (or if not needlessly, without good justification) we look hypocritical and we lose the audience we are trying to persuade.
The reality is we can come up with a million ways to define any difference, and use that as justification to make one group “more special”, it’s not hard, there’s always one way or another, and in so doing, marginalize others.   As long as you demand different treatment based on race, sex, religion .... you will have distinction and from distinction, bias.  That point, THAT concept that we must fight against policies which demand different bathrooms, different seats on the bus, EVEN IF EQUAL, has been a fundamental tenet of liberalism for more than 60 years.  We recognize that the perpetuation of that distinction is what drives bigotry, or at least, we used to.
This is not an easy subject, and I mean no disrespect to any woman (or man or transgender person).  The suffering you’ve experienced is real and wrong.  I have my opinion of course, but it’s only my opinion.  This issue I’m pointing to isn’t really about sexual harassment but is rather about how we address it.  My aim is to remind us Liberals that to be most effective, when we want focus, attention, and action on something, we have to live to our full values, especially the value of protecting the rights of everyone, even if their segment of the population is small or unpopular. 
Most important, we cannot succeed if our initial message includes an element of exclusion because the knee-jerk reaction will be that WE are biased, we will then be tuned out and they’ll never read or hear the deeper message.

It is one of the more important challenges of our time that we liberals do not follow in the paths of the conservatives and begin defining our concern for other people in smaller and smaller circles.  One of our greatest distinguishing features has been protecting ALL, even the unpopular, and caring for ALL, even the callous, and even if and especially when, we may be mad about something that group has done.   If we are to avoid war, our focus needs to be on showing love for hate and on showing empathy for our opponents, not contempt.

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