Sexual Harassment Is A Crime Of Power, Not Passion

Illustration for article titled Sexual Harassment Is A Crime Of Power, Not Passion

In the wake of a new study on the nature of sexual harassment, a spate of articles have been published exploring the new digital dangers for women in the work place. But where are the solutions?


UPI summarizes the University of Minnesota study, which makes the point that the stereotype of sexual harassment focuses on women being manipulated by higher ups, but women supervisors seem to be bearing the brunt of the harassment:

Fifty percent of women supervisors, but one-third of women who do not supervise others, reported workplace sexual harassment, U.S. researchers said. "This study provides the strongest evidence to date supporting the theory that sexual harassment is less about sexual desire than about control and domination," study primary investigator Heather McLaughlin of the University of Minnesota said in a statement. "Male co-workers, clients and supervisors seem to be using harassment as an equalizer against women in power."

In addition to this grim news, the study also includes more disturbing information about the second most prevalent type of harassment:

The sociologists found that, in addition to workplace power, gender expression was a strong predictor of workplace harassment. Men who reported higher levels of femininity were more likely to have experienced harassment than less feminine men. More feminine men were at a greater risk of experiencing more severe or multiple forms of sexual harassment (as were female supervisors).

In a separate analysis examining perceived and self-reported sexual orientation, study respondents who reported being labeled as non-heterosexual by others or who self-identified as non-heterosexual (gay, lesbian, bisexual, unsure, other) were nearly twice as likely to experience harassment.

Strangely enough, there just is not good advice for workers dealing with harassment in the workplace. Women already have to deal with the to-bitch-or-not-to-bitch conundrum, which holds that women supervisors are too emotional to lead and when they do show initiative are seen as overly aggressive or mean. Or, we are self-sabotaging ourselves by being too nice, while we are trying to distance ourselves from the bitch label.

Even Pink, the only magazine I am aware of that focuses specifically on women in business internalizes the criticism, admonishing women to "Polish Your Act: Does Your Management Style Need a Makeover?"


These types of articles don't attack the reasons behind harassment, only noting that it occurs and it is helpful to try to deal with it as best we can. Pink published another article, specifically dealing with harassment noting:

FORGET THE TIRADE. Rather than huff and holler when slapped with a discriminatory comment, take the high road in the moment. "My goal is to appeal to the reasonable people in the room and handle myself with class," says Theragenics CEO Christine Jacobs, who recently dealt with one inappropriate remark by remaining silent at the time but later reporting the behavior to the company's chairman. Other people complained as well and the offender was reprimanded.

EDUCATE WITH EMPATHY. When confronted with an inappropriate comment, calmly reply, "How would you feel if someone said that to your daughter?" That's what one former trade magazine editor wishes she had said when her boss jokingly suggested she lay across his lap during a photo shoot. "It shook my confidence," recalls the woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "It was also revealing. I could never look at him the same way and believe he was truly championing me."


However, in the same article, an expert Pink quotes explains that men have problems seeing women outside of the realm of wives, mothers, and daughters. Would invoking the idea that men in the workplace should treat women in the way they would (hopefully) treat their daughters actually help associate women with the daughter/mother/wife roles we are trying to break out of?

The most straight forward advice about dealing with harassment comes from Penelope Trunk, who doesn't think you should report your harassment. She points out that human resources is going to try to protect the company, and most of these cases are very difficult to prove. She also warns career women about the threat of retaliation, and rightfully illustrates explaining that what you lose by taking a stand often outweighs what you gain. However, her ultimate solution leaves me cold. Trunk suggests leveraging the sexual harassment in your favor to move up the corporate ladder. But Trunk also makes the assumption that the harassment is tolerable, which may not be the case.


Ultimately, as long as sexual harassment has been a problem, I am amazed that the onus is always on women to change or adapt to the behavior. Where are the anti-harassment guides aimed at men? And where are the articles that advise men to stop using sexual intimidation to retaliate against successful women in the workplace?

Study: Sexual Harassment Not About Sex [UPI]
Female Supervisors More Susceptible To Workplace Sexual Harassment [Eureka Alert]
Polish Your Act [Pink]
Attitudes toward Women As Managers: Still The Same - Few Women Hold Executive Positions - Women In Business [BNET]
Women Managing Women - Problem Areas Women Leaders Encounter [Inc.]
Sweating The Small Stuff [Pink]
Don't Report Sexual Harassment (In Most Cases) [Brazen Careerist]



Every "non-harrassment" training I have sat in is beyond ridiculous. The examples used are obvious and overt and the same problem exists as in all trainings everywhere—people in the room don't actually think it applies to them.