Saturday, November 26, 2011

Is sexual harassment really a big deal?

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 19 November 2011) 

When I was in the Seventh Grade (about 12 or 13 years old), two male classmates came up to me and grabbed my breasts. The entire class was standing in the hall in a line as we waited for our teacher to instruct us to move into the classroom. However, immediately after this incident occurred, I walked out of the line, right past my teacher who was demanding I get back in line and went straight to the principal’s office where I told those in the office what had happened.

The boys were suspended for two weeks and no guy at school ever dared to try something like that with me again.

The subject of sexual harassment has been all over the news in the US as one of the Republican presidential candidates is facing allegations of sexually harassing several women. In my opinion, sexual harassment disqualifies a person for leadership as it creates the picture of a leader with significant deficits in terms of temperament, judgment and, potentially, veracity.

This issue on sexual harassment sparked a conversation on Facebook recently between some Guyanese friends when one gentleman asked, “What is sexual harassment? …you been told ‘you having a thick-delightful butt, you looking sexy, great lips, mellow breast, you have the height of my wife.’ Does this amount to sexual harassment?”

The immediate reaction from a female was simply, “Yes.” There was a lengthy discussion on the topic that of course touched on the attire of the woman and whether she is seeking attention.
Allow me to interject here that a woman’s attire is not a solicitation for sexual harassment.

Why is it that someone is always trying to tell women what they can and cannot do, say or wear?
There have been protests all over the world this year about the question of what women should and should not wear. These protests are being called “SlutWalks.”

According to Wikipedia, “The SlutWalk protest marches  began on April 3, 2011, in Toronto, Canada, and became a movement of rallies across the world. Participants protest against explaining or excusing rape by referring to any aspect of a woman’s appearance. The rallies began when Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, suggested that to remain safe, ‘women should avoid dressing like sluts.’”

Let’s be honest, a woman can be dressed quite modestly and still be sexually harassed. Looking to the attire of the woman to justify sexual harassment is only trying to blame the victim because a man somehow felt he had a right to say or do something inappropriate to the woman.

The Women Watch arm of the United Nations (UN) describes sexual harassment in this way, “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”

The UN’s definition extends to state that sexual harassment includes many things, such as:

· Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault
· Unwanted pressure for sexual favors
· Unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering or pinching
· Unwanted sexual looks or gestures
· Unwanted letters, telephone calls or materials of a sexual nature
· Unwanted pressure for dates
· Unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks or questions
· Referring to an adult as a girl, hunk, doll, babe or honey
· Whistling at someone
· Cat calls
· Sexual comments
· Turning work discussions to sexual topics
· Sexual innuendos or stories
· Asking about sexual fantasies, preferences or history
· Personal questions about social or sexual life
· Sexual comments about a person’s clothing, anatomy or looks
· Kissing sounds, howling and smacking lips
· Telling lies or spreading rumours about a person’s personal sex life
· Neck massage
· Touching an employee’s clothing, hair or body
· Giving personal gifts
· Hanging around a person
· Hugging, kissing, patting or stroking
· Touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person
· Standing close or brushing up against a person
· Looking a person up and down (elevator eyes)
· Staring at someone
· Sexually suggestive signals
· Facial expressions, winking, throwing kisses or licking lips
· Making sexual gestures with hands or through body movements
· Touching the person’s clothing, hair or body

By this definition, accepted worldwide as sexual harassment, the answer to the male friend from Facebook (whom I promised I would write on this subject), is yes, telling a woman “you having a thick-delightful butt, you looking sexy, great lips, mellow breast, you have the height of my wife” is sexual harassment. Sadly, this type of demeaning behaviour begins at very young ages for women.

A November 7 article in the Huffington Post entitled, ‘Sexual harassment pervasive in US middle and high schools, survey finds,’ said, “During the 2010-11 school year, 48 per cent of students in grades 7-12 experienced some form of sexual harassment in person or electronically via texting, email and social media, according to a major national survey being released Monday by the American Association of University Women.

The harassers often thought they were being funny, but the consequences for their targets can be wrenching, according to the survey. Nearly a third of the victims said the harassment made them feel sick to their stomach, affected their study habits or fuelled reluctance to go to school at all.”

There is oft times an assumption that sexual harassment is no big deal and that no one is getting hurt, but that is just not the case. Sexual harassment is a very big deal.

On this topic, Wikipedia said, “Some of the psychological and health effects that can occur in someone who has been sexually harassed are: depression, anxiety and/or panic attacks, sleeplessness and/or nightmares, shame and guilt, difficulty concentrating, headaches, fatigue or loss of motivation, stomach problems, eating disorders (weight loss or gain), alcoholism, feeling betrayed and/or violated, feeling angry or violent towards the perpetrator, feeling powerless or out of control, increased blood pressure, loss of confidence and self esteem, withdrawal and isolation, overall loss of trust in people, traumatic stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts or attempts, suicide.”

Still think sexual harassment is no big deal?

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