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#MeToo Exposes a Casuist’s Taxonomy of Misogyny

#MeToo Exposes a Casuist’s Taxonomy of Misogyny

Mary Jo Iozzio


I am a Luddite when it comes to social media and have clearly not appreciated the full extent of individuals who participate in this communication platform or to the notion of assertions that individuals contributing all manner of information form a community. Nevertheless, I have had to pay attention to the #MeToo movement, for the signal that any “#” sends to the social net, adding one user’s account to the continually growing contributions to this phenomenon –technology advances apace and we fail to do likewise at our peril (What are #). Many more of us have had to pay attention to its content since the phenomenon went viral after actor Alyssa Milano used the hashtag following the sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.

Suggested by a friend: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.

3:21 PM – Oct 15, 2017

Yet, as Tarana Burke, social activist and founder of the Me Too/You Are Not Alone Movement, recognizes: “sexual violence happens on a spectrum.” It is to this spectrum that I want to consider a casuist’s taxonomy of misogyny since, as Catholic theological ethicists, we are called to reflect upon and respond to this sin and “to use [our] privilege to serve other people” (MeToo Founder).

One of the methodologies I introduce to my students to help unpack the critical ethical issues of the day is casuistry. The first issue of this semester is #MeToo and Time Magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year choice of The Silence Breakers. With casuistry I want to consider the permutations and nuances of the degrees of misogyny on a broad spectrum –from rape and other sexual violence, to sexual coercion, to sexual harassment, to ambient sexual banter, to complicit, complacent, or fear-induced silence. One of the reasons that #MeToo serves the lesson well is the millions of #posts that offer a glimpse into the kinds of criminal, violent, immoral behavior that survivors have endured. In many of these #posts, cases can be discerned wherein the offense bears sufficient resemblance to misogyny –the hatred of women—such that misogyny can be parsed and remedies explored. This pervasively sexist culture is not new (in the US alone, 87% of women surveyed report having experienced sexual violence), yet today social media defies the hope of perpetrators that their behavior will remain untold.

Casuist reasoning begins with the circumstances of the case (the who, what, where, when, how, and why), moves then to a comparison of those circumstances to a catalogue of similar cases to determine whether this case resembles paradigm-informed or precedent-setting application of a maxim, and concludes with adjudication of the affair in light of circumstantial coherence with or departure from successful past practice. What are some of the circumstances exposed in #MeToo: a socially powerful man, advances –with flirts or with force—toward a girl or woman or boy or man, anywhere and anytime, to confirm his power; what resembles this set: objectification, shaming, physical abuse, passive and active aggression, rape. No maxims –except those constructed to protect the culture of un-interrogated and uninterrupted abuse of power—permit such behaviors.

Consider the serial sexual violence case of Larry Nassar, team doctor for USA Women’s Gymnastics. Rachael Denhollander, the first to accuse Nassar with effect and the last of 156 survivors to speak at his sentencing, reported that more than 200 women had alleged abuse over a span of almost 30 years—some when they were just 6 years old, some who tried to expose him but who were “silenced, blamed and … sent back for continued abuse.” Consider the re-opened Judiciary Committee review of then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas as a parallel case in the culture of disbelief among an all-male-and-all-white panel of Senators among many others including the viewing public when hearing allegations of sexual harassment against nominee Thomas by his former colleague, now Brandeis University Professor, Anita Hill. Hill recalls “In 1991, there were so many people who just didn’t believe there was a problem … and the more women who come forward will help us sear it in the public imagination the experience of harassment, as well as the horror of it –that its not just harmless flirtation.” And lest any of us think ourselves immune, complicity deceives the safety that silence promises for witnesses and victims alike but which regrettably continues to foster the kinds of environments that enable and the tacit approvals that breed sexual and other abuses of power –from the chancery and the Vatican to boardrooms, locker rooms, classrooms, and …

#MeToo has exposed the past practice of permission to assume and consume sexual exploits with impunity. #MeToo has exposed a widespread culture of misogyny and the vulnerability of women and girls, and some men, to sexual violence. Now let’s work with  #MeToo and its companion #TimesUp. Let’s unite our voices to demand that those who have abused power be called to reckon with their actions. Let’s break the silence to expose, confront and squash the culture that protects such abuse and abusers. Let’s work to de-stigmatize and empower every survivor and their advocates, to disrupt the institutional structures that facilitate sexual violence, and to stand in solidarity for individual and community healing from sexual violence so all may flourish as a matter of social justice and love. Oh, and not lightly, #MeToo.