Our local newspaper reports the publication of an article by “three women leaders” in what amounts to our medical school. One is a “senior vice president and vice chancellor,” another an “associate vice president,” and the third the “chair of the Diversity Leadership Committee.” Their article, published in a major medical journal, contends that misogyny pervades American medicine, that outstanding women are daily driven from the field by a “climate” of “‘incivility’ in which women aren’t given mutual respect,” and that this disrespect for women is an unrecognized form of “sexual harassment.”
A woman is disrespected, and therefore sexually harassed, if she is passed over for promotion, raises, and positions of executive responsibility, or if her opinions are dismissed more readily than those of her male colleagues. The associate vice president likens sexual harassment to an iceberg, and says unwanted advances and bargaining for sexual favors is merely its deceptively diminutive tip. The enormous bottom of the iceberg is “unchecked work climate issues.”
“It’s that big category of behavior that’s the bottom of the iceberg, lying underneath the surface of the water.”
The associate vice president explains that this big category takes in “hostility,” “objectification,” and exclusion, all of which strike me as possibly being responses to female aggression. I know nothing about the mores of medical men, but in my world hostility and exclusion are very often aroused by unwelcome meddling, and objectification sounds suspiciously like indifference to the disappointment of a rebuffed meddler.
In any case, the proposed remedy is a combination of a “diverse leadership team” and “training and leadership skills taught to both women and ‘bystanders.’” In other words, more women in power, more powerful women, and a fifth column of white knights ready to lance any sexist pig who pokes his snout out from the underbrush.
If you follow the evolving discourse of sexual harassment, you will have noticed this lay figure called the “bystander.” The sociological type originated after the 1964 rape and murder of Kitty Genovese, when it was falsely reported that bystanders failed to respond to the poor young woman’s cries for help. We now know that the so-called “bystander effect” can be largely explained by the decent civic habits of minding one’s own business and refraining from rubbernecking, but the notion of bystander complicity lives on.
The line dividing busybodies from bystanders might at first seem exceedingly fine, and this is unsettling given the danger of being caught on the wrong side of it. But the prudent rule would seem to be that one should step in whenever a woman is suffering a reverse, but step aside whenever she is advancing. It should be needless to say that the methods by which a woman advances are nobody’s business, but her reversals are every white knight’s cri de cœur.