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As promised I have invited some friends and colleagues to write on the topic of sexual harassment, sexual harassment in the workplace, and the “MeToo” movement. Today two writers:
Jess is a VIU philosophy grad (technically) who just missed Bob. After several attempts at settling down in Canada, Jess has relocated to the Japanese countryside where she will stay for at as long as it takes to achieve inner peace/creative output. She annually self- publishes a zine called The Free Wheel. She is the author of “Letter from Japan” published occasionally and often on the first of each month. Visit The Free Wheel on Facebook here.
Janet Vickers thinks and writes about the human condition in her poetry and blog posts. Her books include “Infinite Power” (Ekstasis 2016) “Impermanence” (Ekstasis, 2012), “You Were There” (Lipstick Press, 2006) and “Arcana” (Lipstick, 2008).
Jess writes from Japan:
It’s bittersweet, all this sexual harassment business coming to the fore. On one hand, how seriously it’s being taken is a good sign we’re ready to go forward as a society with new standards and awareness. But on the other, we’ve had to face the fact that it’s much more prevalent among those – and in those institutions – we wouldn’t expect. It got me thinking about how professional boundaries might not actually serve to protect after all – but actually put women in more of a predicament when they are working under a man who does not respect these boundaries. And how at this point, it’s the woman’s job.
There is no doubt that many men have a pathological, dangerous sexual entitlement to women’s bodies, and will take it as far as they can get away with. There is no excuse for it and they are entirely in the wrong. Let it be clear; I don’t deny this. What I do deny is the idea that women are never at fault every time a man follows through on an unwanted sexual advance. We have to acknowledge the grey area, and the women’s responsibility in that area.
Inappropriate sexual conduct exists on a spectrum, ranging from unsolicited comments to non-consensual action. On this spectrum exist situations that are nuanced, with men not forcing but testing, and women who are uncomfortable but are unwilling or unable to make it clear. These men, instead of being labeled and ostracized, need guidance, awareness, and even forgiveness – by women. And women need to give it in the form of firmer boundaries, sooner.
It’s just the way it is that men are more often on the power end of the deal – as the bosses, teachers, mentors of women. This results in situations where there is 1:1 private time with a woman they might be attracted to. If this desire supersedes their respect for professional standards, the man might test these boundaries with boldness that they have not only become accustomed to and rewarded for in other contexts, but have been told in various multimedia forms that women find attractive. Some of these men are correct, resulting in a mutually satisfying, ethically ambiguous affair. Some of them are delusional, resulting in either a humiliating rejection or a sexual harassment case.
The point is, they think they are allowed. In either situation they think there will be no repercussion no matter how it turns out, so they take the risk. And for a long time they’ve been right. So that’s what they’ve grown up in. Now that the tides have turned and women are becoming bolder in advocating for themselves – and believed – men are being confronted with the reality that it’s in fact not okay to initiate this behaviour in a position of power, because it might be simple for you, but in the woman’s mind – especially a young one – it’s much more complicated, and when it’s not clear what to do in the moment, or when there’s no precedent to draw on, one does nothing. And doing nothing in the case of a sexual advance means following the lead.
Women have more responsibility than we seem to be willing to admit here, especially in a professional setting. Not by “asking for it”, but by letting it happen. We think men should know better. The fact is, they sometimes don’t. For reasons both cultural and biological, they are much more inclined to misread signals, and this is not an excuse but a reason for their bold moves. It unfortunately becomes the woman’s responsibility to put them back in their place as our mentor, teacher, boss, whatever; to remind them of their responsibilities to us, and if they don’t get it then, to report it now and not later.
Besides the confusion/inaction a young subordinate woman might feel when an older man in authority comes on to her, there’s also the women with experience who know full well the inappropriateness and whose reasons for inaction amount to giving their power to the offender. For instance, when women think they will be sacrificing career advancement for not accepting an advance, that’s their fault. It’s not necessarily the case, and even if it is, fighting that battle is worth more than staying with that boss. When the man tries, it’s the woman’s responsibility not to let – damn the consequences.
Consider Louis CK. The fact that he asked the women if he could masturbate in front of them doesn’t seem to factor at all into his public opinion of his misconduct which lumps him in with the rest of the recent – much more severe – Hollywood predators. But if true, it makes all the difference. It’s what separates a sick predator from a sad pervert. It’s what gives the women the choice, the power. And if a woman says yes to that because she feels she has to, she is not using her power responsibly.
Janet relates a story from her past:
When I went to Secondary school in the UK, there was an incident that remains vivid in my mind. A popular boy in our class rummaged through the bag of a girl and found a sanitary napkin. He hoisted it up as a prize and tossed to another boy who tossed it to another. It went around the classroom like this for a minute or two. The girl who owned it was red with embarrassment. It was as though she was to blame for this. She desperately tried to reach it, to snatch it from the laughing boys making sport of her menstrual cycle.
This event symbolizes so much about the values of patriarchy – values that have taken fifty years for me to understand.
The first is to blame the victim. At the time it was clear to me that the embarrassment was not hers to own – it was the boys who shamefully took something from her and threw it around.
In a society where males win medals for killing more children than women can give birth to, life is merely a resource. Giving birth, menstruating, rape, assault, domestic abuse are symbols of male dominance. Hunger, pain, reflection or feelings do not count in patriarchal society. It is the record of crusading warriors and their killing that counts, that defines history and the future.
The world of family, love, nurture, comfort and compassion belongs only to the reality of the conquered and the prey.
This sounds really extreme and men who love and care for others will not agree with this.
So what is it about the power that drives civilization, the laws and the institutions we rely on to survive that makes our lived experiences irrelevant? What is it about this time where patriarchy stumbles into mindless brutality, that makes it so difficult to be honest about those feelings we suppress? What is it about victims of bullying and rape that they must be publicly shamed for what others do to them? How have we allowed justice and morality to be so diluted that arguments become contests between two sides fighting to win the argument without fixing the problem?
Zosia Bielski writes that we need “Concrete measures for enacting cultural and institutional change – conversations more complicated than hashtagged confessions. From the ground up, we need to start with schools imparting deeper knowledge to young minds about consent, empathy, entitlement, bodily autonomy and bystander behaviour.” We Owe Sexual Abuse Survivors More Than Me Too. Globe and Mail Opinion, October 17, 2017.
Your comments are welcome here or on the companion Facebook page.