The PC police are at it again. According to a sympathetic Associated Press report on November 7 and a survey conducted by the American Association of University Women, “sexual harassment is pervasive in grades 7-12.” Such improprieties are taking place “in person or electronically via texting, email and social media,” and those issuing and summarizing the report think that the offenses are serious enough to require political action. Harassment, by the way, includes “having someone make unwelcome sexual comments” and “the taunting of youth perceived to be gay or lesbian.” A spokeswoman from the National Women’s Law Center explains that the “ultimate goal” in the crusade against harassing speech “should be to deter hurtful student interactions however they are defined.”
The last phrase may be basic for understanding the report. The groups that prepared it favor using state power to monitor speech in both public and private educational facilities. Students and teachers are to be apprised of the government’s sexual harassment policy and the young should “be educated about what their rights are under Title IX (banning any form of gender discrimination), with special attention paid to encouraging girls to respond assertively to harassment because they are targeted more often than boys.” Moreover, an official for the National Association of Secondary School Principals indicates that bigotry has become dangerously hidden in recent years. Instead of “overt attempts” to make sexual advances, we now have “more use of sexual remarks to degrade or insult someone.”
There is nothing novel about these concerns. We have been living for decades with expanding government surveillance over our minds and emotions, a development that I describe in my books as “the triumph of the therapeutic state.” Sadly the outcry against this tyranny has been so underwhelming that I expect it to go on and on into the distant future. Universities and corporations are already being forced to monitor selectively insensitive speech (such as straights insulting gays but not the reverse), and about twenty years ago I began to notice that men hanging out in gyms were looking over their shoulders lest they be overheard engaging in “hurtful interactions.” Should we therefore expect any limits to be placed on this meddling done in the name of making us more sensitive?
Note that I believe that instructors should reprimand students for grossly insulting their classmates. But it should not be the federal government’s business to control conversation among students; nor do I see any reason for bureaucrats at the state level to perform this task. Moreover, the AAUW report makes reference to “negative remarks” that students are supposed to be making against gays. This reference seems so loaded that one has to wonder whether the accusers are seeking to punish people for disagreeing with their socially leftist views. Are Christian students or teachers who openly disapprove of gay relations engaging in “negative remarks”? In Canada such accusations have led to criminal charges being brought against the “hate speaker” for being in violation of the federal human rights code.
It should also be clear that male adolescents behave differently from the female kinds (No, Virginia, gender identities are not entirely social constructs); and that flirting with and acting out before females is characteristic of males, and not only of the human ones. The feminists may try to change this by reducing us all to amoebas; but despite the recent successes of social engineering, embattled feminists may still have trouble totally eradicating male identity traits.
Lastly I would note that bringing suits against males for harassing speech often entails “hurtful interactions.” An offended female, even one who decides long after the hurtful stare or unwelcome remarks that she is offended, can bring charges against the offending male. All she needs are a willing attorney (who may take the case on contingency), the appropriate legal form, and a judge who will hear her case. The young lady can then inflict lots of damage, financial and otherwise, on the defendant. Suits of this kind may earn the attorney between one-third and one-half of the settlement, and there is no scarcity of judges who will listen to such cases. Even if the plaintiff loses, her legal costs will be slight. It is private institutions and hapless individuals who have to protect themselves against such procedures; and private schools may be what the AAUW has its sights on.
Presumably public schools already enjoy the special attention of state and federal bureaucracies and teachers’ unions; it is the private ones, and particularly religiously traditional ones, that are a tempting target for government-employed social manipulators. In such enclaves one can still encounter defenses of gender distinctions and critical remarks about the gay movement. Encouraging legal suits against such institutions, under Title Nine or whatever legal hook one finds for one’s grievance, may be exactly what feminist activists have in mind.