If it walks and talks like sexual harassment, that’s what it is.
Western society is making more noise than ever about the elimination of patriarchy. The pay gap is being combated, women have a variety of choices regarding work/family balance, and rape is no longer dismissed as part of a woman’s existence. Victim blaming (for the most part) is collectively shunned, and there are far fewer loopholes in the prosecution of rape.
However, although rape/invasive touching is dealt with harshly, there is a whole host of inappropriate behaviour over which a thin veil is drawn. It is usually perpetuated by men aged 35 plus (although many are younger), and stems from a sexual superiority complex born of another era. Women experience it a lot in the workplace, especially in male dominated industries with older employers. I am talking, of course, about the string of lewd remarks, derogatory comments, and patronising put-downs that follow the female species like toilet paper stuck to a stiletto heel.
Let me quickly say that I do not in any way blame the entirety of man-kind. I am very lucky that the vast majority of the men in my life, older and younger, are disgusted by this attitude and will step in whenever they get a whiff of it. However, there have been times in my life when I have come up against it, and had no idea how to deal with it.
The reason for this lack of coping strategy is that men infallibly dismiss it as “a joke”. That is, no matter how uncomfortable/offended women are, our feelings don’t matter because “that’s what men do”. They believe, perhaps subconsciously, that female sexuality is governed by men, and exploit they this. It’s a power play designed to strip women of any prowess, and thus quell the insecurity this kind of male feels lest he be outshone.
For example; an older male co-worker of mine used to greet me with comments such as: “Nice boots – shame you’re not wearing them and nothing else!” I once arrived at a party all dressed up and he whispered in my ear: “I’d pay for that!” He is married with children. Of course, rather than standing up for myself, I did what most of us do. I brushed it all off with an uncomfortable laugh and ran to the other side of the room. They interpret this reaction as “she enjoyed/encouraged it,”when in fact the opposite is true. When we sense a predator, we instinctively want to get out of danger quickly and without fuss. The last thing we want is conflict, particularly if our employment is on the line.
I’m not the only one. A friend of mine had an older employer (also married with children) who would “jokingly” proposition her, until one day he said to her, without a hint of humour: “Come to me when you get serious about it.” She was 19 at the time. Another friend was touched and disparaged by an older male co-worker (AGAIN, married with children). When she complained about it to the (male) powers that be, they asked her to keep quiet because he was “such a good contributor to the company.” Yet again, these women were expected to put up and shut up. Their feelings didn’t matter; the whims of men took priority.
Although this is increasingly condemned, the progress is slow. Patriarchy is so far entrenched in these generations of males that there is no teaching them otherwise. After contemplating my experiences, I regret staying silent. I regret not telling that co-worker and others like him to categorically f*** off. So ladies, make some noise. We may not teach them anything, but they will know that we won’t stand for it. Let’s eliminate sexual patriarchy; it needs to go.
Image via Wisegeek.org