What We Need From Accused Perpetrators Like Michael Kimmel #metoosociology

Image description: White middle aged man stands on a stage in front of a large audience, behind him is a screen “Women Deliver 4th Global Conference To the Point” with two images of the man being broadcast of his speech. Image of Michael Kimmel from his website.

Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that feminist activist, gender expert, and renowned sociologist Michael Kimmel was accused of sexual harassment. Kimmel, who is one of the most famous sociologists, has been an advocate for women and challenged men to confront a culture of gender-based violence.

Kimmel’s response? To “to give those who feel they have been mistreated by him time to file complaints with the American Sociological Association [ASA],” according to the Chronicle. He will give them 6 months before he accepts the ASA Jessie Bernard Award for his scholarly work to advance women in society.

This is a disappointing response for several reasons: 1) There have been zero cases of the ASA holding any sociologist publicly accountable for perpetrating sexual harassment. 2) It disempowers the accusers and silences them. Kimmel is trying to control the process, discounting the accusers unless they follow his rules. 3) It fails to acknowledge the risks for graduate students and junior faculty to come forward. 4) The process for reporting to ASA is not easily accessible.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s how renowned sociologist Michael Kimmel put it.

Sexual harassment persists because of three factors: the sense of entitlement that some men feel toward the women they work with; the presumption that women won’t report it or fight back; and the presumed support — even tacit support in the form of not calling out bad behavior — of other men….
So, where do we go from here? After decades of accepting sexual harassment as the status quo, we have to take some of the weight off women’s shoulders. It’s simply not their responsibility alone to talk about and enforce workplace equality. We must call out the sexist behaviors of other men because it’s wrong and because it undermines women’s confidence and effectiveness in the workplace.

Did you notice that this is the same guy? I call him and others accused of sexual harassment:

What Should Michael Kimmel do? Model what he would like others accused of sexual harassment to say by:

  1. Acknowledge and believe the survivor even if their account does not fit with his sense of self. Remember that he has power, and the accuser likely has any. Their career is on the line as much, if not more than his.
  2. Work on ensuring that in future interactions that people who work with him, particularly those with less power (in this case, graduate students and junior scholars) feel comfortable and safe.
  3. For others accused who are unfamiliar with how sexual harassment and gender-based violence operate, I would suggest starting there. In this case, Kimmel is an expert, but can notice the ways in which these dynamics play out in practice within his own interactions. No one is immune from gendered (or racialized, classed, ableist, etc.) ways of being in the world. We are socialized into them.
  4. Help develop a restorative justice practice for our field so that we can all move in a healthier way forward.
  5. Connect with others to change the culture within academic sociology that allows harassment to flourish. As Sociologist Eric Grollman pointed out, this is a problem throughout our discipline.

This isn’t about you, Michael Kimmel. This is about the future of our discipline. Your response to the allegations of sexual harassment against you will set precedence for how others accused behave. Your response shapes the culture of our discipline.