Some good reading on sexual harassment and being a decent person

Last week I attended a sexual harassment prevention training seminar. This was the first  of several seminars that Mozilla is holding as part of its commendable Diversity and Inclusion Strategy. The content was basically “how to not get sued for sexual harassment in the workplace”. That’s a low bar, but also a reasonable place to start, and the speaker was both informative and entertaining. I’m looking forward to the next seminar on Unconcious Bias and Inclusion, which sounds like it will cover more subtle issues.

With the topic of sexual harassment in mind, I stumbled across a Metafilter discussion from last year about an essay by Genevieve Valentine in which she describes and discusses a number of incidents of sexual harassment that she has experienced throughout her life. I found the essay interesting, but the Metafilter discussion thread even more so. It’s a long thread (594 comments) but mostly high quality. It focuses initially on one kind of harassment that some men perform on public transport, but quickly broadens to be about (a) the full gamut of harassing behaviours that many women face regularly, (b) the responses women make towards these behaviours, and (c) the reactions, both helpful and unhelpful, that people can and do have towards those responses. Examples abound, ranging from the disconcerting to the horrifying.

There are, of course, many other resources on the web where one can learn about such topics. Nonetheless, the many stories that viscerally punctuate this particular thread (and the responses to those stories) helped my understanding of this topic — in particular, how bystanders can intervene when a woman is being harassed — more so than some dryer, more theoretical presentations have. It was well worth my time.

5 Responses to Some good reading on sexual harassment and being a decent person

  1. s/when women are getting harassed/when someone is getting harassed/

    The phenomenon is not limited to women

    • Nicholas Nethercote

      This observation is accurate, but not particularly helpful.

      Why? First, sexual harassment is something that happens overwhelmingly to women. Second, the Metafilter thread was entirely about sexual harassment of women, in response to an essay written by a woman about the sexual harassment she had experienced.

      Furthermore, in discussions about women’s experiences, it’s *extremely* common for somebody to come along and make a “but what about men’s experiences?” comment. So common, in fact, that’s it’s often satirized as “what about teh menz?!”. This even comes up in the Metafilter thread, e.g. http://www.metafilter.com/129269/Dealing-with-it#5048887. See
      http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/10/18/phmt-argument/ for further discussion.

  2. I’m in some agreement with both Sara and Nicholas.

    I’ve been sexually harassed more than once, by women and men, and most of the time it wasn’t taken seriously because there’s a social attitude that sexual harassment isn’t something that really happens to men, or even that they should welcome it when it comes from women. That attitude has to die in a fire, because it’s terrible and harmful.

    That said, everything I’ve heard and read indicates that sexual harassment disproportionately happens to women. More human beings are likely to benefit from measures that specifically target sexual harassment against women, and “the menz” is a common derail (intentional or otherwise) in discussions about this topic.

    So, as one of those hypothetical men, I’d like to both justify the observation that it does happen to men—because it happened to me—and I hope that we can leave it at that and focus on the more pressing issue of what happens to hundreds of millions of women with alarming frequency.

  3. Ciprian Khlud

    I fully agree the Nicholas take on the issue, as we have to scale our response fairly proportional to the thread that women are exposed. Also, I may note that is fair to adjust the response as typically women are more vulnerable in societies which we may name them as with “traditional values”, where women are condemned if they take attitude.

    In a Western country where is not accepted the violence against women, we can talk other issues that are both women/men (like abusing the spouse, where the estimation of women abusing men is around 40%), but at least on the sexual harassments, women are much more vulnerable today.

    Here are two videos about women sexual abuse (which is the next step after harrasment): (from youtube user “C0nc0rdance”)
    Preventing Sexual Assault: (it also discusses the geneder roles in abuses)
    http://youtu.be/axPoVKo1mPM
    The “1 in 4″ rape statistics: Fact-checking the numbers
    http://youtu.be/Hog9Nlf-dRs