Power Dynamics: A Constant Struggle, MINDSETTER™ Joseph Molina Flynn

Thursday, August 09, 2018


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Joseph Molina Flynn

Over the past few years, the #MeToo movement has made strides in helping women (primarily) denounce harassment and sexism by those in positions of power. Power dynamics are a nebulous concept as is the concept of sexism—or any “ism” for that matter. Not surprisingly, the mix of these two topics has opened the doors to discourse about what behavior is or is not acceptable, what conduct should be condemned, and whether or not seemingly innocuous behavior, when combined with an environment of subordination, can be categorized as harassment.

For far too long, women have been seen as objects ready for men’s consumption. Ads, on television and print alike, often portray hypersexualized images of women and as fragile objects in need of a male counterpart to survive. In the home, women are perceived as docile and subordinate to the male—regardless of advances made in feminist circles. All this while men are viewed as dominant and powerful whether in personal or professional circles.

As a result, women often feel they must put up with constant sexism, harassment, and sexual advances. Women are not viewed as equal in industry or politics. They often face discrimination in the workplace because of “their child-rearing obligations.” They are subjected to catcalling. They are viewed as less than men in every way.

Politically speaking, the past few years have brought us a myriad of scandals involving high-powered politicians taking advantage of their positions to subject women to sexism and harassment. Infamously, former congressman Anthony Weiner sent unrequested photographs of himself in various states of undress to females through social media. His scandals spanned several years and ultimately culminated with a two-year prison sentence in 2017 following a conviction for disseminating such images to an underage girl.

Not all instances of sexism including such lewdness, however. Women are microaggressed constantly. They have grown accustomed to hearing language from men which they know is not wholly independent of their gender. For example, while it is seemingly inoffensive to tell a woman to smile in professional circles, the fact that women hear these comments from males almost daily is a sign of disrespect.

Between the disgraced Congressman and microaggressions there is a wide chasm of inappropriate behavior which deserves to be called out and condemned. The growth of social media has given people immediate access to each other in unprecedented ways. Individuals who previously were not accessible are now available at the click of a button. Instant messages on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram provide an avenue for the sending and receiving of messages behind the comfort of a keyboard or telephone. Unfortunately, for many, the message seems to be that this ability to hide behind a keyboard gives them access to make advances they would not dare make in person.

Rhode Island is not exempt from this type of sexist and harassing behavior. Take, for instance, the race for House of Representatives District 13. John Carnevale, who held the seat from 2011-2017, has previously been accused of sexual assault and domestic violence. He was vying for that seat again, but on Wednesday he pled Nolo Contendere to a criminal charge making him no longer eligible for office.

To add even more turmoil to the mix, allegations of inappropriate behavior have surfaced against the incumbent, Ramon Perez. The allegations against Representative Perez stem from messages sent to females which include suggestive language such as “you are beautiful” and “I would love to meet you.” Many may see such messages as inoffensive. Setting aside the fact that Representative Perez is married, at least two of the women on the receiving end of those messages were offended enough to share them with his opponent who then used the messages to expose Representative Perez’s transgressions.

Representative Perez is just the latest politician to have his transgressions exposed publicly. The time is now to stop this type of behavior and demand better of men elected to serve Rhode Island’s constituents. The power granted to them by the people of their respective cities and districts does not provide them with carte-blanche to make unwanted sexual advances toward women. Even while the messages themselves may be innocuous, the intention behind them is not.

Joseph Molina Flynn is a family & immigration attorney with offices in Boston & Providence. He is the current president of the RI Latino Pac and the RI Latino Civic Fund. 


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