Just Brush It Off! (Sexual harassment at work)

Weinstein

Sexual assault in Hollywood has been a hot topic for a while now (Weinstein et al). I’m a bit slow to form an opinion, so I’ve kept quiet, but just when it seems the story has finished, a new victim steps forward and tells of some horror that happened to her (or occasionally him). I think I’ve finally worked out how I see this, so here’s my take.

On the whole, people have reacted to the Weinstein stories with disgust, surprise and anger which is good, although how surprised people have been that this happens has surprised me. Fortunately there are plenty of women speaking out to say that this is not an isolated problem, this is endemic to almost all workplaces, which is definitely my experience. However, I think there is a danger of the discussion getting diluted, with one line of thinking being:

But a lot of these experiences are not a big deal, why does it matter if someone puts his hand on your knee, just brush it off!

I do understand this line of thinking, because most of experiences I’ve had weren’t a big deal at all, and I wasn’t bothered by them.  However, the point is

                                 NONE OF THEM SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED.

No harassment, no matter how small, makes the world a better place, and while most instances might be nothing much, the accumulation of many many instances makes life more difficult than it needs to be, it drives a wedge between people, it wears them down. In a workplace the focus should be on the job, with a degree of professionalism as the norm. And each small instance makes the big, serious instances more likely to happen, because they normalise wrong behaviour.

For me there are two straightforward demands that should come out of this, and apply to all people of any gender and in any job:

  • Professionalism should exist in every workplace, and no sexual intimidation should ever happen. No one should have to fend off unwanted advances. Focus should be on the job, it shouldn’t be sexual at all. (I realise there may be exceptions, after all many people meet their partner at work, but I don’t think it’s extreme to say that actual sexual interaction and banter should be kept outside work, so that people can choose if they are part of it or not.)
  • A level of polite respect should exist between strangers in the street. No one should be demanding attention from strangers without good reason. No one should be shouting any insults, personal remarks or trying to touch a stranger. This also goes for racist or disablist comments too, or just personal comments to a stranger, why is it necessary?

I’d be interested to hear if you have some disagreement with those requests, maybe you think they’re too extreme and controlling. I believe much of how we treat each other (superficially, at least) is down to habit rather than some innate ‘rightness’ or inevitability, and so if the current habits are harmful, we need new ones.

So anyway, when people shout about the smaller incidences that have happened to them, it is not because somebody touching you on the knee is traumatic (usually, anyway), it’s because there needs to be a change to how we treat colleagues and strangers, and that includes the small stuff.

But why do the protestations have to be so shouty and demanding? Why can’t everyone make the point calmly?

This applies to not just this issue, but a few other matters of discrimination affecting small groups. It’s natural to recoil when you hear someone being unpleasant, even about  a legitimate grievance. However, I believe it’s essential to be shouty in order to bring about change. The thing is this:

PEOPLE DON’T LIKE CHANGE

And altering how people work together and interact, is a massive undertaking. In the past mistreated people have reasonably and calmly expressed that there is a problem in how they are treated, which sometimes lead to others thinking ‘Oh yes, that seems unfair’. However, because people don’t like change, just thinking this didn’t alter their behaviour at all. Everything stayed the same.

It seems the only way to get people to change is by making ‘staying the same’ more distressing than making a change. An effective (if highly irritating) way of doing this is by being loud, obnoxious, demanding and unrelenting. This is what I believe we are seeing at the moment, and it seems to be working. When change happens, which certainly seems more likely now than ever before, then all the demanding can stop.

However, my opinion is always a work in progress, if you spot any flaws in my thinking, or have anything to add, please comment below, I look forward to hearing your take on this…

 

 

 

21 thoughts on “Just Brush It Off! (Sexual harassment at work)

  1. I can only speak as a male, with a male’s perspective, so apologise for the one-sidedness of what follows.

    I don’t know whether it’s been my nature or from my upbringing (probably both) but I’ve always understood that being respectful of other people, especially women, was ‘gentlemanly’. Certainly I was brought up to open doors for people, especially elders and women, stand up when they entered the room, shake hands with whoever was introduced to me, and so on. So I’ve never felt happy about the way many people disrespected others they somehow saw as lesser, much less abuse them to their faces.

    I think we all have been long aware of sexual harassment at work and elsewhere, and of jokes about the casting couch, and how tabloids in particular sexualise and demean women. Luckily the jobs I’ve had (mostly in teaching) have largely meant I’ve managed to avoid directly witnessing such harassment, but I’ve always felt deeply uncomfortable about it and angry that fellow so-called men could perpetrate such attitudes and behaviours.

    I’m sure many ‘real’ men felt powerless to combat this nauseating current in society, brought home to me when we had to protect our daughter and her children from appalling domestic abuse and support her fighting the perpetrator in the courts.

    I really hope that #MeToo and successive memes will — finally and fundamentally — change society so that disrespect will no longer enjoy the appalling tolerance that it has had for far too long.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It definitely feels like a change is happening in many ways. It’s tough because of course there are many men who feel exactly the way you do and have always treated women as equals, but who tend to get caught in the crossfire of blame. I understand why the shouting needs to happen (as I’ve explained) but I don’t like the way it can cause tension and guilt between the sexes.

      Even the men who have acted in slightly shitty ways and disrespected women are still only doing what society, the media and entertainment have always told them to do – that doesn’t make it ok, but these aren’t evil people, just misguided.

      Hopefully, when it’s over, the change will give everyone, whatever gender, a chance to listen to and respect each other.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. “By making the same more distressing.” Yes, this. The major issue with all of this is that it wasn’t seen as wrong, aberrant, or out of the ordinary. So a lot of the men who are being called to task for it are honestly surprised that anything is being done. I don’t think this is an individual problem, but the fault of any society that would let it go this far. Change is difficult, but it is far harder in the long run to remain in such a toxic place.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, exactly! I think the problem with a toxic environment is that when people have been living with the toxins so long, they don’t notice they are there anymore. It’s like living next to a sewage plant, after a while you don’t notice the smell, so when people complain you think THEY are the ones with the problem.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That is a perfect metaphor! I was thinking something similar. You habituate to a bad smell or a steady noise after a while until you don’t even realize it’s there anymore. And if anyone does, it’s like the end of The Emperor’s New Clothes were no one wants to point it out or call attention to it, because you’re too embarrassed to admit that you didn’t notice.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. At heart we need to be respectful of others. At the same time society sends out very sexualized messages whether as part of product promotion or ads, whether sitcom’s etc.
    This reminds me of the discussions around school yard bullying and how young kids and teens are told it is wrong while at the same time they see this same type of behaviour being perpetuated by politicians during question period in Parliament Hill or in the provincial legislatures.

    It’s the mixed messages and double standard we regularly witness that makes sexual harassment or any other form of disrespect a tough battle to fight and bring positive change.

    Reminds me of a statement I read recently from a person who lives with autism. It’s not the autism that creates challenges in their daily living, but it’s other people don’t know how to treat an autistic person that makes it hard to live with autism.

    I have experienced the same problem when it comes to living with an acquired brain injury. It’s the inconsiderate people that makes my brain injury the biggest part of my challenge.

    In the same way, it’s not people’s sexuality, but rather the disrespect of a person’s sexual identity that creates the problems.

    Time for change in many areas that demand greater respect that we as a civilized society should somehow be able to get it right.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely true, i think we all tend to forget what a powerful effect the media has on us, how it distorts our perceptions.

      With something like brain injury it’s amazing how little information there is out there, so people don’t know how to respond to a BI sufferer. Add to that the intolerance and bigotry shown to people with disabilities (on TV, by politicians) and the result becomes damaging.

      To have this kind of sea change of attitudes and raising of awareness towards disability, illness and BIs (as we’ve seen with Weinstein) would be brilliant, and is much needed. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re there yet, not enough people are listening. But soon.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I totally agree with you. I used to work in a large media organisation and was always having to deal with annoying so called “jokey” sexual comments. It was endemic in the culture of the place. To survive you had to develop a smart mouth and become hardened to this sort of irritating behaviour. Although this type of harassment seems minor compared with some of the abuse reported, I don’t think that it is a healthy environment in which to work and just causes stress.

    Now that offenders like Weinstein have been outed, it is great that people of both sexes are finally speaking out loudly against all types of sexual harassment. There are still a lot of organisations in our society that are not supporting employees who are victims of abuse and they should be made to feel very uncomfortable if they don’t do anything about it. Everyone is entitled to feel relaxed and safe when doing their job or going about their daily business.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s truly ridiculous that this: ‘Everyone is entitled to feel relaxed and safe when doing their job or going about their daily business.’ isn’t standard and accepted practice.

      It will be interesting to see how long it takes for changes to happen. I’ve noticed a few at work, but some habits are very ingrained, nothing is going to change over night.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. So true… being an Indian girl I know a lot about the supposedly strong gender cult and extreme harassment at work places and. I personally never felt like the weaker gender because I am a strong Bengali girl but in northern and western India females are synonymous to cooking, cleaning and catering, no matter how educated they are… but other than being physically assaulted, always being made to believe that you are weak even though

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s incredibly unfair, but your strength and brilliance still exist, no matter how others try to dismiss it. Do you feel there is a change happening in India? Are women able to speak out more and make demands?
      Stay strong, my friend 🙂

      Like

      1. There certainly is a change in the condition of women but it is limited to big cities. I, being from the most city in the most developed state, Gujarat, never came across many problems but still there are many places where even the education of girls is just so much that she can get married to a good family.
        But we shall make a difference with persistence!
        Thankyou for your concern.😊

        Liked by 3 people

  6. One interesting facet of the allegations within the entertainment industry is that people are acting as if this was all hidden. This is the one workplace where the behaviour has been widely known for, oh, about a century.
    Here’s a scenario to consider: a producer tells an actress that he needs a nude scene in a movie in order to sell it. Is that harassment or actual reality in that business?
    That is of course different than asking for personal sexual favours in order to get or keep a job.
    We live in interesting times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We definitely live in interesting times! I’m not sure about the answer to your question, the job of an actor is to do what the script tells them, if they don’t want to, they don’t do the film. Whether nudity in films is gratuitous and whether actors feel pushed into doing something they don’t want to, after signing up, that’s a different matter. What do you think?

      Like

  7. False accusations of harassment are far more common then you might think and I consider the immodest way the majority of women choose to dress as a form of sexual harassment.

    That said I absolutely refuse to be in a room alone with a female professional with the door closed – unless my wife is present with me.

    Like

    1. I’m not really sure how to respond to your comment, since I know none of the incidents I talk about are false because they happened to me.
      It seems strange to me to equate the clothes someone is wearing to violence, threats of violence or intimidation, but maybe you have extreme experiences that create that association, so I don’t want to dismiss them out of hand.
      The same with refusing to be alone with a professional woman – I would be shocked if a woman said the same of a professional man, but would assume something terrible had happened, so I shall assume the same here.
      I hope you are able to deal with whatever has caused you such distress and consequently blinds you to empathy for others, and that you find some peace of mind.

      Like

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