Sexual Harrassment – 4

Sexual Harassment in the workplace – 4

by Kristin Marshall, MA (English), professional nurse, and Mother.

Sexual harassment is predicated on a deeply embedded part of our society: male entitlement. This is so fundamental to our society that it often goes unnoticed, unquestioned, even denied. Yet men everywhere tend to assume that they are entitled to women’s time and attention, and it is only a small, slippery step from this bias to feeling entitled to women’s bodies and their sexual favours.

I do not know any women who does not experience this. None. As we get older, wiser, more experienced, more confident and secure, we develop better ways of handling it – some of us – and if we’re lucky, we find ourselves in places where it does not harm us – if we’re fortunate enough to have a secure job with at least the appearance of protections. Most women don’t. The idea that we have any power to manage men’s rampant egoism and sexual predation is, in itself, egotistic and arrogant. The only women who can do this are safe because of their highly-privileged social status – probably middle-aged or older, probably white, probably well-educated, probably financially secure, probably in a stable job where they are not dependent on male favour. And even these fortunate few still experience sexual harassment, as evidenced by the recent VIU case (well-off, well-educated, single, white, heterosexual woman, working in a stable profession within a liberal workplace and in the position of power with the predator – even with all this on her side, she was still the victim of predatory harassment by a young, male student, and unsupported by her employer).

What about all the women who are not so well-off, in all aspects of their lives?

What about a young woman, in an entry-level position – a waitress or a fast food server? The average 15-year-old has little life experience to draw on, and is only coming into her own sexuality. She is in a subservient position to both her employer and her customers. A lot of the harassers are customers. (Don’t believe me? Ask a teenage girl with a job. She’ll confirm this.) The harassment may not be explicitly sexual, but it kind of is. And it is definitely sex-based. Men come in to the local coffee shop and flirt with the girls behind the counter. For the price of a cup of coffee, they can have a really good time propping up their egos. And the girls have to go along with it. The customer is always right. Keep the customer happy. Always be pleasant and polite. They don’t have a choice. If a customer complains, the girls will likely lose their jobs. And so they suck it up. Even if they have been treated well all their lives up to this point – if they are among the 46% of young women who have escaped sexual abuse throughout their childhoods, and they haven’t been assaulted yet, and even now they are not being aggressively sexually harassed – they are most certainly being groomed for it. They have no skills or life experience yet to deflect or manage these men, who feel entitled to their time, attention, and emerging sexuality.

What about all the women who are not so well-off, in all aspects of their lives?

The notion that these young women are responsible for the men’s harassment is absurd and arrogant, and wells up from a bottomless pit of social privilege. The men are grown adults; they should know better (yet somehow, they don’t. We can thank embedded male entitlement for that). The girls have no recourse, no life experience, no management skills, so they go along with it. It should not be a huge surprise when, sometimes, men go a bit (or a lot) further, and women sometimes let them, out of learned helplessness. Even a young woman with little life experience knows enough to sense when danger is in the air. If she doesn’t lose her job, she might have a creep waiting for her in the parking lot when she finishes her shift. It’s better to play it “safe” and give the guy what he wants. Ew, right?

So often, we don’t speak up, because we don’t expect anyone to help. The current cases in the media only highlight that the threat is real. In the VIU case, one woman so far has lost her job.

Sgt. Vicky-Lynn Cox, in the current military case, is awaiting impending discharge, while her perpetrators go undisciplined – despite the Canadian military’s official stance against sexual harassment and abuse within its ranks.

We expect to be blamed for allowing it to happen. Because, regularly, we are.

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