The War Against Sexual Harassment: Increasing the Scope
Suppose you had a huge bug infestation and you knew that there was more than one type of bug present yet one of the more threatening bugs accounted for the majority of the pests, would you only aim to treat for that bug? In doing so, you leave room for the other less threatening bugs to create comfortable environments for the main perpetrator. Would you not also educate yourself about the other insects? Would you not care to get rid of them as well?
If you only address, the more threatening bugs, you are doing yourself a disservice. The smaller bugs are part of the overall ecosystem. That is the main perpetrators, the more threatening bugs, cannot thrive without the smaller bugs, and vice versa. They are interlinked.
The sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein have led to a series of investigations. Whether or not the investigations will result in a series indictments is uncertain, yet make no mistake, this is a huge victory for women — but unfortunately does not seem to advance the case for sexual harassment against men as men have been left out of the conversation. Sexual harassment against women is something we have known existed and have turned a blind eye to in the workplace since women began to enter the workforce in great numbers in the 1960s. Not only does Weinstein’s case empower women to speak in cases of sexual harassment, men in positions of authority will think twice before engaging in sexual harassment behavior with women. Yet, will anything change in sexual harassment against men?
The Minority Voice Does Not Matter
Our American society has a tendency to do this thing where we only listen to the voice of the majority group adversely affected by a social issue. That is in finally giving attention to minority issues, we silence the otherwise majority, which ironically are the minority in regards to the issue alone. Yes, women are disproportionately affected by sexual harassment yet this does not mean that we should discount or negate the experiences of men who have been sexually harassed. In focusing on the majority, we skew the perception of reality. Sure, women may face sexual harassment more than men, yet the current scope of the conversation would have you believe that the issue is a small to nonexistent one for men. This notion could not be farther from the truth.
It is as if we fear that by bringing other voices to the forefront, the experiences of “majority victims,” in this case, women, would be diminished. Rather than looking at it that way, we can frame as “what is the most effective approach in dismantling the institution of sexual harassment?” Would it not be most effective to carefully build a portfolio of voices from different backgrounds, considerate of gender, race, and even industry? Would this not present the strongest case and also reach the largest audience? Would this not altogether be most effective in the war against sexual harassment? Accurate representation matters.
The perception of sexual harassment against men is understated as men are less likely to report such behavior. A 2015 piece from Psychology Today brings attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment towards men and also provides some explanations as to why men report less than women. One of the factors mentioned is current gender norms facilitate silence. Men are expected to be receptive to sexual advances from women and thus men who face sexual harassment from women tend not to report for fear of getting mocked on top of other things. In addition, men who who face sexual harassment from other men, may face even more shame due to stigma around homophobia. Unlike women who primarily face the issue of career sabotage in reporting their grievances, men are significantly deterred by the potential humiliation that may follow a report. The 2015 17.6% figure of sexual harassment claims attributed to men, may severely underestimate the reality of the situation.
Nuances Matter, Too
If we are truly want to have a real conversation of sexual harassment, we have to look at every scenario in which it happens as well as how it differs across cultures and industries. Currently, “man on woman” sexual harassment in White Collar industries seems to be the scope of the conversation. We can begin to ask ourselves: How does this differ in Blue Collar industries? What about “man on man,” “woman on woman,” or “woman on man” sexual harassment? How frequent are these cases? What industries and regions of the U.S. are these types of abuse more popular in? Is there a difference in progressive cities as opposed to more conservative environments? These questions would allow us to gain a more accurate picture of what is going and the trends associated with sexual harassment and how to effectively target this behavior in different situations.
For example, in more woman dominant industries such as Education, Social Services, and Healthcare where women have a stronger foothold in management, how does sexual harassment differ, if at all? Another important example of this nuance is the Hip Hop music industry where male on male abuse is significantly more common than of other industries. Knowing this, when dealing with the issue in Hip Hop music, we could effectively target the behavior.
Last but not least, we must honestly address other behaviors that contribute the culture of sexual harassment. One example of that is “sleeping your way to the top” culture. While the “sleep your way to the top” culture is not considered a form of sexual harassment, it does impact the culture, for, the two are interlinked. If you were to work at a company or organization where sleeping with the management for promotions is prevalent, how would you feel? Would you feel pressure to engage sexually with your leaders in order to get ahead? Sexual harassment claims in this setting may even be fewer in number in comparison to companies where “sleeping” culture is nonexistent, yet why would this be? Is it that these organizations attract people who don’t mind sleeping their way to the top, or is it that many employees succumb to the environmental pressures and hop on board, going with the belief, “If you can’t beat them, might as well join them.” What other factors do you think might influence sexual harassment?
Let’s Do Better
To limit the voices to only the experiences of the victim majority we limit the participation in the conversations, thereby creating an oppositional front as opposed to a united front, where both men and women come together to support each other and tackle the issue. The nuances in sexual harassment are important. We are most familiar with man on woman abuse, yet if we were to see other versions, would we be able to recognize it? It is important to learn how sexual harassment presents itself outside of the norm in order to be able to blow the whistle and effectively eradicate sexual harassment altogether.