Letters to the Editor

We face street harassment every day; should the dean have been busted for computer porn?

By Letters to the Editor

Published May 28, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Too sexy for my shirt



Ow! Debra Dickerson has just twanged my most painful nerve ending. I always hesitate and
reconsider when putting on anything short, tight or remotely
revealing: If I dress for the warm-weather season, males
of all colors, shapes and sizes will think it's open season ... on me. No
wonder I don't like summer. Unless I have someone to accompany me,
preferably a man or a large dog, I don't dare dress to keep cool.

What's a girl to do? Ignore them, my mom said; holler insults back,
says dad. No matter what I do, I'm in danger of worse and more of exactly what I
never wanted in the first place. Short of wearing a nun's habit, there
is nothing I can do to prevent it. Street harassment doesn't confirm my attractiveness; it confirms only
one thing: my low opinion of strange men. Why should I smile at someone
who has given every indication of wanting to attack me?
I have been treated like this since the day I sprouted breasts, and I am sick of it. It's as if being visibly female, alone and independent, is some sort of crime.

Should there be a law against street harassment? Yes, definitely. And
about time, too. Listen, guys: You may like "titties," but we don't like
dickheads. And if a law is what it takes to stop you from
acting that way, I'm all for it.

-- Sabina C. Becker

Cobourg, Ontario

Sexual harassment is a form of intimidation by men who resent their own subordinate position. In a way these guys are saying to each other, "Hey, I might be a menial worker but at least I'm above these women." Manual laborers take orders all day; what they want is to see passerby women blush and smile, two unconscious gestures of subordination.

The construction workers think twice about sexually harassing their female co-workers nowadays because they could get fired for it. That's only possible because of how women fought for the right to sue companies for sexual harassment. But if companies are held responsible for the on-the-job behavior of their employees toward other employees, I don't see why companies shouldn't be held responsible for their employees' workplace behavior towards non-employees.

-- Tony Filanowski

Dickerson's article highlighted the contradictions of this
country's social trends. We glorify behavior that's
insulting and dehumanizing to women because it's "politically
incorrect," which is considered good. To not be sexist is "politically correct,"
and that's bad. It's even considered oppressive.

So the men who are confronted for harassing women on the street are victims of politically correct oppression. To stop men from harassing
women would violate the new social norm. And demonstrating decent, civilized, respectful behavior toward women will put a man in the position of violating
current social laws.

-- Suzanne Henry

Austin, Texas

Dickerson's article on street harassment reminded me of an article I read on racial harassment. The writer pointed out that white people in general, and white liberals in particular, tend to widely
underestimate the prevalence of racist comments -- because the
one group of people who almost never hear racist comments are white
liberals. No one is likely to direct a racist
comment at them because they are white, and no white racist is likely
to share a racist comment with them because it is presumed they
wouldn't approve. Similarly, as a man who wouldn't dream of calling
out my sexual desires/thoughts to a random passing woman, I virtually
never see/hear the street harassment that you describe. Its only
through the experiences of my wife that I really grew to have any idea
of just how prevalent and potent this sort of harassment is.

This type of harassment is symptomatic of
our generally sexist culture. As a sex-crimes prosecutor for a district attorney's office in Northern California, I am constantly reminded of the depressing frequency of sexual assault (almost always by "friend"/family/boyfriend) and (even more alarmingly) of the
extraordinary mental gymnastics jurors will go through to decide that
this "nice young man" couldn't really be guilty.

-- David Angel

Porn, the Harvard dean and tech support

I am a contract computer support technician for a large company and see no
problem with the professor being turned in. The computer was university
property. Period. He did not own it. He did not pay for it. It was paid for with university dollars, and therefore any restrictions the university sees fit to put on its use are legally and
ethically binding. Additionally, the university has a duty to
prevent liability and promote adherence to university policies. What if it
was child pornography, and the technician was a woman? What if it was
white supremacist propaganda promoting hate crimes, and the tech was
African-American? What about the rights of the technician and the potential
liability of the institution?

It seems obvious to me the correct course of action was taken. He did not
own the computer; he should have had no expectation that anything he put on it belonged to him
or was private.

-- Jeff Holsinger


Having been in the tech support area for more than 20 years, I've literally seen
it all when it comes to stored data. Confidential memos between top execs,
performance reviews, payroll information and highly personal e-mail
messages were all viewable from the privileged system manager's account in
the days of mainframes and dumb terminals. As Hemingway's article points
out, today's end users have a false sense of security; privacy lasts for as long as it takes to connect to the network. But hey, so what? Why should I, as a network custodian, care about anyone's fetish,
romance or personal taste? Is there a difference between how an employee
spends a spare moment on the Web and how they might spend that time making
a personal phone call, talking to a colleague, or reading a magazine? I
have never used or abused any of the confidential information I came across
in the course of doing my job. Having a privileged account with the keys
to the network security is just that -- a privilege. Any tech that
violates that privilege is just another narc for the man.

-- Steve Sloan

Impeachment's legacy


Susan Carpenter McMillan would deny to other women a right she employed on
her own behalf (an abortion). We have seen similar behavior from Clarence
Thomas: Once he was on the Supreme Court, we saw what his actions were on behalf of African-Americans. We can expect the same on behalf of women from Susan Carpenter McMillan.

-- Jeanette Huettner

Out of the darkness


Francisco writes, "When I speculate about the psyche of the rapist, I never
imagine this rush of pleasure in aggression and dominance."

Francisco shouldn't be so quick to apply her experience to that of all
other women. Susie Bright, for one, can easily tell you that she has
experienced what Kalven speaks of. So can I. So can millions of women, not
all of whom are professional dominatrixes.

Yes, women are trained by society to think of themselves as docile, "nice"
critters -- by both mainstream society and the Dworkin-Mackinnon
"women are purer/nicer/kinder/less 'sex-obsessed' than men" crowd -- but
guess what? Testosterone is the chemical behind sex drives, both in men and
women. It's also behind aggression and assertive behavior. Poor Kalven,
when he talks of forgoing looking at openly erotic pictures of women, falls
for the Dworkin-Mackinnon anti-sex programming that deeply taints feminist
thought, confusing naked bodies with exploitation. (And yes, I too, like Francisco, have been raped. It's not as if I'm a callous little twit who has never Been There and so has no right to talk on the subject.)

The whole concept of rape and sex and love is tied into issues of power and
trust. Love involves giving oneself to someone, male or female, freely and
without reserve. Rape involves taking another's essence without their
consent. Avoidance of discussing rape -- or worse, discussing it only within
certain frameworks that do not permit disagreement (Francisco's desire
to hear Kalven's voice seems to have ended abruptly when he said something
she vehemently disagreed with) -- ensures that rape will, like any other
taboo subject, hold an abnormally large power within our psyches.

-- Teresa Huberty


Love's labors lost


There were actually three albums after "Forever Changes": "Four Sail," a
brilliant and wonderful stripped-down pop album; "Out There," a double
excursion that has some questionable moments (a drum solo in an acoustic
folk song? Whatever) but is generally really good; and "False Start," which
includes "The Everlasting First", Lee's collaboration with Hendrix. The
later Love, much like the later Byrds, is a greatly underappreciated
band that in many ways surpassed its earlier incarnation. They were more
consistent and were better musicians. Elder's article would have been a
great place to right the injustice that has been done to the later band.
"Forever Changes" may not even be Love's best
album -- many Love fans, myself among them, would give the nod to "Four
Sail," currently out of print.

-- John Howard

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