Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Atlantic, "Why Public Media Has a Harassment Problem", the paradox of NPR having a culture in which women can thrive professionally but harassment still occured

One of the things I have read and heard in the wake of the dissolution of Mars Hill Church as a corporate entity has been accounts of women being silenced.  Since I declined to renew my membership as far back as 2007 and stopped attending regularly by 2008 because I dreaded the idea of Mark recycling Song of Songs yet one more time as a quarter-year long sermon series I bailed during the years in which Mars Hill shifted from the Midrash online php forums to what was known as The City. 
 
I disliked The City intensely, hated it, even.  I had an uncreative nickname for it, but the thing was I didn't misunderstand what its inventor was hoping to accomplish with it.  The idea that social media networking tools could be used to reinforce existing offline relationships, rather than swim in a sea of "virtual" relationships where people would go back and forth on a php forum without interacting in person, sounds great to people who imagine that virtual relationship by way of written correspondence somehow doesn't match up to the "real" of you and me talking over coffee at some Starbucks.
 
But it's also an ill-conceived critique of the nature of online correspondence.  The gap between the persona and the person has always existed.  It's testified to across the Scriptures so Christians, of all people, should never labor under the delusion that you and me talking in a coffee shop is any more the "real" you or me as distinct from what is in our minds respectively amidst conversation--Jesus was able to condemn hypocrites millennia before the age of Twitter, and likewise we should not imagine that online interaction is somehow less "real" because we don't see face to face.  Too many Christians of a conservative stripe have labored under the patent delusion that the internet has somehow made people more shallow and less socially engaged.  There's an element of truth to that but perhaps only in the sense that as the era of virtual reality permeates the "normal" of how we communicate the possibility of a person vanishing into any number of personae by dint of this new normal becomes more likely. 
 
There's always going to be a gap between the persona presented for public consideration and the conduct of people whose actions may at times betray the high ideals of the personae they present to the world.
 
This doesn't just happen in the case of socially conservative religious types who are family men for public consideration but may seek out prostitutes on the side when they believe no one is looking.  It can also happen amongst those who would otherwise be considered enlightened, socially liberal, and in favor of women getting more opportunities.  Which is to say mercenarily predatory conduct can find any number of useful covers for its operational mode. 
 
it is with that in mind we can turn to the conundrum of sexual harassment in the public media sphere.
 

 


 

While many people I spoke with say public media’s harassment problem isn’t worse than other segments of media, it’s clear that the systems in place to cope with issues of sexual harassment have been woefully inadequate. Julie Drizin, the executive director of Current, a nonprofit publication focused on public media, says that the lack of robust human-resources departments that would include training and specific reporting mechanisms in instances of harassment may be a part of the problem, at least at some stations. “A lot of corporations invest a lot more in HR. I think that’s one of the things that separates public media from other kinds of media,” she says.


Still, even with its well-known deficiencies, public media doesn’t quite fit the stereotypes of a male-dominated, hostile work environment. Vivian Schiller, the former CEO of National Public Radio, told me that public broadcasting, particularly NPR, has long been considered a space where women can thrive. “When I was there, most of the leadership was women,” Schiller said. In fact, four women, Cokie Roberts, Nina Totenberg, Linda Wertheimer, and Susan Stamberg, are often referred to as the “founding mothers” of NPR. And the organization’s most recent data on newsroom makeup shows that more than half of newsroom employees are women. The fact that a culture of harassment and bullying were allowed to fester for years, all while women sat in positions of power and control, makes the issue all the more confusing. But if you consider the discord on other issues, such as between public media’s stated commitment to diversity and its predominantly white audiences and newsrooms, it’s clear that the overarching vision of public broadcasting often doesn’t manifest in real and critical ways. [emphasis added]
 
It's not really surprising if we shift the focus briefly from the nature of management to attention to the donor base.  The patronage by way of donor base or audience can end up defining an institution and its resources away from its formally stated ideals. 
 
One of the observations Hanna Rosin made over at Slate years ago was that there is a group of affluent white women who can afford to live in New York who are vocationally attuned to perceiving all the ways in which the patriarchy has kept them down.  This was not so much a case of the patriarchy really keeping these affluent white ladies down, Rosin noted, because if white ladies can afford to hire nannies or housecleaners (often women of color at that) that whatever the sins of the patriarchy toward women more generally the women who were writing about the patriarchy within New York were probably not the ones suffering at the hands of this patriarchy.
 
That NPR could be a place where harassment happened isn't even the only moment we can be observing.  Just a couple of weeks ago the news about Burns Strider and Hillary Clinton's campaign became grist for headlines.
 
 
 
And, for that matter, the way the Democratic mainstream handled Paula Jones back when Bill Clinton was in office suggests that as popular as it would be to imagine that bad behavior is somehow the domain of socially conservative types this seems too implausible to take seriously in a post-Weinstein moment.  Weinstein was not known for advocating for Bush I or Bush II or Trump. 
 
I have been finding myself unable to take seriously either complementarians or egalitarians in Anglo-American discussions and debates about ecclesial authority.  One reason is because I am just not sure that at the end of the day these two teams are fighting about the conduct of Christians within churches so much as waging what is ultimately a political battle over who should have access to or retain the reins to accessing power within the confines of 501(c)3 institutions within the United States, in a United States context.  It is not a matter of whether people are silenced in a corporate culture that might also happen to be a church culture.  That kind of thing happens all the time.  My concern is that if we look to situations such as NPR and its culture of harassment or at how Clinton and her campaign handled a harassment case brought to light within its ranks in 2008 it just does not seem that if we get institutions and their cultures on the right page in terms of formally stated beliefs and practices that this will get rid of the sorts of people who prey upon people.  We should do what we can to reduce the likelihood that these people can get opportunities to prey upon others, certainly ... but the post-Weisntein moment would seem to have banished the idea that merely professing to be this or that type of social progressive confers any moral improvement upon a person simply because they profess this ideology as distinct from that one.  Complementarians can swear up and down they want to protect and honor women so long as women do whatever is necessary to conform to stuffy gender stereotypes held dear by some kind of strata of proper English and American males.  There is no assurance that merely holding the correct ideological stance about the use of power in terms of who should be given it  in a cultural context means anything in terms of how you treat people on a day to day or week to week basis.
 
In that sense a Rachel Held Evans will never be an "opposite" of a Mark Driscoll if she's okay at some level with how Tony Jones dealt with his ex-wife.  The idea that it's just conservatives who put their heroes on pedestals and will brook no public criticism would seem easy to set aside for those who are trying to pay attention more to how systemic certain types of harm are regardless of ideology than to the vindication of this or that ideology as somehow precluding the possibility that men and women will be mistreated. 
 
If AMerican partisans left and right and center keep behaving as they have over the last twenty years then what we're most likely to see is not so much concrete steps toward eliminating harassment and predation in professional contexts as we are to see a token of such efforts as the garb for more conventional attempts to argue that if "we" would all just embrace the right set of ideological concepts and enforce them (whether of an egalitarian or complementarian or some other stance) things would change.  I have my doubts at this point.  I regard complementarianism and egalitarianism as both practically terrible pissing contest positions within evangelicalism at this point.  There's no point in settling the debate about who should have access to institutional branded power if we haven't stepped back and reconsidered what the nature of that power has become in the context of American churches.  My worry is that Americans who are interested in debating who has access to formal power may be too convinced that if only their respective ideologies regarding ecclesial governance were "really" employed that all this sin would go away.  It won't go away completely, even if wwe can pray and act to the end of making it subside as much as possible, but at this opint with all the scandals emerging about who did what with whom and to whom the craziest idea to entertain at this point, to me, is seriously suggesting that any of this could be or has been mitigated in some way by a proper ideology, whether of a putatively right or left kind. 

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