On February 8, 2018, The New School will host an event entitled “Sexual Harassment and Assault: Eros, Power, Violation, and Consent.” Psychologist Jeremy Safran will moderate a panel featuring Lew Aron and Adrienne Harris from NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, Katie Gentile from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Lisa Rubin and Ali Shames-Dawson from the New School for Social Research, who together will creatively engage the pressing ethical, political, and psychological questions arising from the #MeToo movement. This panel is meant to sketch — rather than answer — the most significant questions this moment brings to the fore, before transitioning into workshop style breakout groups. In the weeks leading up to the event, we will host contributions from the panelists, and we invite readers to submit responses via submissions@publicseminar.
I want to deconstruct this term — witch-hunt — both as a feminist and as a psychoanalyst. It has appeared often in the discourse around #MeToo and the matter of sexual harassment. Most significantly it appears in the essay signed by Catherine Deneuve and in an essay Daphne Merkin wrote for the NY Times Op ed section.
As it is occurring in these texts and many others, the implications are clear. The objects of the hunting are men, the assault for which we see many versions of backlash (small and large) is upon men and often by extension Eros in general and male sexuality in particular. And in this current discourse, the witches are quite clearly the witchy women calling out men regarding sexual overtures.
But notice that something odd has happened to this term. Historically, in witch-hunts women were the witches under pursuit and likely to be drowned or burned at the stake when apprehended. The attack usually undertaken under religious orthodoxy and usually by men.
Curiously, or not so curiously, we have flipped the genders and here the contemporary 2018 witchcraft is nasty women coming after men.
Pursuing that quirky object, the 2018 ‘witch-hunt’ if men and women have switched places, and men are the prey. Does not the term also unconsciously or pre-consciously turn the men into vulnerable women? Isn’t castration the great fear, whether economic ruin or disgrace and assault?
As I think about this, I would say that Deneuve and Merkin articulate this mad idea — men the witches, men the hunted — but we all carry its traces. This massive sea change in the management of sexual exploitation causes all of us to fear the destruction of men, of sexuality, of the group Eros, to say nothing of the individual. We fear the collapse of some libidinal tie even as we struggled to differentiate predation from overture, and pursue the complex matter of consent.
This is work we must all do. But it is hard for so many reasons. Not the least is the mix of surprise at the immediacy of current responses to charges of abuse and the uncertainty about outcomes and forms of responsibility. It has surely occurred to many of us that the immediate disappearance and firing of men charged with such harassment may have as much to do with the background corporations’ fear of litigation as it does with a measure of accountability.
I want to introduce the idea of Restorative Justice: a concept very developed in Katie Gentile’s work on boundary violations. What if we imagined that the naming of abuse was the beginning of a process, not the end of visibility and viability (often economic and certainly interpersonal) of those accused?