Henry J. Leir Professor in International Humanitarian Studies
Statement, January 31, 2020
Today the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit’s ruling on my appeal goes public, ending a long legal saga on what is, for me, a disappointing note. The Appeals Court has upheld Judge Leo Sorokin’s ruling in Harvard University’s favor. My Title IX lawsuit alleged gender discrimination in the tenure process, and retaliation for speaking out on behalf of survivors of sexual assault and harassment on the Harvard campus. To the young women — and men — who reached out to me: I believe your painful stories, I am sorry for this outcome, and I hold you all in my thoughts.
Today I am reminded of the gendered politics of credibility. It took 60 women to abrogate Bill Cosby’s denials; some 250 girls and women to bring Larry Nassar to some semblance of justice; and at least 10 women (and several decades) to have Jorge Dominguez banished from Harvard’s campus. I was one woman, but trust there will be others who share my belief that sexual access to students is not part of any professor’s compensation package.
On college campuses nation-wide, senior professors — frequently male — wield tremendous power over their students and junior colleagues: a letter of recommendation; a phone call to a prestigious university press about a particularly promising dissertation; an opportunity to work on a field-based research project to gain valuable skills; the opaque tenure process and the power to determine life-long employment. These gatekeepers operate with virtual impunity, administering silences, humiliation, and career-ending decisions. The black box of tenure, lacking transparency, is precisely how silencing and impunity work to the disadvantage of those who would speak up and unsettle the status quo.
The wrong-doing and abuse of a few is made possible by the silence and complicity of those around them who say nothing, do nothing, to stop systemic gender discrimination and harassment. The call for change can no longer place the narrative burden on the shoulders of those who may have the most to lose: survivors of sexual assault and harassment. I was motivated to action because students reached out to me. When we know that people around us are being systematically harmed, the duty to speak up rests upon all of us. It is the responsibility we have to and for others to use whatever power we may have to stand up and speak out. As the #MeToo movement demonstrates, part of changing gender regimes lies in reallocating the shame from the victim-survivors of sexual violence onto those who should bear the shame for sexual harassment and assault: the perpetrators who have too frequently abused their power with impunity.
Which leads me to the missing women. I frequently open my email to find some variation on the following. A colleague writes, asking for advice and expressing her outrage. She has recently learned that a former student, who had studied for her Master’s Degree under my colleague’s supervision, has been driven out of her PhD program by a sexually harassing professor. What to do but offer the standard package of advice, knowing this young woman will most likely go quietly for fear of retaliation and career-ending retribution if she reports this professor. From the actresses who left the film industry because of Harvey Weinstein, to the musicians/composers/singers run out and ruined by Russell Simmons, to the hostesses/servers/sous-chefs who gritted their teeth and let their rage simmer on low, to the hotel maids who dodged groping guests, to the young women who leave academia to avoid sexually harassing professors whose power over them makes or breaks careers — how can we begin to measure the missing women who leave their careers of choice or the jobs they need because they have been ground down, groped, sexually harassed and driven out? This is about sexual assault and harassment, to be sure. It is about the violation of bodily integrity and personal dignity, with equal certainty. It is also about the loss of employment, career aspirations, dreams and economic security. Today I ask you to consider #TheMissingWomen.
I feel fortunate to be tenured and fulfilled at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. My justice lies in being able to return to writing, teaching and researching full-time, a lengthy and grueling lawsuit behind me. My journey illustrates why women do not come forward; and, this is why we must.
I move forward, thankful to have both my conscience and career intact. Thank you.
Join us for a 10th anniversary screening of the film THE MILK OF SORROW followed by a panel discussion with Kimberly Theidon and Ulla Berg.
About this Event
The Latin American Film Center (LAFC), a non-profit based in New York City, plans to open its inaugural film series on November 25th, 2019 with a screening of THE MILK OF SORROW (La teta asustada), an award-winning 2009 film by Peruvian director Claudia Llosa.
Fausta suffers from la teta asustada, which translates literally as “the frightened tit”, an illness transmitted through the breastmilk of women who were abused and raped during the period of the Sendero Luminoso terrorism in Peru during the 1980s. Both in the film and reality, the illness is testament to how painful memories accumulate in the body and how one can physically suffer from the symptoms of history. Although the war has ended, its traumatic memories remain living inside of the character of Fausta. Claudia Llosa’s widely acclaimed film sheds light on a repressed country that can only express itself via its unconscious: its myths, its fears, and its traumas.
Screening América: The Series brings together two anthropologists to explore THE MILK OF SORROW through the lenses of medical and visual anthropology. Kimberly Theidon, the medical anthropologist whose ethnographic work inspired the film, will be in conversation with Ulla Berg, whose work explores racial and class divisions in contemporary Peru through visual mediums.
The goals of the LAFC are educational and cultural as well as artistic, through the establishment of a permanent home for the continued screening and research of films from Latin America and the Caribbean. The films we plan to include in this series have been selected for their artistic merit as well as their ability to help us better understand the issues and concerns being faced by the countries in the region.
Please visit our website at http://www.lafcnyc.org to learn more about LAFC’s projects and long-term goals and to find out more ways that you can become involved.