The Pew Research Center has published survey results relevant to the #MeToo moment, and this part is telling about the project’s biases:
The survey also finds that 59% of women and 27% of men say they have personally received unwanted sexual advances or verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature, whether in or outside of a work context. Among women who say they have been sexually harassed, more than half (55%) say it has happened both in and outside of work settings.
Note what happens within that paragraph. Pew mentions three distinct things at the beginning:
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Verbal harassment of a sexual nature
- Physical harassment of a sexual nature
In the next sentence, they are all lumped together as “sexually harassed.” A review of what’s available of the survey instrument shows no evidence that “unwanted sexual advances” is ever defined. That means it could be anything from “you look nice today” to “would you like to catch a movie Friday” to something that would be a clearly inappropriate sexual comment. If the researchers were interested to know what sort of behavior is going on, wouldn’t it be important to differentiate between these things?
Arguably, what the survey is actually finding is the propensity of women to claim that they’ve been harassed. Along that line, consider the difference that education level makes for women stating that they have been harassed (including unwanted advances). Women with college degrees answer “yes” 70% of the time, but women with no more than a high school diploma answer “yes” only 46% of the time. Does this mean women who’ve gone through college entered a more-boorish world than those with less education? Or does it mean that they’ve learned to interpret things as “unwanted sexual advances” and harassment that they wouldn’t have called such if they hadn’t been taught to do so?
The fact that white women, who can, on average, be presumed to be wealthier, say “yes” at a rate of 63%, while only 50% of black and Hispanic women say “yes” raises similar questions. Are white women really more likely to be victimized, or again, are they just more likely to interpret men’s behavior in this way?
If #MeToo is going to define our era, with career-ending consequences for those who run afoul of the shifting rules, shouldn’t we be clear about definitions, boundaries, and the interpretation of behavior?