I have written about this briefly in my last blog post. But let me address it further because I find particular interest in hermeneutical injustice.
Clear injustices that are physical are often much easier to define and prosecute. It is with hermeneutical injustices that we have to spend some time analyzing theory. Hermeneutics in this context is simply the methodology of interpretation, borrowing from the previous definition, where Hermeneutics referred to the exposition of biblical Scripture, popularized particularly by Reformed preachers, in the tradition of John Calvin, such as Jonathan Edwards, Martin Llyod Jones, Charles Spurgeon, and others. The term has now grown to encapsulate different meanings and is applied in theory in philosophy. Very simply, hermeneutics is the art of understanding and making oneself understood.
The Netflix series, Unbelievable, touches on some of this theory in relating it to the experience of informing police of instances of rape. In Hermeneutical Injustice, Miranda Fricker tells a story of a similar instance where Carmita Wood, a former employee for eight years in Cornell’s department of nuclear physics, was being repeatedly sexually harassed by a notorious professor. In revealing the assaults, her honesty was questioned and even after leaving her position her unemployment insurance was denied.
Fricker describes this harassment in the following way, which I quote because of its potent accuracy and helpful exposition: “Her hermeneutical injustice renders her unable to make sense of her ongoing mistreatment, and this, in turn, prevents her from protesting it, let alone securing effective measures to stop it.” It is not only that, the victim of sexual harassment is mistreated physically, but because of the way society is structured, victims are also imprisoned in a limited lexicon that is unable to completely relay information. This is especially true with sensitive societal topics. Conservatives, for example, are broadly much less inclined to display empathy when contacted about misalignment of this sort with the law. That is, of course, very broad but can be seen in certain studies, notably in Jonathan Haidt’s work and the psychological distinction between left and right personalities. It is also unhelpful, however, to think that accepting each claim without evidence will solve the issue.
Needless to say, laws of this sort will never be passed and/or accepted by society. Perhaps there should be a compromise of some sort. One obvious way of amending the hermeneutical injustices victims of sexual abuse face, is empathy, a willingness to listen and help those that report them. Sadly, this is hardly ever the primary method of listening to victims. They are instead often met with hostility and skepticism. Granted, sometimes skepticism is warranted.
In these circumstances, however, skepticism should not be displayed at the outset nor, arguably, ever. It hardly has any utility to the victim or the investigation.
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I write to keep you thinking and to keep me thankful and reflective. Cheers and until next time,