Men! You have a mother, wife, woman, daughter, sister, aunt… there’s a woman in your life who is being sexually harassed. What are you doing to protect her? She is relying on you to at least speak up for her. The majority of sexual harassment accusations are made against men so it will not lessen without the help of men. Here are some things men can do to confront this scourge.
Ask any of the women in your life to share with you any experiences she has had with sexual harassment and share with you how she felt. Before asking the question, assure her that you will not become emotional and want to lash out because of her honest response. Sex and sexual harassment is still a taboo topic in our country.
Call out your “pardner” the next time he talks about women as things and not as human beings capable of being hurt. For example, stop him when he calls a woman; “it”, “de ting”, “reds”, “gyal”, “bitch”, “whore”, or “slut”. These descriptors add a layer of separation between men and the person they are degrading, which blinds them to the fact if they are allowed to do this to a woman, the same dehumanization can happen to their mother, daughter, wife etc. The more we dehumanize anyone, the easier it is to abuse them.
Don’t share vulgar jokes or anecdotes with your co-workers. Let’s get something straight; the office is no place for the sharing of vulgar jokes or anecdotes, unless you are in a seminar on sexual harassment, and giving examples of what is not acceptable. Regardless of whether it is spoken aloud, whispered, or shared on social media or email, explicit references or comments about sex should be confined to your friends or intimate partner.
Don’t block a person from passing. Blocking a corridor so that a person must brush up against you is aggressive and intimidating. Allow your co-workers the freedom to pass without invading their personal space. This includes behaviour like sitting on someone’s desk or just getting too close.
A definition of sexual harassment taken from the Australian Human Rights Commission is: “…an unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended, humiliated and/or intimidated, where a reasonable person would anticipate that reaction in the circumstances”. Sexual Harassment is not constrained by sexual orientation and can happen to women, men, transgender, and non-gender-conforming people.
In my own lifetime, I have seen women move from accommodating sexual harassment to finding their voice to say, “Stop!” In a patriarchal society like ours there are men who have explained to me that don’t understand what is the problem? They ask innocently, “Can I not even make a joke?” Of course you can, but you must first establish boundaries with people; have a conversation about what you think is allowable to say and how you think it can be said. We need to talk about what sexual harassment is and is not. We need to have grown-up, explicit conversations about sex and sexuality that do not try to hide or mystify it. We need to pass legislation about Sexual Harassment and implement sexual harassment policies in Ministries, State Enterprises and the Military. Come on guys, #Let’s do this!