Sexual Harassment

McKee Cartoon.jpg

So, let’s talk about sexual harassment! Not even sure where to begin, but it’s certainly does not start with the 13 sexual harassment accusations leveled against our current president, nor does it end with Al Franken’s accuser! It begins so much earlier than either of these occurrences, perhaps with the dawn of time! Has there ever been a time when women, in particular, have not been subject to physical and verbal sexual intimidation by men? What we are confronting now is so tragically overdue and, perhaps, we have reached a tipping point and hope is on the horizon!

In 1993 the AAUW commissioned a study of bullying, teasing and sexual harassment in our schools. They commissioned a follow-up study eight years later in 2001 and the results were depressingly the same: “eight in ten students reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment at some time in their school lives.” The only positive change that had occurred was that “schools are now more likely to have a policy or distribute literature on sexual harassment.”

The definition of sexual harassment, for purposes of the AAUW survey, was as follows:

Sexual harassment is unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior that interferes with your life. Sexual harassment is not behaviors that you like or want, such as wanted kissing, touching or flirting.

In terms of harassment, nonphysical is the most prevalent (examples would include showing, giving or leaving someone sexual pictures, photographs, illustrations, notes, or messages). Physical harassment would include the following:

  • Touching, grabbing, or pinching someone in a sexual way
  • Intentionally brushing up against someone in a sexual way
  • Pulling at someone’s clothing in a sexual way
  • Pulling someone’s clothing off or down
  • Blocking someone’s way or cornering someone in a sexual way
  • Forced kissing
  • Forcing someone to do something sexual other than kissing

Girls are much more likely than boys to experience sexual harassment and they are more likely than boys to experience it more frequently.

So, now, are we surprised to see this same behavior locked in place wherever men and women work together? Whether that is the US Capitol, corporate headquarters, the military, the entertainment industry, or any other environment where a patriarchal hierarchy exists and women, in particular, fear for their livelihoods and careers.

The recent reporting from the NY Times included the story of 22-year-old Rebecca Weir, now a 39-year-old DC attorney, who was asked by her then boss, Congressman Gary Miller from California, to twirl in her dress for him! She complied and received a $1250 bonus! He said she looked “stunning”! She anguished over the experience at the time, but described herself as “young and dumb” and desperately in need of the added income, but it goes to show the insidious nature of the approaches often used.

The cartoon at the beginning of this article and the statistics from the AAUW survey highlight pervasiveness of sexual harassment. Addressing it requires an enormous effort and the political will to move forward.

  • Women must consistently report sexual harassment (currently 75% of sexual harassment is NOT reported!)
  • The grievance process must be publicized, accessible, and much more timely than it is now
  • Appropriate sanctions/consequences must be imposed for those guilty of harassment
  • Training must start now at all workplaces…but especially in our schools

Every now and then there are transformative moments in our culture and perhaps the “MeToo” movement will take us there!

Submitted by: Dianne McGuire, Co-founder of Indivisible Naperville