“Let us begin the revolution and let us begin it with love: All of us, black, white, and gold, male and, female, have it, within our power to create a world we could bear out of the desert we inhabit for we hold our very fate in our hands.”
~ Kate Millet, Sexual Politics (1968)
A new 21st century revolution has begun by women. And it might be the most significant since the 1960s-1970s Women’s Liberation Movement. The ironic thing is that the Movement of the ’60s and ’70s brought about a backlash against women that has lasted to this day. As women became professionally and sexually liberated, resentment against them escalated and more obstacles were put in their way as they strove to attain success on their own terms.
In recent years, the focus has been on the gender wage gap and that cursed glass ceiling. But both are moot if we cannot solve the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. From the stories we have heard recently it should be crystal clear to everyone that women have been and continue to be driven out of jobs, companies and entire industries due to the scourge of sexual harassment.
On Sunday, Oprah Winfrey, in her acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards upon being the first African-American woman to receive the Cecil B. deMille award for lifetime achievement, referred to the recent accusations of sexual harassment by many prominent actresses. Her powerful and inspiring address included these words:
“Recy Taylor died ten days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up. Their time is up. And I just hope—I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth, like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years, and even now tormented, goes marching on. It was somewhere in Rosa Parks’ heart almost 11 years later, when she made the decision to stay seated on that bus in Montgomery, and it’s here with every woman who chooses to say, “Me too.” And every man—every man who chooses to listen.”
Those last words, “And every man—every man who chooses to listen,” is what this post is about today. It is unfortunate that there long has been a disconnect between what too many men and most women consider to be sexual misconduct, and that a number of men remain confused over what constitutes harassment and inappropriate behavior in professional settings. But there are many, many decent men who have never taken advantage of subordinates or other coworkers, colleagues and business associates, male or female. Alas, however, even those decent men can be unwitting or unwilling enablers, and the reason is that sexual aggression toward women traditionally has been viewed as benign and amusing. Culturally, men’s sexual misconduct has been excused as “boys will be boys” or euphemistically and even romantically described as being a “ladies’ man” or a “Don Juan.” But through the generations most adults have always realized that those terms have merely sugarcoated a dark and sinister underbelly of sexual crimes and destruction of lives.
Having now arrived at this watershed, it is crucial for men to understand once and for all why the dam has burst on women’s outrage and anger and why we are exceptionally motivated and determined to abolish sexual harassment. As the Movement indicates, “Time’s Up.”
So it is with new hope that women and men together can eradicate sexual misconduct in all workplaces — which also include institutions of learning where students do their work. In light of recent events, many men are concerned about how they will be perceived by women with regard to overstepping boundaries, and they are concerned about misunderstandings. To that concern, following are some basic guidelines to consider:
The underpinnings of etiquette comprise awareness, respect, consideration and helpfulness — think of the acronym ARCH, like a bridge to understanding. Treating women in the same professional and thoughtful manner that you treat important business associates, and that you expect people to treat you, is a good start.
If men apply the same principles of ethical behavior and emotional intelligence that is expected of every professional to the manner in which they treat the women in their workplace or industry, men should have little fear of stepping over the bounds of decency and good taste.
But men should not stop at their own behavior in the quest to curb sexual harassment. They should also stand up to sexual misconduct when they see or learn about it by intervening and / or reporting incidents. Surely if a man holds a position of authority, he has the ability to nip such activity in the proverbial bud. Turning a blind eye to such behavior simply enables it, and that is not acceptable, honorable or ethical.
A man might ask himself, “Am I guilty of sexually harassing anyone? How am I to know?” Those questions are insightful because until a man makes the effort to see what sexual harassment looks like from a woman’s perspective, he won’t know. While a man cannot fill the shoes of a woman and walk the proverbial mile in them, he can take the time to get to know women better and try to understand and appreciate their worth as colleagues.
Many men have female colleagues, coworkers and managers with whom they are close or who they respect in a professional sense. These are women with whom such men are unlikely to engage in sexual misconduct, either in ignorance or with purpose. It will be helpful to keep those women in mind when working with women at all levels and in every situation. It will also be helpful to keep in mind the women a man values in his personal life — his girlfriend, fiancée, wife, mother, daughter, niece, granddaughter, goddaughter. How does he want the men with whom they come into contact to treat them?
Finally, men need to imagine what it feels like to be compromised in any number of situations, and refrain from inflicting that feeling on anyone else in any way.
The Bottom Line
Harassing, bullying and compromising a woman into capitulating to another’s demands in order to keep her job or advance in her career robs her in three primary areas:
- A way to support herself and her family.
- Her ability to compete and fulfill herself professionally and creatively.
- Her sense of worth, dignity and self-respect.
Finally, short-circuiting the ability of millions to contribute to society deprives everyone by reducing the pool of talent available to — just for example — develop cures for diseases, invent technology to make us safer and healthier, and discover ways to feed the world and stop aggression.
Decent men and women can work together to stop the scourge of sexual harassment. As for the men who have harassed and continue to do so, time’s up.
Until next time,