IEET > Rights > Vision > Fellows > Russell Blackford > Technoprogressivism
Irish University Goes Batty

An academic in Ireland has been disciplined for sexual harassment because he supposedly showed an article to a female colleague in a spirit of sexual innuendo.

The article was about the fact that fruit bats engage in oral sex. His defense was that it was part of an ongoing academic discussion about non-human sexual behavior. But really—even if there was a degree of innuendo or an attempt at nerdish flirtation, so what?

Antonia Senior says:

Why does it matter? What is wrong with modern womanhood that we insist on parity in all things, yet retain the right to behave like heroines in 19th-century novels who accidentally stumble across some copulating horses? It is bad enough that the modern office environment makes us pretend that humans don’t have sex; now we must all collude in the myth that animals are built like Barbie and Ken, all smoothed over genitalia and wholesome innocence.

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Sexual harassment law is not supposed to be about totally de-sexing interaction between men and women. It is about enabling women to work in environments that are not hostile to them (whether because of sexual predation by those with power over them, or because of pervasive expressions of misogyny, or other reasons). It’s intended to support, not undermine, women’s equality.

There are sometimes fine lines to be drawn here, but we can usually recognise sexual harassment when we see it. Incidents like this demonstrate a lack of common sense. For its part, the university administration has acted stupidly. And a woman who complains about something like this, acting like a nineteenth century shrinking violet, does her sex a disservice and cannot be considered part of the feminist cause. The message she sends is that women cannot be trusted as colleagues in the workplace, because they will freak out over trivial incidents.

Feminism is not about taking all the fun from life. It is not about stamping out all sexual innuendo. It’s not about rationalising prudish attitudes to sex. It’s not meant to limit reasonable freedom of speech and expression, including academic freedom.

It’s all about women being given proper credit for being as capable as men.

That includes their competence in taking part in ordinary and reasonable social interaction in the workplace. So don’t support the “victim” in this case in a spirit of feminist sisterhood. This is not feminism in action, even if she thinks it is. She’s set back the feminist cause, not helped it; she’s made it look as if women are not good colleagues in the workplace, and it would be safer not to hire them.

The wrong person was disciplined here. The harm was done by somebody disrupting the workplace—wasting the university’s time and resources—with a complaint about such a trivial matter. She should be counselled and warned not to do this again.

Russell Blackford Ph.D. is a fellow of the IEET, an attorney, science fiction author and critic, philosopher, and public intellectual. Dr. Blackford serves as editor-in-chief of the IEET's Journal of Evolution and Technology. He lives in Newcastle, Australia, where he is a Conjoint Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle.



COMMENTS

oops!

This is far from being about a simple incident re. bat sexual behaviour and academic freedom as it is still being assumed to be across the global media.

Probably the best place to follow what happened are the comments (which include a few from Dylan Evans too) on PZ Myers blog:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/05/bat_sex_is_not_protected_by_ac.php

Many people regret taking the initial publicity at face value and signing Evans’ petition.

As a lifelong feminist, I couldn’t agree more with the thesis of this article. Good grief!

This is ridiculous, and sad. I just signed the petition.

As you say, feminism should be “ll about women being given proper credit for being as capable as men”. But such falsely “feminist” episodes, besides being ridiculous, have the opposite effect. If this episode makes major headlines, many employers will think twice before hiring women.

I noticed that article said:

“The woman, who has not been identified, complained that she felt “harassed”, “hurt” and “disgusted” by his actions. “

I saw the word “actions” and thought, “Why the plural? What actions? All he did was hand her an article.”—Well that’s what I thought after reading Blackford’s essay. But the article continued:

“She alleged that the incident came after repeated examples of his “inappropriate” behaviour, in which he kissed her on both cheeks and complimented her appearance. “

Maybe when he handed her the article, it was with a certain look in his eye, a look that said, “ha, the last time you made me sit through a sexual harassment investigation I got away scot free, so I think I can continue what I was doing. Oh, and by the way, you’re hot.”  The article didn’t say, so I don’t think we have a full picture of the situation.

Evans said he had been “deeply upset that his colleague had been offended by the article and was troubled that his name had been tainted by an allegation of sexual harassment.” Uh, Evans, didn’t you learn your lesson after the previous investigation? What an idiot!

Now fellows, please don’t conclude from this that I support the guilty verdict. I can’t decide, because I wasn’t there and I don’t have the facts.

As far as I know there was only one investigation (and it looks to have been conducted in a rather amateurish fashion).

Ha! Seems like the Irish have been touched by the Anglo-saxon prudishness.
In France, we kiss women (on both cheeks) everyday to say hello, and we compliment them on their looks (otherwise they are offended!).
We talk, we flirt, there is a lot of sexual innuendo. We talk sex at the coffee machine and at lunch. And women are not afraid of engaging in such conversations, on the contrary. It’s part of life, it’s camaraderie, which is much needed at work.
Brits (and apparently Irish) working in France are shocked y such practices.

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