Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Abigail C. Saguy's "Come Out, Come Out, Whoever You Are"

Abigail Saguy is Professor of Sociology and of Gender Studies at UCLA. She has been a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy Research at Yale University (2000-2002) and a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University (2008-2009). She is the author of What is Sexual Harassment? From Capitol Hill to the Sorbonne (2003) and What's Wrong with Fat (2013), which received Honorable Mention for the Association for Humanist Sociology's Best Book Award. She has also written scores of scientific journal articles and several op-eds published in leading news outlets.

Saguy applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Come Out, Come Out, Whoever You Are, and reported the following:
If readers were to open my book to page 99, they would fall upon a discussion of the “shitty media men” list, a collection of rumors and allegations of sexual misconduct allegedly perpetrated by men working in magazines and publishing. On page 99, the book discusses how the list’s founder envisioned the spreadsheet as circumventing the challenges of traditional avenues of recourse. It explains that many of the women who used the it were especially vulnerable—young and new to the industry—and for them “the risks of using any of the established means of reporting were especially high and the chance for justice especially slim.” It quotes the founder saying:
“Anonymous, it would protect its users from retaliation: No one could be fired, harassed, or publicly smeared for telling her story when that story was not attached to her name. Open-sourced, it would theoretically be accessible to women who didn’t have the professional or social cachet required for admittance into whisper networks. The spreadsheet did not ask how women responded to men’s inappropriate behavior; it did not ask what you were wearing or whether you’d had anything to drink. Instead, the spreadsheet made a presumption that is still seen as radical: That it is men, not women, who are responsible for men’s sexual misconduct.”
The rest of the page discusses some of the criticisms leveled at the list, including that it was vulnerable to false accusations, and how shocked the creator was to realize how badly the list was needed.

A person opening my book to page 99 would get a sense of some of the controversies related to the politics of outing and how these have played out specifically within the context of the MeToo movement. This would provide a revealing but partial idea of the whole book, which examines the politics of coming out in a variety of contexts including the LGBTQ movement, the fat acceptance movement, the undocumented immigrant youth movement, the plural-marriage movement among Mormon fundamentalist polygamists, and the MeToo movement. In those cases, people reveal their own identities as members of stigmatized groups in order to challenge others’ negative stereotypes, organize for social change, and be more authentically themselves. In contrast, the shitty media men’s list did not reveal the identities of the victims, only those of the alleged assaulters. As such, it is a form of outing, not coming out—a theme also explored in Chapter 2 on the LGBTQ movement.

While the test does not work perfectly for this book, page 99—and Chapter 6, “Airing Dirty Laundry and Outing Pigs,” in general—is interesting in its own right. I write this on Monday February 24, the day Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and sexual assault in New York. Weinstein’s conviction would never have happened without the #MeToo movement. It represents a huge step forward for victims of sexual violence and is testament to the power of coming out and of outing.
Visit Abigail C. Saguy's website.

--Marshal Zeringue