As a sociologist who has worked in the areas of gender inequality and violence against women for nearly four decades, I am deeply concerned by the recently published article describing the failure of the Conservative Movement to respond appropriately to ethical violations including sexual misconduct and the article’s highlighting of one particular rabbi’s censure for his relationship with a woman in the community.
I wish to make it clear that I am well-aware of the dangers of (typically) men in power using their positions to exploit or abuse women, children and other vulnerable people. Many excellent books, interviews, scholarly articles and first-person reports and analyses of sexual assault, exploitation, abuse and misconduct by members of the clergy are easily available. Unfortunately, this article did not draw on that material, opting instead to highlight one rabbi who briefly dated a woman; it does not even say that she ever accused him of inappropriate behavior. No evidence is presented that suggests that the relationship he had with this woman was exploitive, or coercive.
Letter | Focusing on straw-men is disservice to women and distracts us from real concerns about abuse
Problems with how the Conservative Movement’s handles ethics complaints, as covered in the article, seem real; the misdeeds of the featured rabbi however, do not. Indeed, I came away from this article with the impression that the rabbi was used as a straw-man to indict the Conservative Movement’s response to ethics complaints.
I am especially concerned that this article feeds into false yet (intransigently) popular notions that men “often” are unfairly accused of sexual misconduct. At the current time, old tropes such as “she said no but she really wanted it” are augmented by declarations that “men can’t even say good morning to women anymore without fear of being accused of rape by the political correctness police.” Studies repeatedly show extremely low rates of false accusations of rape and sexual harassment, yet the fiction that these claims are common serves as a powerful discursive weapon to discourage women from reporting experiences of stalking, rape, intimate partner violence and harassment and thus undermines efforts to create environments of gender equality. Sadly, this article can too easily be used as fuel for that discursive weapon.
I am eager to see the Forward continue to cover gender inequality in Jewish institutions and am (unfortunately) quite certain that clear, real, serious, structural examples will be all-too-easy to come by.
Susan Sered, Ph.D.