Letter From The Editor: the necessity of respect
In this week's issue our news section reports on the establishment of a presidential task force Santa Monica College to evaluate how the campus handles sexual harassment issues. This is a move mandated from Obama to address issues that is sadly very common, not only on campuses, but even in workplaces.
I have more than one friend who has experienced sexual harassment on campus and off. I have personally seen how one act can provoke a sense of dread, a sense of broken trust, and a sense of justified anger. To dismiss an offensive touch, insulting phrase, is to dismiss what the debasement of the human is.
The major question is whether this task force will be able to produce anything effective in a timely manner. Will this force combat the deeper implications about our cultural, social state? Or is it just perfunctory?
How we interact with each other within our social spaces tells a lot about who we are as a culture and society. We live in a time of shifting perceptions of sexual interaction and relationships. Any form of change usually comes with parallel developments. As the culture becomes more sexualized in commercialized, shallow ways, as fleeting encounters become the norm in a fast-paced society, the cultural objectification others comes with the risk of treating ourselves as objects.
While individuals have the right to live as they wish, respect entails that they can do so without having to experience the fear of simply living within a social space. In a strange time when the advancement of women is moving forward in parallel with their increasing devaluation as people, it is no surprise that sexual harassment on college campuses is a national problem.
And while men have also been the victims of sexual harassment, it cannot be denied that the greater victims of such a social disease are women.
The recent storms over the depiction of women in video games and films should make us consider the kind of goggles through which we see people. Last semester a group of concerned faculty raised the issue of a cover story we ran covering an awards ceremony in March held by the Pole World News organization which seeks to make pole dancing into a recognized, Olympic sport. Because of the photos we ran we were accused of objectifying women. We ran a serious report on an event and its participants. While the concerns were more than understandable, it was an example of the kind of issues we continue to discuss in our society. Women choosing alternative lifestyles run the risk of being attacked or marginalized for choosing to express themselves in a sport not socially considered acceptable.
Campuses can form as many tasks forces as necessary, and we should welcome the enforcement of protective measures for our students, no matter their gender or sexual identity. However, the roots of the ongoing problem are embedded in our social veins. In order for change to occur, radical social visions must be formed where respect, genuine, mutual respect among individuals becomes a part of our social consciousness. To systematically dismiss what the word "consensual" means in any situation is an attack on personal basic freedoms.
Even beyond simple, physical gratification, lack of consent renders many things meaningless. The Mexican poet Octavio Paz, who's homeland celebrates his centenary this year, once wrote, "Love is an attempt at penetrating another being, but it can only succeed if the surrender is mutual."
In a great essay titled "Anarchism," the late American historian Howard Zinn described how genuine, complete freedom cannot be enforced by parties or committees. Rather, it must be a spontaneous, moral force that courses through every cell of the social fabric, and consequently implementing genuine respect among individuals. In one passage, Zinn writes when describing human relations through the anarchist lens, "People flow into easy arrangements, rather than being pushed or forced. It is like the form given by the artist, a form congenial, often pleasing, sometimes beautiful. It has the grace of a conscious, voluntary act." It is this form that is deformed by the act of unwanted sexual aggression.
When we naturally treat each other as individuals and not just pounds of flesh, the necessity of even envisioning task forces will hopefully become a thing of the past.