Reflection on an Experience of Social Injustice

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One example of social injustice that I have observed consists of a man harassing a shy woman at a party. She clearly did not know him and did not want to talk to him, but he kept following her, even physically intimidating her and threatening her, before she managed to get away to her friends. Before the course, I may have imagined that this is just normal and that it was just a personal issue between the people involved. As a result of the course, though, I am more aware of how the broader system of patriarchy was implicated in the individual situation. For example, there is the Weinstein scandal in the news, which has also set of an astonishing string of other women coming forward and speaking out about sexual harassment committed by other famous figures.  And the data shows that 54 percent of all American women have reported being sexually harassed or assaulted at some point in their lives.  This is strong evidence of a systemic social problem that perpetuates injustice.

From the Jesuit perspective, the weak and the voiceless must be listened to, if believers are ever to come to know God. As Brackley has written: "The victims of history—the destitute, abused women, oppressed minorities, all those the Bible calls 'the poor'—not only put us in touch with the world and with ourselves but also with the mercy of God."  Historically, patriarchy has clearly been a very strong force in society and culture. It is worth noting that until recently, sexual harassment against women was not even called as such; it was just understood to be a normal part of the way that things are. In that context, it is heartening to see so many women finding the courage to speak out about their experiences in the present historical moment. At the same time, though, it is frightening to think about how many more women have not said anything, and what a tiny fraction of the women who must have had such experiences are being heard from now.

While men are also sometimes sexually harassed, it is clear that this is far, far less common than is the case with women. (And when men are harassed, they would seem to disproportionately belong to the gay community, which also raises further questions about another axis of social injustice.) Such macro-level patterns strongly indicate that that the event of injustice that I witnessed was by no means an exception to the rule, or a matter of personal idiosyncrasy on the part of the specific man in question. Rather, the problem would be that we live in a society and culture that has historically told men that it is acceptable to treat women in this way. While every man must be held accountable for his own actions and the structural factors cannot be used as an excuse, it is nevertheless clear that those factors are there and need to be addressed in a more collective way.

In terms of social action, it may be possible for me to look into organizations that address this form of injustice. However, I am also inclined to believe that political action must begin closer to home. It is important, for example, that I make a commitment to taking women seriously when they speak about experiences of sexual harassment or assault, as opposed to dismissing them or making excuses for the offenders. Likewise, I should also uphold my idea of the proper relations between men and women within the context of my own life, through my own personal conduct.  I may choose to find an organization that addresses the issue at a larger level, or I may decide that I could do more for the world by investing my energy in other ways to pursue social justice. In any case, though, it is clearly important to not be a hypocrite. I cannot legitimately care about social justice at the societal level, if my attitudes continue to perpetuate injustice much closer to home.

Bibliography

Barry, William A. What Do I Want in Prayer. New York: Paulist, 1994.

Brackley, Dean S. J. "Meeting the Victims, Falling in Love." America: The Jesuit Review. 19 October 2011.

Gabler, Ellen, Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor. "New Accusers Expand Harvey Weinstein Sexual Assault Claims Back to '70s." The New York Times. 30 October 2017.

Toner, Jules J. A Commentary on Saint Ignatius's Rules for the Discernments of Spirits. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1982.

Zillman, Claire. "A New Poll on Sexual Harassment Suggests Why 'Me Too' Went So Insanely Viral." Fortune. 17 October 2017.