Note: I wrote one 2 page document that combines both anticipation of negative outcomes as well as a description for how to mitigate the disasters.
Following the insights of my “comparative and historical analysis” of how both Harvard and Stanford, the most wealthy schools in America, have designed and staged their interventions on the rape crisis at their universities. Through these interviews, I realized that many solutions already exist, and that the most valuable ground to break is in cultural interventions. As many have pointed out, this problem is so intense because our culture puts a ton of emphasis on sex and marriage, yet we do not provide the educational resources for most people to understand how to navigate this terrain of historical conditioning that is ripe with gender inequalities. As a result most people employ outdated or deeply misguided behavior “scripts” that hurt themselves and others. Both Stanford and Harvard have been ramping up their educational interventions to address the social aspect, but these efforts are brand new and are still being finessed. Both employ an intersectional “ecosystem” of identities approach that encourage perspective taking and cognitive mapping in order to help cis-gender men understand how the socialization of their identity harms both them and others. The education also works to make individuals aware of the social scripts they adopt. For example, the “hook up” script which is a goal-oriented script that prioritizes male pleasure. As Moira Weigel has pointed out, a particularly salient and toxic aspect of our culture has been to historically depict heteronormative relationships as “the battle of the sexes as a kind of market competition, where women barter sex for love and men do the opposite. In this exchange, not only is dating work for women and recreation for men. Desire itself is a liability. If a seller knows you want to buy, he knows you can get more”(254). Therefore, my intervention is targeting “the dating market” as a site in which to diffuse cultural “re-programming and education” in order to break down these scripts that the market place operates on, thus turning it in on itself.
There are many ways in which this could go wrong; the extreme versions also give insight into how the intervention may go wrong in more subtle ways. The first that comes to mind is that in infusing cultural education into the dating market place, men who identify as “Incels” (involuntary celibates) may be either inflamed by the idea that people might dare to threaten the revenge fantasy that their entire lives operate on. According to Wikipedia, incels are mostly white, male and heterosexual; their discussions with each other online are often characterized by resentment, misanthropy, self-pity, self-loathing, misogyny, racism, and a sense of entitlement to sex, and the endorsement of violence against sexually active people. This subculture group has already committed at least 4 mass murders than have resulted in 45 deaths. In a solution gone wrong, the educational platform would flare up the negativity of the incels by leading them to believe that the educational messages that plea for men to think critically about their identities is just another way in which others are oppressing them; which in a worse case scenario, could result in violence against the groups I am trying to protect. While this is an extreme case, there’s a less extreme version that also would be a bad outcome: if men are made to think that they are to blame for their social conditioning to the degree that they become so entrenched with self-hatred that they are unable to change, and thus end up exacerbating the problem. The incels show us that masculinity is a very fragile thing. On one hand, how our culture codes masculinity creates problems for everyone. And yet being emasculated is also a traumatic thing for many men. As a mitigation strategy, I would suggest that these educational tools be developed collaboratively with men who once operated on these scripts, and have been “converted” through the existing educational systems at Harvard and Stanford. These men are easy to identify: they have a role at each school that deals expressly with these men. I spoke with the woman at Harvard in depth about this role. She said that the emotional labor of having to sit through the process with men as they process and come to understand how their social conditioning they have been operating on is flawed because it harms others. A mitigation strategy would be to develop the educational tools to market to these men in a way that incentivizes them to learn how to disassemble their own identity without the identity flaring up and being threatened by the process. Another mitigation strategy would be to employ humans or have very intelligent bots who could perform the same role as I described; these bots or humans would act as emotional support for men grappling with their identities and ask the right questions to get them to self reflect.
Another disaster would be to inflame the anger of women and non-gender conforming identities in the non-privileged position against men and other identities who oppress them. This seems pretty unlikely, given that I can’t think of a single historical example of “women committing violence against men because they realized how oppressed they are,” but I won’t rule it out as a possibility. This would theoretically flip the gender binary of privilege and power on its head, allowing women to group together and dismantle men in anger. Even as I type this, I wonder if that’s what the #metoo and #timesup movements are about: women realizing that our culture has gaslit us to believe that we are nothing more than a body for male pleasure, an object in the field, incapable of subjectivity and taking sudden and extreme revenge in order to restore justice. Realizing that they have been gaslit by social messaging to relinquish any agency that they do have must be very difficult—even as someone raised on feminist literature and theory, I still fall into depression about it sometimes. In my own, more begin case as an example, even having women fall depressed at realizing how much of their lives and identities are built on a sort of self-repression, self-denial, and self-hatred would also be a net-negative because it would lead to resignation rather than empowerment. As a mitigation strategy, I would want to work with women to figure out what messages empower them: it may be a better move then for both men and women to avoid going into the history of how they are currently being conditioned and the implications on their present lives, and instead just intervene in the same way that one might “upgrade to a nicer model of car”—using this capitalist logic might be helpful to motivate people to learn self-empowerment and self-awareness and reflexivity as skills they believe will help them perform better on that market… when actually, they are skills that help them to dismantle the negative impact of the market and gender privilege on their lives.
Finally, the last area is that I see how it is tempting to want to focus my intervention on heteronormative scripts because I have personal awareness as a cis-gender straight white female to understand how these works. But as many of the people at Stanford and Harvard have pointed out, these issues effect the non-gender conforming communities as well. For that reason, I’d need to do a lot of research and collaborative design work to understand how identities harm these individuals as well. Intersectional feminism would say that a good solution would be to map all the identities and study how they interact a little bit more; and perhaps that is the use case for AI here… maybe using AI, we can see how an individual enacts their identities in chats with romantic partners, and then offer strategic educational interventions to help them with that particular aspect of that identity. For example, maybe AI can tell if a the identity in the privileged position who has trained to be assertive asks the same question four times in a row to a non-privileged person; this effectively is a sort of violence against that person even though on the surface asking the same question four times in a row doesn’t seem “that bad”. The AI could then target them with an intervention about rethinking the trait of being “assertive” so they can understand how in some cases it may help them, and in other cases it may hurt them. Using Ai then would allow the platform to give more nuanced educational interventions that are specific to how a person enacts their identities.