Daphne Patai, co-author of Professing Feminism, has written a real
gem of a book about the sexual harassment industry (SHI).
Meticulously documented and carefully reasoned, Heterophobia shines
a beacon of reason and truth into the cesspool of lies and anti-
heterosexual bias that is the SHI. The book adroitly distills the
main thrust of the SHI as the eradication of differentiation
between male sexual interest and abuse. All of a sudden, the SHI
has redefined all male sexual interest as power.
My main criticism of this book is so inextricably intertwined with
its considerable achievement that I must mention it now. I fault
Heterophobia for the program defined by its very title, i.e., its
failure to examine whether it is not MASCULOphobia which is the
agenda behind the SHI, rather than HETEROphobia. Whether the focus
on heterosexuality rather than misandry is a conscious political
move on Ms. Patai's part or rather a reflection of a preoccupation
with impacts on women, it is disturbing. I also found
inadvertently revealing the very fact that Patai feels it necessary
to explicitly assure the reader that she is "not arguing against
heterophobia merely because it is bad for feminism."
I would criticize Heterophobia also for Patai's overall refusal to
investigate whether some of the core precepts of feminism may be
irredeemably flawed. In the face of all the overwhelming evidence
she gives regarding feminism's deceptive, hostile introduction of
the SHI, it is regrettable that she largely declines to broaden her
critique of feminism beyond this single issue. Patai paints the
SHI as an aberration which must be corrected, after which we can
return to the rightful path offered by the less wacky branches of
feminism. I strongly question whether the future offered by
feminism is truly this rosy, particularly for people of the male
Be all this as it may, Heterophobia has much of value to offer.
Although it heavily concentrates on the academic setting with which
Patai is most familiar, the majority of its conclusions are
applicable to all contexts in which sexual harassment rears its
ugly head. The SHI, the author demonstrates, has been alarmingly
successful at surreptitiously mainstreaming the most radical anti-
heterosexual (and anti-male) positions of feminists such as Mary
Daly and Andrea Dworkin. It has thereby given feminists an
alternate, covert route to outlawing heterosexual behavior.
Patai trenchantly critiques the SHI for its shockingly cavalier
refusal to address the issue of false and trivial accusations. The
damage caused by such accusations is typically far more grievous,
she observes, than that suffered by its "victims." As has been
observed before, although civil law nominally applies to sexual
harassment cases, the consequences for an accusee's life far more
closely resemble or even exceed the implications of a typical
criminal accusation. Moreover, SHI manuals systematically omit any
meaningful discussion of the presumption of innocence.
Patai has a sharp mind. Able to make fine distinctions herself,
she heaps scorn on the SHI for basing much of its very existence on
the blurring of distinctions. After all, clearly a vast chasm
separates the most egregious cases of "quid pro quo" harassment
(have sex with me or you're fired) from typical "hostile work
environment" cases in which an action is brought based on the
"victim's" subjective feelings of discomfort. Sexual harassment
law is ideally suited to abuse since it is subjective and treats
evidence very cavalierly.
And yet the SHI has brandished the rhetorical weapon of falsely
implying a seamless continuum between the most trivial and the most
egregious cases of sexual harassment. Indeed, Patai notes, SHI
INTENDS to violate these conceptual boundaries, just as it INTENDS
to blur the difference between the concepts of harassment and
discrimination. As a result, it becomes more difficult to make
light of clumsy passes which in a just world would merit no more
than a snort or a chuckle. Patai even points out with some evident
bemusement that women will find it much more difficult to exploit
their sexuality in order to advance in the workplace!
Much of the rhetoric of SHI addresses "power." Patai does not shy
from analyzing that word in detail or from demolishing the myth
that any man enjoys power over any woman regardless of their
individual circumstances. Instead, of course, it is the
COMPLAINANT who all too often wields enormous power over the
supposed harasser. Nor is Patai afraid to ask what kind of image
of a woman is projected by an industry that claims that a 30-year-
old married female graduate student is unable to behave
autonomously? She notes that feminists, so often preoccupied with
stressing or even exaggerating women's power, have no problem with
THIS instance of infantilization of adult women.
Patai can understandably barely contain her incredulity in noting
that no other area requires its "victims" to undergo so much
training in order to recognize their grievances. The arrogance and
contradictions of the SHI evidence themselves also in the SHI's
attempts to render disagreement with its precepts impossible by
claiming that women who value sexual relationships with men lack
the ability to understand their own reality.
Patai's numerous detailed real-life stories about SHI victims
crystallize the tremendous harm caused by this dogma. The best,
most sensitive, most engaged professors are the first to be
destroyed by false accusations from a vengeful or unstable student.
Even the growing trend of woman-on-woman and man-on-woman
accusations does not seem to be visibly slowing the SHI wheels.
Breathtaking is the only word for the double standard demonstrated
by the whole chapter devoted to Jane Gallop, who quite consciously
cultivates lesbian affairs with her students and celebrates them as
a feminist act.
Heterophobia distilled for me the profound changes the SHI has
already wrought. Freedom of speech and thought in universities has
already become a strongly endangered species where it has not
disappeared. The potential impact should not be underestimated.
For all its successes, the SHI is starting to find itself embattled
these days. The behavior it must resort to--the discrediting of
opponents, the assumption of male guilt, the inflation of the
problems--is becoming ever more desperate. Sooner or later, the
bubble is bound to burst. Thanks to Patai's highly useful if
flawed book, this moment may arrive sooner rather than later.