Political Correctness and "Sexual Harassment"

By Klatt, Heinz-Joachim | Canadian Psychology, November 1997 | Go to article overview

Political Correctness and "Sexual Harassment"


Klatt, Heinz-Joachim, Canadian Psychology


Abstract

Political correctness is a multi-faceted political movement, most conspicuous in academia, that, above all, advocates intolerance of nonconformity and a "sensitive" and "therapeutic" approach towards questions of"equity" and curriculum content, i.e., towards what can be discussed in the academic classroom. Feelings and subjective perceptions are made the barometer for what is permitted. Politically correct "sensitivity" is a perversion of the universally perceptive and sympathetic awareness of others' rights because it is used to derail lectures that are claimed "offensive," and to gratuitously denounce others for ulterior motives. Political correctness espouses a new form of moralism and paternalism that is appreciated by its (female) beneficiaries. One of the most harmful and widespread consequences of political correctness in academia is self-censorship. Adepts of political correctness censor themselves because of their convictions and critics because of a well justified fear of painful, costly, and time-consuming consequences. However, only members of "victim groups" (as defined by the policies) may claim "insensitivity" of others as grounds for complaints.

A whole new genre of repressive speech codes has been devised under the disguise of sexual harassment policies. These codes are formulated in such a vague and all-encompassing fashion that widespread abuse is the necessary consequence. Zero tolerance towards any deviation from the politically correct agenda is elevated to a virtue. Prohibitions are so drastic that even attitudes and subtle gestures, such as "condescension," in totalitarian fashion are targeted for "eradication." In order to justify an uncompromising implementation of these policies the claim has been made and reiterated that sexual harassment is pervasive and ubiquitous in academia, and that drastic regulations are necessary. Pyke has compiled studies with the purpose of making such claim plausible. All these studies that serve to justify the claim, however, are deficient in so many ways that they cannot legitimize the assertion of the "pervasiveness" of sexual harassment in Canadian universities. The major obstacle in this kind of research is the subjective nature of what constitutes sexual harassment. As long as researchers allow the "creation of an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment" as part of the definition of sexual harassment or even refrain from defining it, that long researchers will produce pseudodata that defy comprehension and meaningful interpretation.

This paper deals with political correctness and "sexual harassment." Political correctness, however, is such a multi-faceted phenomenon that certain limitations must be imposed on the discussion. Therefore, only those aspects of political correctness will be examined that have immediate and important consequences for the debate about sexual harassment and the implementation of sexual harassment policies. These aspects are: the intolerance of nonconformity, the claim that political correctness is a sensitive and therapeutic doctrine, and the moralism and paternalism of political correctness. What will be left out of the discussion are questions of group-think and group identity, questions of diversity, deconstructionism, new historicism, equity and preferential hiring.

Everyone who has ever struggled with the task of formulating how much freedom of expression should be permitted has necessarily had to decide what kind of expression does not deserve protection. Generally it is agreed that libel, defamation, threats, and any expression that puts people into immediate danger must be exempt from protection. It is illusory to hope to reach an agreement on what is art and what is kitsch or prurience, what is truth and what is falsehood, what is merely provocative and what is insensitive or tactless, what is in the interest of the community and what is not. For this reason, every polity needs a formal rule that everyone can abide by. …

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