Who doesn’t like movies like Grease, Terms of Endearement, Tootsie, Clueless, or Men in Black? In fact these movies were the highest grossing movies in their category and are still the most highly rated clips in the media. However, the truth is that all these movies have one fact in common. They all make sexual harassment a joke.
Sexual harassment is, above all, a manifestation of power relations. Treating sexual harassment is not a matter of one training course, but rather a fundamental shaking up of an individuals perceptions and attitudes about the target of their harassment. For this reason, sexual harassment training needs to be embodied within an overall communications training process supported by a ground-up process of inquiry, where the individual perpetrator can realize why they victimize. Without that piece of knowledge, the symptom rather than the actual disease is what gets treated and in fact even it doesn’t. Because the individual perceives training as a punishment rather than an opportunity for growth.
The Legal Dictionary defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that tends to create a hostile or offensive work environment. According to the Unites States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, It is unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Regardless of the form of sexual harassment, it is illegal to purposefully harass someone at work in order to gain any type of sexual favor. However, many cases remain unreported because of fear of embarrassment or termination.
There are two types of sexual harassment, Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment. Quid Pro Quo Harassment occurs when a manager or supervisor withholds or awards job benefits on the basis of sexual favors. This includes work assignments, hiring, termination, promotions or demotions, positive or negative reviews, or any other job related benefit. On the other hand, if any rewards being withheld because the victim refuses to engage in the sexual favor, the company is would be considered guilty of sexual harassment. Both of these practices although very common in the work place, involve the risk of losing a job and with unemployment rate at a steady 7.4 percent, that isn’t something that most people consider a positive outlook. Therefore, so many people keep quiet and remain victimized at their place of work.
So what is the root cause of sexual harassment, and why is it that it’s so common? From a social psychology perspective, the disconnect is in how people view hostility towards men and women. Research has indicated that stereotypes about socially appropriate gender roles for women and men are a driving factor, while the causes of sexual violence include socioeconomics, anger, power, sadism, sexual pleasure, psychopathology, ethical standards, laws, attitudes toward the victims and evolutionary pressures.
Traditional conceptualizations of sexism have focused almost entirely on overt hostility toward women. While historians, anthropologists, feminist scholars, and psychologists have previously suggested that sexism involves positive and negative evaluations of women.
Ambivalent sexism is a theoretical framework which posits that sexism has two sub-components: “hostile sexism” and “benevolent sexism”. Hostile sexism reflects overtly negative evaluations and stereotypes about a gender (e.g., the ideas that women are incompetent and inferior to men). Benevolent sexism represents evaluations of gender that may appear subjectively positive (subjective to the person who is evaluating), but are actually damaging to people and gender equity more broadly (e.g., the ideas that women need to be protected by men).
Besides Television programming, another cause and arena leading to the rise of sexual harassment is on-line and gaming. There is no shortage of examples of harassment online, a Pew Survey published this week is the first of its kind to drill down into the level and types of online harassment. The report, which polled almost 3,000 Internet users, brings to light that women for the most part have it worse off than men, while most people don’t realize it. Although men are more likely to report they experience harassment on the Internet (44 percent of men compared to 37 percent of women), as a general rule, more women have been targeted on social media sites (73 percent women vs. 27% men). Women also tend to face the most severe types of harassment, like stalking and sexual harassment, while men generally face milder issues like name-calling and public embarrassment. Young women are the most likely to experience this severe targeting, with a quarter of women between the ages of 18 and 24 reporting having been stalked or sexually harassed online. Furthermore, the representation and coverage of the matter in the newspapers is certainly very biased. In He Said, She Said, Let’s Hear What the Data Say: Sexual Harassment in the Media, Courts, EEOC, and Social Science, Joni Hersch & Beverly Moran explore the coverage of sexual harassment in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and whether it is consistent with sexual harassment as it is reported in three other sources: a 1994 United States Merit Systems Protection Board (USMSPB) survey, charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from 2006-2010, and complaints filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (EDPa) from 2010-2011. The review of the media coverage suggests that sexual harassment is covered in an intensely local and episodic manner, with little recognition that sexual harassment is a national phenomenon that could be connected to “a larger, social, economic or political trend.” (P. 778.) In comparing the media coverage and the data sets, the authors found that while the reporting of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal generally does not mislead regarding the demographics of sexual harassment claimants, particular stories may downplay the seriousness of the factual allegations made in complaints. The article suggests that differences between the media portrayal of sexual harassment and what can be found in the data may result from the media’s focus on litigation. The authors note that a focus on pre-litigation harassment claims may provide a fuller picture of sexual harassment. The authors end the article observing that the focus on litigation leads to reporting that tends to miss “a sense of what happens before litigation and what sexual harassment means to victims in terms of their economic, professional, and emotional lives.” (P. 781.)
One’s view of sexual harassment can be highly variable depending on their position as it relates. The victim, vs. the perpetrator, vs. the organization vs. the human resources don’t necessarily experience the matter the same nor do they have the same outcomes in mind although they should. Regardless as a work life advocate, we suggest a No Tolerance policy with specificity and clarity in describing anti-harassment policies and procedures. The following information from the EEOC will serve your organization well: http://www.eeoc.gov/federal/model_eeo_programs.cfm#possible