Justice Everywhere

a blog about justice in public affairs

Tag: social philosophy

Iris Young, Bad Dates and #MeToo

Can Iris Young’s analysis of structural injustice, problematic norms, individual guilt and forward-looking responsibility contribute to contemporary feminism as #MeToo broaches the subject of bad dates and male privilege?

This blog post comes with a trigger warning as it contains discussions of sexual harassment and sexual assault and controversial opinions regarding them.

Last week much of my facebook feed was again  full of discussion regarding accounts of sexual abuse  and comment regarding the #MeToo movement.

One of last week’s stories concerned the behaviour of a male celebrity who publicly endorses calls to end sexual abuse in the entertainment industry and beyond. A woman who dated the celebrity detailed to a reporter how he acted in a pushy, forceful  manner. She explained how he ignored non-verbal cues to slow down their encounter and end more overtly sexual activity, and then re-initiated sexual activity after she stated that she was feeling pressured. The woman left their date feeling violated and miserable. The report has been broadly discussed with a spectrum of opinions emerging regarding the case: some sympathetic to the celebrity, others criticising his hypocrisy and abuse and some suggesting we are reluctant to acknowledge this as abuse because we want to protect ourselves from facing the reality of the problems we have encountered in our own sex lives.

Last week also saw criticism of the #Metoo movement gain momentum. A letter was published by concerned women in the French entertainment industry who believe that the movement has gone too far and begun to stigmatise men who make clumsy and persistent advances. The letter also suggested that the movement has begun to undermine women’s power and self esteem, prohibit people’s legitimate sexuality, censor artistic expression and prevent the enjoyment of art made by perpetrators of sexual violence.   The letter too has provoked extensive discussion, clarification, criticism and response.

How should we think about these cases and positions? There are two sorts of understandings that opponents in the debate often identify each other as falling into.

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Addressing “the social” in normative theorizing

CIMG4071

Normative theorists are not a species known for an oversupply of consensus. But one of the most heated debate of recent years has led to a kind of consensus: the debate about “situationism”, which was raised as a challenge to virtue ethics. With virtue ethicists referring to the character of virtuous agents for guidance about moral behaviour, situationists drew attention to the problem that human behaviour is greatly influenced by the situations they find themselves in. For example, they are more altruistic when exposed to the good smells of a bakery. They are more likely to cooperate in a game call “Community Game” than in one called “Wall Street Game” even if they payoffs are the same. And if they are told to play the role of “prison guards”, while others play the role of “prisoners”, the situation can easily get out of hand. Reading such accounts, one might think that all talk about individual agency and responsibility had been based on an illusion: on an account of a “Cartesian” or “Kantian” self, or on an “Aristotelian” notion of stable character, that simply do not exist. All that there is, it seems, are situational forces.

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