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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