Stories of Sexual Harassment: Will You Ask? Will You Listen?
Harass (verb) 1. to annoy persistently 2. to create an unpleasant or hostile situation especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical contact
Go ahead. Ask them.
Ask the women in your life--moms and sisters, wives and friends, daughters and neighbors: as a man, ask them, if, as women, they've ever experienced sexual harassment. A leering look or sexually charged remark from a boss. An invite from a married male colleague for drinks after work. A dirty joke shared in mixed company designed to embarrass or shock. An outright pass from a supervisor with the unspoken or spoken understanding that if said pass is accepted one's career might just advance faster.
Ask. And then just listen.
I guarantee much of the time you will be shocked by the responses, by the truth that unwanted sexual attention by men towards women in the workplace is still so much more prevalent and common than society, and men, want to face up to. Almost all the women I know have at least one such story to share, often many more. The fact it takes revelations around a Harvey Weinstein to remind us of this ongoing reality is all the more sad. Weinstein is the now quickly falling and fading mega-powerful Hollywood producer whose apparently well deserved reputation as a lothario and harasser of women, was first reported in a blockbuster New York Times story last week.
His story might be more shocking if it wasn't so typical. A powerful man uses the power of his position to intimidate, harass, or exploit women. It can be a producer or the President, a minister or a CEO, a blue collar boss or a white collar manager. The setting matters less than the power dynamic, a relationship within which the one who has less power is subtly or not so subtly pushed or threatened to "just play along" for if they do not, the implication is clear. Careers will be delayed, detoured, derailed or destroyed.
The time for self congratulation as a society is over, the comforting myth that we've come "so far". Yes, the atmosphere in many workplaces is "better" for women, better than in generations past and yet still this stubborn societal sin of harassment (and its twin, bias) hangs on. We may not be in the age of "Mad Men" any more but in so many major industries, women are grossly underrepresented in circles of power: high tech, government, filmmaking, and religion, to name but a few. This dearth of female leadership creates an atmosphere within which harassment easily flourishes, a locker room mentality. It's far too easy and normative for "boys to be boys" when boys are the only people in the room.
I've been blessed in my life to be surrounded by smart, committed, ambitious and talented women, both in my family and in my work. I've grown up in a faith that declares the call by God to serve others has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with faithfulness. And I do so want to live in a world where all of us are given the chance to become who God makes us to be, without any fear or any prejudice. That's the vision. That's the hope. For me.
But even more important, that's the hope for Chloe and Caroline and Emily and Kara. For Barb and Kathy and Lynne and Claire and Mary. For Mom and Aunt Carol and Nancy and Linda. Who are the women in your life who need to tell you their story? Who need to be heard? And more important, who needs to soar, to simply be given the chance to take the talents and the gifts that their God has given them and then succeed? Shine?
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