The Feminazis v. Isaiah Thomas

Tara Kirsten King

Tara Kirsten King

By Tara Kirsten King

While I’m extremely proud to identify as a feminist, unfortunately I often find some of the people I find the most reprehensible are those in my own camp. Recently, Isiah Thomas was hired as a coach for Florida International University. My response: WHO CARES?! However it appears that the Women’s Studies Department of FIU cares a great deal and want to utilize Thomas’ employment as a teaching mechanism about the evils of sexual harassment by way of condemnation. SERIOUSLY? As director of the department, Laurie Shrage called this a “teachable moment.”

Shrage said she and numerous other women’s study faculty at F.I.U. were disappointed in the hiring but felt they could do little to change it. She said one of the first things that she and her colleagues planned on doing was walking over to Thomas’s office and hand delivering a copy of the university’s sexual harassment policy.

“He may choose to not accept it from us in person,” Shrage said. “We’re going to walk it over there rather than sending it to him because it shows that we’re concerned and he’s aware of it and that he’ll read it.”

Other ideas that Shrage has include a teach-in where the university invites experts on sexual harassment to speak on the topic and a meeting with the new F.I.U. president to make sure that they are behind the university’s sexual harassment policy.

“We want to hear a commitment that Thomas will be expected to go through some kind of sexual harassment training,” she said. (source)

First of all, Thomas was in the media’s eye for a long time. He is contentious, he may have sexually harassed one or a few along the way but then again he might not have. The unfortunate nature of the sexual harassment beast is its subjective nature—and I’m not sure the reasonable person standard can apply across the board for women. Regardless, I think it’s fair to say that the humiliation of the trial and his “now” tarnished reputation were the true “teachable moments for Thomas.” Secondly, angry feminists stewing over a new coach only because of what they know about him from a high-profile media circus, is as ridiculous as reifying Rhianna as the new poster girl for Domestic Violence.

Quite frankly, I think that Shrage and her entourage’s moral harassment is ironic, hypocritical, and antithetical to educating people about sexual harassment. What may be plausibly more effective is to ask Thomas to talk about his experience and not crucify him on a grandstand for it. Let him speak his “truth” and let the professionals educate in conjunction. Especially since the imposition of divisive politics are probably not part of the university’s pedagogical aim. If I were Thomas, when confronted by the Femi-Nazi’s I’d do one of two things: A) I’d accept the policy and hit on them or B) I’d tell them to go fuck themselves. But Isiah, has nothing to worry about –he’ll be old news again in no time much like second wave politics.

Tara Kirsten King is a second year law student at the University of Cincinnati. Concurrent with her law studies, she is earning a master’s degree in women’s studies. She earned her BA from San Francisco State University in women’s studies. King’s research focus is on feminist theory and transgendered rights.

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16 Responses to The Feminazis v. Isaiah Thomas

  1. DOMINO says:

    This story reminds me of “The Human Stain”.

  2. blueollie says:

    Here is the reason I don’t like the term feminazi: feminists haven’t murdered anyone.

    Sure, some (such as the ones you describe) are overbearing, obnoxious and loud. But they haven’t killed anyone nor do they condone, say, mass murder.

    To me they are merely another type of woo-fundie.

    • Tara King says:

      I want to agree but unfortunately feminists can be so divided that what they do is kill feminism(and movement of) itself..Pluralism as a concept unfortunately becomes obsolete when different schools collide.

  3. Nice intro, Tara. Welcome to LS.

    I don’t even want to get started on the harassment thing but your post trigged a thought:

    The US Army just inititated a new policy, which I’m looking forward to actually *seeing* but what I hear from the grapevipe is that it works by the “2 second rule”. In other words, a man ought not look at a woman for more than two seconds otherwise it’s leading towards sexual harassment.

    Seems rather outrageous to me but then I don’t give military intelligence a whole lot of credit. Yet, even though I think the military is full of morons, more so perhaps than the government when it comes to policy makers, it boggles me to think how 2 seconds can be justified. Seriously. Think about what 2 seconds are?

    If men were as sexually harassed by women as women seem to be by men, then I’d be in serious trouble! Two seconds basically eliminates the ability to create eye contact! That’s the first thing I try to establish.

    Should this policy be in fact true as it sounded to me, what it would do is create further distance between the sexes and an invitation to a lot harassment charges. It’s so illogical it’s fucking scary. It leaves the window *so open* … but it sure would feed those “unqualified” lawyers the universities are spewing out, right Marc?

  4. FeministHumanist says:

    What kind if women’s studies program did you go to? Clearly there are differnet kinds of feminists but the term Feminazi is one that ought to be retired. Maybe you don’t agree with Dr. Shrage’s take on this matter, but this name calling is divisive and offensive – not to mention it focuses attention away from the real issue at hand.

    We should commend Dr. Shrage for giving a reasoned and calm response to the media when the rest of the officials at the university clammed up. Their silence says an awful lot about their supposed committment to all students on campus.

    Mr. Thomas may or may not be innocent, as you suggest, and I agree he has the same rights as any employee to a work environment free from harassment. Perhaps the women at FIU will rethink their approach and decide to be less confrontational. At the same time, a federal jury seemed to think there was enough evidence against Mr. Thomas to award $11 million. FIU certainly can’t afford that kind of potential liability. We need someone at the univeristy to say there is no condonement of harrassment – by Mr. Thomas or anyone else. This hire doesn’t make that statement.

  5. FeministHumanist says:

    Check the update section:

    http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2009/04/thomas-reaction-among-some-fiu-faculty.html

    are reactions like yours and calls to give the benefit of the doubt to past offenders silencing the voices of women and undermining their rights?

    • I’m completely willing to see the different sides of the debate here — and I was actually quite surprised to see Ms. King’s opinion. When I asked for it, as she was a Women’s Studies Academic, I expected something very different. Nevertheless, I respect her opinion (and agree with much of it).

      Of course, I think your initial post raises some good points too. Especially your final paragraph.

      But, in your second post, you start to confuse me.

      Who is “silencing the voices of women and undermining their rights” here, at Prawfsblawg, or anywhere else? I simply can’t see how that is a valid question.

      Ms. King is a woman, in case the name and the photo didn’t give that away. She is using her voice to transmit her opinion.

      Whether we should give Thomas the benefit of the doubt is a fair question. But to try and characterize any dissent from the MacKinnon-Dworkin party line as “silencing the voices of women” seems to prove your very first point. I might not call you a feminazi, as I agree that the term is unnecessarily divisive. However, this does seem to be awfully (take your pick) Bush-ian or Stalinist.

      King disagrees with you. I disagree with King (in part). But, lets just take a prozac before we try and make her differing opinion into an assault on women or “trying to silence” anyone.

  6. FeministHumanist says:

    I simply meant that the backlash Dr. Shrage is now experiencing in the media – from Ms. King but certainly not her alone – as well as from the administration at FIU may indeed be attempts to silence valid objections to the hiring of a man whose qualifications are questionable.

    • See, my big objection to your statement is the all-too-common second-wave feminist mantra that anyone who disagrees with a second-wave feminist is trying to “silence women.”

      It isn’t a “conspiracy to silence” when someone disagrees. You’re not trying to “silence” Ms. King by disagreeing with her, she’s not trying to “silence” me by disagreeing with me.

      This is called the “marketplace of ideas.” If you put your wares/ideas out there for others to criticize, especially if you pull a publicity stunt like Shrage did (and I am not using “stunt” pejoratively), you dive into the marketplace of ideas head-first.

      I mean honestly, stow that silliness. When hard core Christians say that the grand canyon is 5,000 years old, that there is no such thing as evolution, or that gay marriage is an abomination, are opponents of those views trying to “silence Christians?” No. They are not.

      And I’m not interested in “silencing” you — but if you want to be taken seriously and have any respect, please leave the MacKinnon-Dworkin-Bartow rhetoric at the door. You’ve got too many good points to wallow in that academic dung. Disagreement does not equal censorship — not even when everyone disagrees.

    • Tara King says:

      One more thing- The man’s qualifications are not questionable—he is overly qualified..His reputation is what is questionable and will remain so if he is never allowed to learn from the past. There is no lesson in static. The women’s studies department should make him an ally rather than an enemy. It is all about strategy in the area of academic politics…

  7. FeministHumanist says:

    Is it not legitimate to ask why so many would prefer to dismiss these objections rather than deal with the issue being raised? Ms. King is entitled to her response of Who Cares? She is somewhat removed from the situation, but the faculty and the thousands and thousands of students paying tuition at FIU are not. As a third-wave feminist, I want to know what message FIU thinks it’s sending to its students, especially the non-athletes and those from groups that have historically been subjected to discrimination.

    I also wanted to point out that Dr. Shrage is being skewered for something that ultimately is not going to happen, and that is the idea of presenting the harrassment policy to Mr. Thomas in person. Her intent was not to create a confrontation but to highlight the legitimate concerns of a number of faculty members and students. Now everyone seems to be talking about this supposed ‘stunt’ rather than engaging in the marketplace of ideas as you suggest, thus again taking the focus away from the real issue.

    • A fair critique of the situation. And your first sentence might be dead on the bulls eye.

      And, if you’re a third-wave feminist, you’ve only revealed it now after a couple of posts. If FIU is sending the wrong message, fair nuff. And, if Dr. Strage finds herself skewered and the focus on the stunt, and not the message, perhaps this is a good learning experience for her. Maybe there was a less grandstanding way to get her point across?

      I think that I should bow out now, and let Ms. King respond — since I think you and I have resolved our disagreement, and I feel like more comment from me would be a) beyond my expertise, and b) distracting from the real issue too — and I’d like to see the real issue debated between you and King.

  8. FeministHumanist says:

    I concur. Perhaps this is indeed a teachable moment for all of us.

  9. Tara King says:

    First of all –OF COURSE the lawsuit was big— it wasn’t just Thomas–it was Madison Square Garden! One of the things I have learned in law school is not to sue if it is not going to be beneficial…(so really Feminist Humanist, how many people are probably guilty in your immediate vicinity of sexually harrassing someone at one time or another?)
    I have also heard that FIU is possibly dismantling its women’s studies department as a result of low enrollment. This is why I get pissed at self righteous feminists–because ultimately the work that we –(ALL of us do) is IMPORTANT. We see the world behind a very deconstructive lens.(Antics like Shrage was purporting gives a very important department a bad reputation)– I am still alarmed at how many women are quick to refute feminist as part of their identity. However, the problem arises when feminists such as myself assert an opinion that is un p.c(talk about wanting to silence women…HYPOCRITICAL RHETORIC…)— suddenly my credentials are called into question.
    My point was that making a big deal about Thomas–merely reifies his celebrity status. I’m sure he is going to be very careful and if I weren’t “removed” from FIU what I would do is sit back and watch– if he does something wrong that is when I would attack and nail his balls to the wall. And, I recognize the response to this would be”why give him the chance in the first place–let him know it won’t be tolerated…” The problem with that rationale is that it approaches Thomas as a person that lacks reasoning capacity–I would be willing to wager that just because the law suit resulted in a ton of money doesn’t make this Thomas any more guilty than Thomas as a Supreme Court Justice makes him not guilty…

  10. FeministHumanist says:

    Of course you have a right to a different opinion. You call it un-P.C. yet I am sure there are lot more people out there who agree with you to one extent or another. I am concerned and think I have a right to ask about those who call themselves feminists and are still so quick to dismiss sexual harrassment. Yes, you are absolutely correct that it is often subjective, but is that enough reason not to try to deal with it in some way?

    I agree with your point about Mr. Thomas’s celebrity as well. Yes, there are a lot of offenders in my immediate vicinity – a point Dr. Shrage was trying to make and hoping to highlight with the extra attention this hire brings to the subject. If Mr. Thomas was not a celebrity, would we still be asked to overlook his record and give him the benefit of the doubt?

    And Women’s Studies at FIU is not in danger of being cut (though FAU’s program is). I hope Dr. Shrage and her colleagues will find a a way to keep the dialog going – perhaps by including Mr. Thomas in the discussion as you suggest.

  11. Tara King says:

    I’m glad to hear that because before I ran my mouth,I read some of Dr. Shrage’s scholarship–so it was not personal because she is obviously a prolific scholar. I appreciate your viewpoint and it is not that I am quick to dismiss harassment–but I am not into condemning people for their past. I think we’ve exhausted the subject but I look forward to future discussions.

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