Sexual Harassment Through the Feminist Ideological Lens

Previously in this publication I raised serious questions about whether sexual harassment is the crisis that some have alleged. The first problem—which the “#MeToo” movement and feminists in general never seem to address—is what is meant by the term. At times, they seem to conflate it with outright sexual assault; at other times it seems to include even something like uninvited comments. My writing about it, which has not been extensive, and the articles by my Franciscan University of Steubenville faculty colleague Anne Hendershott about the “guilty until proven innocent” stance taken on American campuses toward young men accused of sexual misconduct toward women under Title IX, resulted in some left-leaning, feminist alumni of Franciscan vigorously attacking us in print and through the Internet. There have been good, revealing responses to these attacks, probably most prominently by Austin Ruse in Crisis. Among other things, Ruse exposed the fact that one article in the National Catholic Reporter, known for decades for its attacks on Catholic orthodoxy, was apparently part of a journalistic effort (funded by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation) to attack orthodox Catholic higher education institutions.

I will not repeat here the responses of Ruse and others. Rather, I focus on a few critical points in these attacking articles that highlight the basic beliefs of these Catholic supporters of the “#MeToo” movement and their serious implications.

The first thing concerns the very fact of accusing people for supposedly engaging in an undefined action, or one whose meaning is allowed to be fluid—depending on who one’s talking to. Maybe these critics, who claimed to be upholding Catholic orthodoxy and in one case cited a theology text from the 1950s to supposedly show that I was outside of it, should also pick up a solid Catholic text on ethics. They would find that a basic requirement for a law to be valid is that it specify the nature of the forbidden act. They should also consider that a standing doctrine of U.S. constitutional law is that a law is subject to being declared void if its provisions are vague. The reason for this is that if what a law expects of people is not clearly defined perfectly innocent actions will then wind up being proscribed. Indeed, that’s the very thing that’s been happening with the Obama administration’s Title IX regulations, as Dr. Hendershott and others have shown.

It’s the same, by the way, with morality. Neither the Church, nor sound moral philosophy, holds that an act is immoral without specifying the nature of the forbidden conduct.

The critics claimed that my thinking on this topic is against the Church’s teaching regarding human dignity; they even made this claim in an open letter of protest to the president of my university. Interestingly, when challenged by Ruse and others they were unable to say how I was opposing Church teaching. It’s also interesting that, after being challenged and the exposure of the Soros connection, they claimed that they were not accusing us of violating Church teaching but still went on to repeat their claim in a statement on the Patheos blogsite that I was justifying the undermining of human dignity. Suddenly, they were sympathetic about due process for the accused—even though they nowhere expressed such a concern in their previous statements. They claimed that Dr. Hendershott and I were not paying attention “to alleged victims.” This is a curious statement, considering that in one of her Crisis articles Dr. Hendershott explicitly said, “All Catholic colleges have a moral and legal obligation to confront the tragedy of sexual assault.” In one of mine I wrote of the danger that if everything becomes sexual harassment, “the true cases and perpetrators too often are missed or ignored.” In another, I said that “street harassment—properly defined and understood—is certainly a problem.” The critics obviously chose to ignore these statements. Indeed, my Crisis article of January 18—“How to Deal with Secular and Catholic Left Intolerance”—showed how two of the most vigorous critics, again writing in Patheos, twisted many of the points in my one article.

In their most recent Patheos post, the three apparent ringleaders of the attack on Dr. Hendershott and me—who were specifically called out by Ruse—eagerly cited a social media posting by another disgruntled Franciscan University alumnus who claimed that my street harassment article, without even providing a quote from the article to back this up, went “so far as to accuse women, collectively and individually, of being responsible for their objectification and denigration by men.” It’s curious that if they were so concerned about defending Church teaching that they waited until now to raise the issue since that article appeared in Crisis in 2014. Of course, their claims of my lack of orthodoxy are really an attack on Crisis, a publication known for upholding Catholic orthodoxy, since the articles appeared there. It’s also curious that they turned to the National Catholic Reporter, of all places, to make their defense of orthodoxy. Or can it be that it’s just their idea of orthodoxy, which doesn’t really concern Catholic orthodoxy at all?

Upholding human dignity is certainly central to the Church’s social and other teaching. In a recent anthology, I authored a chapter discussing how the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court over the decades have been mixed, from a Catholic standpoint, in terms of upholding it. Still, just because one speaks about human dignity does not mean that one is truly upholding it. The judge in the recent Alfie Evans case in the U.K. claimed that the hospital was justified in holding Alfie as a hostage and not allowing his parents to take him out of the country for possible life-saving treatment in order to uphold his dignity. One of the earliest self-proclaimed Catholic homosexualist organizations in the U.S.—long dissenting from the Church’s teaching about the immorality of homosexual conduct—is named Dignity. The point is that the term “human dignity” can be twisted every which way. The fact that those attacking Dr. Hendershott and me, in typical leftist fashion, were quick to demonize and claim that we’re infiltrating Franciscan University with right-wing ideology—without, of course, even saying what that is—rather than engage in thoughtful discussion makes one wonder who’s being driven by ideology. More so, when their stance sounds suspiciously like what comes from the secular feminist movement.

It is a common tactic of the left to try to emasculate the truth, especially in culture war matters, by calling it “right-wing” thinking and using that to discredit those defending it. Any doubt about the leftist bias of these writers was seen in their claiming, in their letter to Franciscan’s president, that another of my Crisis articles, “A Disturbing Portrait of the Present-Day American Left,” was “composed of broad, unsubstantiated statements.” I’m not, however, ignorant about American liberalism and conservatism, having authored two scholarly books exploring how they conform or deviate from Catholic social teaching.

As far as violating human dignity is concerned, one has to ask these things: Doesn’t falsely accusing someone of wrongdoing or being impervious to a set of arrangements that readily permit it, violate human dignity? Doesn’t almost reflexively believing that a person is truthful or right simply because of her gender violate human dignity, as much as doing so because of race or ethnicity would? Doesn’t assaulting people’s character by twisting truth, whether with false allegations of sexual misconduct or twisting what they say to claim that they are defending sexual assault, affront human dignity? Isn’t calumny such an affront? How about the lack of charity, which is the greatest Christian virtue, by misrepresenting and leading unjustified attacks on people you don’t even know?

Almost all of these points—false allegations, not specifying what harassment is, the lack of charity, accusers having ulterior motives (I wrote about Hollywood starlets granting sexual favors to advance their careers and then years later claiming they were in some way pressured, and Dr. Hendershott wrote about the female student at a Catholic college who is being criminally prosecuted for a false sexual assault report made because she wanted to get sympathy from another young man whose affections she sought)—were in my previous article that the attackers focused on. They, of course, addressed none of them. It seems clear that, as I said, for them women are above the moral law and in no way can be held to have any measure of responsibility in any context for whatever is called harassment. Maybe they should look at the pre-confession examination of conscience booklet that I use, issued under the imprimatur of Lincoln Bishop Emeritus Fabian Bruskewitz. Under the 6th and 9th Commandments, it asks, “Have I tried to seduce someone or allowed myself to be seduced?” (italics added).

In Patheos, they claimed that I denied that “mental or emotional coercion used to solicit sexual favors decreases the culpability of the victim in her/his sexual abuse/harassment to nil.” Of course, nothing in my articles says that if a woman is actually coerced she bears any responsibility for a sexual assault. The attackers simply read that into it—possibly so they could come up with something after being challenged by Ruse as to how I violated Catholic teaching. Again, here we see them conflating sexual assault with sexual harassment, without bothering to define terms. Moreover, what is meant by “mental or emotional coercion”? Is it something like “emotional neglect” of children, which is used to define almost anything as child neglect that gives the state an open door to interfere with innocent families? Is it another way of justifying their belief that in no way can a woman ever have any degree of responsibility for any kind of harassment? Are these writers saying that all sorts of things qualify as rape? If so, that would be right out of the secular feminist playbook.

In his most recent Crisis article on this topic, Ruse took a couple of these attackers to task for contending that campus modesty rules at schools like Franciscan and Christendom College somehow lead to sexual assault. One wrote about my dress rules for class (consistent with the Franciscan catalog’s emphasis on modesty in class dress) that, along with my other course regulations, I hand out to my students. Among other things, I say: no bared midriffs, halter tops, plunging or low necklines or exposure of cleavage, mesh or muscle shirts, and apparel with off-color or suggestive messages. While certain of these things would apply to both sexes, most of them particularly apply to women. As Ruse says, “Krason’s rules recognize something that toxic feminism rejects and that is men and women are different and respond to different stimuli. Men are visual.” The examination of conscience booklet referred to also asks: “Have I purposely dressed immodestly?” In other words, this is a moral matter. The alumni attackers not only apparently want to absolve women from the moral law, but they also ignore the realities of human nature. That further illustrates how they have allowed feminism to corrupt their thinking; after all, ideology strictly defined in essence is at war with human nature. Ruse further says that as far as they are concerned the onus is completely on men “to learn to control themselves and their desires.” Women have no obligations in this regard. That’s a curious notion of equality.

Parenthetically, but revealingly, the alumni attackers—or at least the one who first brought this up in the National Catholic Reporter—almost certainly got the information about my dress rules when a student collaborator of theirs, whom I didn’t know, came to my office to ask for a syllabus for one of my courses supposedly on behalf of a student who had lost hers. I discovered she had lied when I asked my student on the next class day about it. If these people will twist and misrepresent your writings, should this other example of dishonesty be surprising? All the while, they set themselves up—despite their own limited theological training—as a para-Magisterium to accuse the long-time president and a former Board member of the only interdisciplinary and orthodox Catholic social science organization in the U.S. of heterodoxy.

A final thought to leave with these Catholic feminist alumni and their followers: Try watching the powerful movie—a true story—entitled The Stoning of Soraya M., which stars the Catholic actor Jim Caviezel. It’s about a woman in Khomeini’s Iran who’s stoned to death after her husband falsely charged her with adultery so he could get out of their long-time marriage and wed a fourteen-year-old girl. The lack of evidence was irrelevant; he was to be automatically believed because he was male and she automatically disbelieved because she was female. The antagonists of Dr. Hendershott and me are virtually saying that, in male-female encounters here and now in the U.S., the reverse should be the case. Although the men won’t be stoned, their characters and futures may be destroyed—a consequence that was, to put it mildly, not a big concern of these alumni critics. For all their talk about human dignity, that’s hardly a recipe for a just society.

Stephen M. Krason

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Stephen M. Krason's "Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic" column appears monthly (sometimes bi-monthly) in Crisis Magazine. He is Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies and associate director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also co-founder and president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. He holds a J.D. and Ph.D. (political science) and an M.A. in theology/religious education and is admitted to a number of law bars, including the U.S. Supreme Court. He is the author, most recently, of The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic (Transaction Publishers, 2012), and editor of three volumes: Child Abuse, Family Rights, and the Child Protective System (Scarecrow Press, 2013) and The Crisis of Religious Liberty (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014); and most recently, Challenging the Secular Culture: A Call to Christians (Franciscan University Press). His latest book is Catholicism and American Political Ideologies (Hamilton Books). He is also the author of a new novel, American Cincinnatus.

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