My Facebook newsfeed this morning is filled with hashtags with the words “#MeToo.” It is part of a campaign to raise awareness of just how pervasive a problem sexual assault is in the USA. I read post after post of women who have been through the experience and now are talking out. Some of them I’ve known for years and never suspected it had happened to them. I commend them. It takes a lot of courage to speak out about what happened to them. Talking about sexual harassment is a taboo in society. Men have liked having the topic as socially unacceptable for specific discussion. It allows harassers to get away with their behavior.
Some of the women told very specific stories about their experiences. One woman said as a young waitress working her way through college her restaurant manager told her he would give her the good section in exchange for oral sex. She told him she would stick to the bad sections. Another woman wrote a simple “MeToo” and I know her story. She was raped. I’m writing her story later this week, and it is one of the most compelling stories I’ve heard.
The problem runs on a spectrum from a simple suggestion maybe said in a joking manner, to rape. Male friends and I talked about this in the 1980s when lawsuits started appearing in the press about sexual harassment. It is a huge problem even in today’s litigious environment. It was even a bigger problem 30 years ago. Sexual harassment then was a norm of society.
The reasons guys give
I read the signals and she wanted it. What are these signals? A flip of the hair, a smile, laughing at a joke, looking down in a coy way when you speak with her. Sorry, Romeo, a flip of the hair usually means her hair was in the way. Smiling does not always mean sexual attraction. Laughing at your jokes is not a synonym for “take me.”
Popular culture has given men the impression that when a woman does the things above it is part of the dance of romance. Many times, those behaviors are part of the dance of attraction. The problem is you’re not a very good dancer. Too many men are going from “you’re interesting,” to propose a mechanical sex act with no feeling.
She’s asking for it. Look how she dresses. A woman may be saying in a subliminal manner that she is available. That doesn’t mean she is saying she is necessarily available to you. I hate to burst your bubble, Romeo, but you may not be the fish she is looking for in the big sea.
No means yes. Sorry guys, no means no, and not yes. Popular culture once again reinforces a terrible stereotype. One of the all-time great Hollywood films, “Gone With the Wind” has an example. Rhett Butler grows tired of the fickle Scarlett O’Hare making him jump through hoops. In a dramatic scene, he swoops her into his arms, carries up the grand staircase to the bedroom and rapes her. The next morning, we see a smiling and loving Scarlett singing and happy.
That’s only in the movies. When a woman says no, she means no.
Because I can. This is the unstated reason by men with power. For them, sex isn’t about intimacy. It’s about power. It may be closely related to men who rape women. Rape isn’t about sex either. It’s about power and an act of violence against women.
Some men of power objectify women. To them, they aren’t human beings. They are something to possess. They view women as rewards for their station in life. It isn’t just the Donald Trump, Roger Ailes, and Harvey Weinstein high rollers. It’s the restaurant manager, or the boss, or any other power figure at any level.
They don’t have a very high opinion of women. If they aren’t trying to push a woman into subjugation, then they are trying to push her into a form of prostitution. Sex for something of value is prostitution. It doesn’t have to be just cash at the time of the act.
Men should not sit on the sideline witnessing this behavior
If men are the problem, then we can also be part of the solution. It involves breaking a few of the sacred man-rules but most of those need to be broken anyway. Here is what we can do.
Open our eyes to the behavior. We aren’t being honest if we say we don’t see it in the workplace. We do see it. We’ve all seen the inappropriate joke or the married executive who hangs around a female worker too much. Gauge her reaction. Despite guys misreading the signs, when we observe two other people together we can often tell if a play is being made.
Talk to the victim. Ask her if the attention by the lothario is unwelcome. She may laugh it off as a joke, or she might tell you he is a problem and that she is not sure how to handle it. Reassure her you are willing to help her. From here things start getting risky.
Talk to the perpetrator. Testosterone starts getting involved. If you hold a position higher or equal to the person doing the harassing, then you are on safer ground. Tell him some of the women have been complaining and they don’t appreciate the attention. Tell him you would hate to see him lose his job over the behavior. It’s an implied threat but appropriate in today’s environment.
What if it’s the boss? Can you imagine a guy from the accounting department walking up to Harvey Weinstein and saying, “You need to knock off the sexual harassment?” It would be the end of his employment.
That doesn’t mean the pinnacle of power should get away with their behavior. Unless you work for Fox News, the powerful in the organization aren’t going to get away with the behavior. Go to the Human Resources Department and ask what should be done. In large organizations, they have professionals who know how to approach the problem.
Maybe the news about Roger Ailes, Donald Trump, and Harvey Weinstein will deter some of the behavior by the lotharios. The workplace is no place for sexual intrigues. We go there to work and it isn’t an extension of singles bars. At least it isn’t supposed to be.
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