Sabbatical updates

I have just started a 10-month sabbatical fellowship at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg in Delmenhorst, Germany. In 2020, I will also be an ACLS fellow. This means I’ll be focusing entirely on research from August 2019 through December 2020.

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Das Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg

Having just started my first sabbatical, I have to say I agree with Meagan Day’s argument in Jacobin that everyone should have one. This vision is of course even more radical than an academic sabbatical — Day wants us to have time off from all forms of work. Though I do hope to have time to read more novels, watch more TV, and travel more during my sabbatical, I also have lots of grand plans for new research projects. 

One of the best things about getting tenure last year is that I feel less need to prioritize first- and single-authored publications. I now feel like I can be more open to hanging out in the middle of an author list, which can take my research in unexpected and exciting directions. While I’ve co-authored before, right now, all 5(!) of the projects I am currently working on are collaborative.  One’s nearly in press, others are in the data-gathering phase, another is (hopefully) half-written, and another is merely a glimmer in our eyes and pages of incoherent notes.

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“Asking” is not the same as “coercing”

Lisa Damour writes in the NYT this week that we shouldn’t just tell girls not to share images–we should also tell boys not to ask for them.

I appreciate the gender equity in how she frames the problem:

That our focus has been so preponderantly on the sending, not requesting, of sexts underscores the exact problem we need to address. We accept and perpetuate the boys-play-offense and girls-play-defense framework because it is so atmospheric as to be almost invisible.

But this article implies that sexting is typically (or even, always?) damaging and coercive. Certainly, lots of people (up to 40% of women in some studies) have experienced coerced sexual contact. Researchers call this “consensual unwanted sex.” And it’s definitely a problem in sexting too. Sexual coercion–online and in-person–is a massive cultural problem that we need to address.

Yes, we should urge everyone not to pressure their partners into to have sex. But no one who’s interested in effective public health policy suggests that educators and parents should also urge all women to avoid sex entirely as a viable solution to sexual coercion.

If we look at the stats, heterosexual relationships are quite dangerous for women–indeed, about as dangerous as sexting, statistically–so perhaps women should just abstain from them entirely? Perhaps the lesbian separatists of the 1970s were on to something.

The alternative is to create educational programs that teach teens how to say “yes” and “no” to sexting, how to recognize their own needs and autonomy, and crucially, how to communicate with and respect their partners.

It troubles me that Damour suggests we should teach teens “not to ask” for photos. Because the vital skill teens need to learn is the difference between “asking” and “coercing.” Until boys and men are taught about consent — how to ask and communicate without pressure or manipulation — in a serious and sustained way, the sexual assault epidemic will continue.

CNN.com op ed on Facebook and revenge porn

I have an op ed on CNN.com today about Facebook’s recent efforts to combat revenge porn.

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“Revenge porn” is sexual abuse in a new digital form. A recent study shows that 10% of women under 30 years old in the United States have been victimized by the misuse of their intimate images. Facebook is one of many platforms that host this kind of abuse despite its efforts to tinker with the ways users can report unauthorized content.

This spring, Facebook rolled out a feature allowing users to request that Facebook take down any unauthorized intimate images that are being shared on the platform. And last week, Facebook announced a pilot program for users in Australia to upload nude images of themselves they suspected were being shared without their permission. Facebook would then generate a digital fingerprint of each image so that it couldn’t be shared on the platform.

A better solution would be to give users the power to prevent any images that depict them from ever being posted on the platform.

I’m not sure why, but I was a bit surprised by the low quality of the user comments. Many are victim-blaming (well, just don’t sext then, duh) and others are panicked misinterpretations of free speech. Here’s a good response from user “Dahak:”

Why are so many people confused about the 1st Amendment? It says the government can’t arrest you or penalize you for speaking. Facebook is not the government. Facebook can put whatever restrictions it wants to on its platform. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. If you have a better idea, go build it and popularize it. That is how the free market works.