"She Would Caress His Shoulders And Neck:" Female Sexual Harassment Gets Its MomentS

Male sexual harassment claims against women are on the rise — does this mean we're finally accepting the existence of female sexual aggression?

Coverage of male sexual harassment victims has generally focused on same-sex cases, and Sam Hananel's piece for the AP is no exception. But it does include this tidbit:

Cases involving women making unwanted advances toward men may also be rising as women make up a growing part of the work force. Last year, the Regal Entertainment Group, which operates a national chain of movie theaters, agreed to pay $175,000 to settle a lawsuit by a male employee who claimed a female co-worker repeatedly grabbed his crotch at work.

When the employee complained to his supervisor and the theater's then-general manager, he claims, she failed to stop the harassment and instead retaliated against the victim with unfair discipline and lower performance evaluations.

While Hananel notes that the percentage of sexual harassment claims filed by men doubled in 1980 and 2009, from 8 to 16%, it's surprisingly difficult to find out what percentage of these claims are filed against women. But what's not hard is finding individual cases of female-on-male harassment. Cynthia M. Piccolo of Medhunters.com mentions the 2000 case Casiano vs. AT&T Corp., in which "The male plaintiff said that his female supervisor gave him a satisfactory evaluation only, because he wouldn't submit to her sexual advances, which resulted in his being ineligible for a management program." And back in 2007, MSNBC's Eve Tahmincioglu noted that the first-ever court case of sexual harassment against a man, brought in 1995, named a woman as the perpetrator. In this case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Domino's Pizza after a female supervisor harassed a male manager: "She would caress his shoulders and neck, and pinched his buttocks," the suit said.

Is the fact that more sexual harassment claims against women are coming to light, and more men are willing to come forward and file them, a sign that society is beginning to accept — and punish — women as aggressors? Perhaps — but we still have an extremely fraught relationship with female aggression, criminal or not. Pickup artists claim that men can't handle female pursuit in a romantic context, and when women attack others, we laugh and look the other way. An extreme example — alleged murderer Amy Bishop — leads to extensive cultural handwringing. What does it mean, we ask, that a woman can kill?

Hananel's piece treats female-on-male harassment as something of an anomaly. Though he mentions the Regal Entertainment Group example, he also says, "most charges involve men harassing other men." And he leads with a male-on-male case: "John Pilkington's boss wouldn't take no for an answer. During more than two years as a food runner at an upscale steakhouse in Scottsdale, Ariz., Pilkington says his male supervisor groped, fondled and otherwise sexually harassed him more than a dozen times." Are situations like Pilkington's actually more common, or are men simply more willing to come forward when they're harassed by other men? It's a complicated question, as homophobia may play a role — some men might avoid speaking out for fear of being perceived as gay. But for others, being victimized by a woman might seem more embarrassing than being harassed by a man. EEOC attorney Mary Jo O'Neill says that for male harassment victims, "everyone expects that they would be able to handle it and take care of it themselves." Might this expectation be especially strong if the harasser is a member of "the weaker sex?" And might journalists consciously or unconsciously choose to focus on cases like Pilkington's because a male aggressor still seems more believable? Tahmincioglu's lead is telling:

We often talk about sexual harassment against women in the workplace but for this column I'm going to address the growing problem of sexual harassment against men in the workplace.

Are you laughing? You probably are.

Of course, sexual harassment isn't funny, but perhaps people are more likely to laugh when it comes from women, who are still supposed to be passive in bed, in bars, and in the workplace. Whether she's Naomi Campbell, a supervisor at Domino's, or just a woman openly flirting, ladies who defy this expectation make us nervous. And while this may be starting to change — Casiano vs. AT&T Corp. was dismissed, while Regal Entertainment Group had to cough up some money — we still have a long way to go.

No Is No: More Men File Sexual Harassment Claims [AP, via Traverse City Record-Eagle]

Related: Male Sexual Harassment Is Not A Joke [MSNBC]
The Unexpected World Of Sexual Harassment [Medhunters.com]

Earlier: Why Aren't There More Female Pickup Artists?
Naomi Campbell, Miss Piggy, And The Joke Of The Violent Woman
"Women Can Be Just As Violent As Men:" The Real Lesson Of Amy Bishop