Tag Archives #metoo

#MeToo and the need for safe spaces in academia by Brenda Rodríguez, Bruna Martinez and Vira Mistry

We hope this article leads to a larger discussion about sexual harassment in academia and the urgent work of creating a safe and inclusive environment for all of the members of the ISS community.

Initiated back in 2006 by African-American civil rights activist Tarana Burke, the #MeToo movement exploded in 2017 during the sexual misconduct scandal of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein when actress Alyssa Milano asked her Twitter followers from across the world to share their experiences of sexual harassment. As the hashtag went viral, a number of others also emerged, shedding light on sexual harassment in specific sectors. This included the #MeTooAcademia and #ScienceToo hashtags that highlighted the prevalence of sexual harassment in academic spaces and the need for change.

Gender discrimination and sexual harassment[1] exist in every sector, and academia is not unaffected by this. A report released by UN Women in 2018 titled ‘Towards an end to sexual harassment: the urgency and nature of change in the era of #MeToo’ shows that 55% of women in the European Union have experienced sexual harassment at least once since the age of 15. Amongst these women, 32% identified somebody from their employment context—a colleague, a supervisor, or a customer—as the perpetrator.

Inspired by the #MeToo movement, the Swedish Research Council in 2018 published an international report on sexual harassment in universities. The research analysed 800 publications on sexual harassment during the period 1966-2018. The study concluded that sexual harassment takes place in all disciplines of academia and is reported by students, doctoral candidates, and faculty members alike. Women, especially younger women, women with precarious employment conditions, and those belonging to ethnic and sexual minority groups, are more exposed to sexual harassment than others. Underreporting is also very common.

The study also stated that there was evidence of women who had experienced varied forms of harassment having to deal with physical, psychological and professional consequences such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, physical pain, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, increased alcohol use, impaired career opportunities, reduced work motivation, etcetera. How this is affecting the overall work environment and organisational culture in academia remains under-researched.

Focusing on our local context in the Netherlands, a recent study commissioned by the Dutch Network of Women Professors (LNVH) showed that unwanted behaviour is prevalent in Dutch academia, with cases ranging from sexual harassment to physical and verbal threats, denigration, and exclusion. Another report by the Dutch unions for the science sector FNV and VAWO pointed out that four in ten university staff members are affected by bullying, intimidation, gossip, and abuse of power. While gender plays an important role in cases of undesirable behaviour, this situation is often exacerbated when gender intersects with other axes of oppression such as race, age, sexuality, religion, and ability.

Fighting sexual harassment at the ISS

Critical academic spaces like ISS are not exempt from cases of harassment (sexual or otherwise), bullying and discrimination that continue to plague academic spaces in the Netherlands and worldwide. In addition, the ISS draws researchers and students from all walks of life. This year, as in many other years, ISS welcomed a batch of approximately 150 MA students from over 50 countries. In such a cross-cultural setting, interpersonal interactions are enriching and exciting; however, they can also run the risk of resulting in different types of undesirable behaviour.

So what are we doing at ISS to address such situations and prevent them from happening? At the institutional level, ISS has set up various organs to provide support and address issues of inequality, discrimination and safety for both students and staff, such as the Welfare Office, the ISS Counselling Team, the Institute Council, and the Diversity and Inclusion Team. Additionally, the student body’s Gender Committee and the Sexual Diversity Committee have been working towards creating a more inclusive and safe community.

It’s worth noting that for the past 25 years, the Welfare Office provides a workshop on cross-cultural communication as part of the orientation programme for MA students, establishing a precedent for what is acceptable—or not—for the ISS community. And ISS is also commissioning experts to help it break out of the cycle of harassment and abuse. During orientation week in September last year, the ISS Counselling Team collaborated with Know It, Name It, Love It, an organization that seeks to build safer, better and truly inclusive communities and organizations through workshops and trainings. They facilitated a workshop for the incoming students on how to build a safe and inclusive environment. By using concepts of positionality, intersectionality and empathy, they provided strategies on how to minimize the potential for unwanted behaviour.

The most concrete goal of the workshop was the creation of the ‘Pillars of Our Community’, a set of guidelines developed by the new batch of MA students that laid the foundation for how to engage and interact with each other in a caring, safe, and respectful way, as well as to create an understanding of a collective responsibility to hold each other accountable when necessary.

Most of our examples are targeted at MA students, and we recognise there is more to be done both at a ground and institutional level, including sensitising work with other members of the ISS community such as PhD researchers and academic and administrative staff. Some of the ways that higher education spaces can confront and improve their response to sexual harassment is the creation and implementation of sexual harassment training programs aimed at students and staff that be conducted over a longer period of time. Additionally, they can review current policies, protocols and reporting mechanisms, promote a culture that discourages all forms of sexual harassment, and hold perpetrators accountable.

[1] According to UN Women, sexual harassment is “any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favour, verbal or physical conduct or gesture of a sexual nature, or any other behaviour of a sexual nature that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offence or humiliation to another.”
FNV and VAWO (2019) “Sociale veiligheid medewerkers universiteiten” https://www.fnv.nl/nieuwsbericht/sectornieuws/fnv-overheid/2019/05/helft-universiteitspersoneel-ervaart-sociaal-onvei
Naezer, Marijke; Van den Brink, Marieke; Benschop, Yvonne (2019) “Harassment in Dutch academia: Exploring manifestations, facilitating factors, effects and solutions”, Commissioned by the Dutch Network of Women Professors (LNVH) https://www.lnvh.nl/uploads/moxiemanager/LNVH_rapport__lsquo_Harassment_in_Dutch_academia__Exploring_manifestations__facilitating_factors__effects_and_solutions_rsquo_.pdf
Purna Sen, Eunice Borges, Estefania Guallar, and Jade Cochran (2018) “Towards an end to sexual harassment: The urgency and nature of change in the era of #MeToo”, UN Women https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2018/11/towards-an-end-to-sexual-harassment
Swedish Research Council (2018) “Sexual harassment in academia – An international research review”, https://www.vr.se/english/analysis/reports/our-reports/2018-11-30-sexual-harassment-in-academia.html

About the authors:

Brenda RodriguezBruna Martinez and Vira MistryBrenda Rodríguez Cortés is a PhD candidate at ISS working on gender and sexuality, ISS MA ‘14 alumna and a member of the ISS Counselling Team. Bruna Martinez and Vira Mistry are co-founders of Know It, Name It, Love It, and ISS MA ‘18 alumnae.

Exploring masculinities: being a man in the #MeToo era by ISS Counselling Team members

A recent workshop on masculinities hosted by the ISS Counselling Team focused on ‘being a man in the #MeToo era’, drawing participants from the ISS and beyond. The workshop provided a space for reflection on lived experiences regarding masculinity, for the exploration of the ways in which masculinities have been constructed and performed, and for the examination of some of the ideals of masculinity across different cultures. This article briefly details some of the workshop’s highlights.

The #MeToo movement and its impact in academia

Previous to the workshop, some students at ISS felt the need to figure out how to navigate their masculinities in light of the #MeToo movement. The #MeToo movement is a global movement against sexual harassment and sexual violence that was initiated in 2006 as part of a grassroots campaign led by the African-American civil rights activist Tarana Burke, with the initial purpose of helping young women of color that had previously experienced sexual abuse. In 2017, the hashtag gained widespread visibility and popularity when the Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano asked her followers on Twitter to use the hashtag #MeToo to share their own stories of sexual harassment and assault, amidst the scandal of sexual abuse allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein.

Academia, as any other space in society and like any other industry, is not exempt from sexism, misogyny and sexual misconduct. This is why there’s a need for the ISS community to engage in conversations around the issue of sexual harassment and its connection with hegemonic ideals of masculinity and manhood and prevent this from happening.

Masculinity studies

Within the field of Gender Studies, there has been a steady growth in research on men and masculinities since the early 1980s. The leading proponent in theorizing masculinities is Raewyn Connell (also R.W. Connell in some publications), Professor Emerita at the University of Sydney, who has asserted the existence of plural masculinities, the social hierarchy that exists between them, and the theoretical idea of ‘hegemonic masculinity’. For Connell, masculinities are necessarily plural given the different shapes masculinity takes depending on the different sociocultural contexts where they are constructed. Nevertheless, there is also a modern western idea of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ that prevails over women and other subordinated masculinities.

Recent critical reflections on masculinities have been brought even more into the fore since the advent of the #MeToo movement. The acknowledgement of concepts like ‘toxic masculinity’ have become popular to highlight the negative and harmful effects of certain norms of masculine behavior but also the unattainable expectations that men and boys face. It’s a term often associated with forms of masculinity that end up encouraging misogynistic, homophobic and violent behaviours, while at the same time pushing boys into intense emotional repression.

Coming into the workshop, participants had varying degrees of engagement with these concepts, some encountering the critical idea of “masculinitIES” (in plural) for the first time, while others preparing to dedicate their MA or PhD research around such issues. During the workshop, participants engaged in conversations on social expectations and stereotypes of men from around the world, and how attainable they really are in practice. Participants in the workshop also agreed that although men do benefit from unequal gender relations, these benefits are not without a cost. Similarly, there are unequal power relations amongst men given that masculinities are constructed in relation to existing social hierarchies such as class, race, age, disability, sexuality, nationality, among others. Finally, one of the conclusions of this workshop was that there are many ways to be a man and express one’s masculinity.

Way Forward… What’s Next?

As a follow up to the workshop we realize the need to bring these dialogues into our daily conversations and interactions. We must find ways to address everyday experiences of misogyny and violence from an intersectional perspective, both in and outside academia. Men require spaces to reflect on their privileges and the costs of unequal gender relations with its variations across class, race, sexuality, ability and other intersections of power. The struggle towards equality continues, and we believe that discussions around masculinity are also an important part of that struggle.

Also see: Hyper-masculinity: a threat to inclusive community development in fragile environments by Holly A Ritchie

Picture credit: Wolfmann

Brenda RodriguezAbout the authors: 

Brenda Rodríguez Cortés (left) is a PhD candidate at ISS working on gender and sexuality. Ana Fabregas, Angélica Arámbulo and Ahmad Faraz are MA students at ISS. They are all Peer Counsellors and part of the ISS Counselling Team.