It’s a feeling that none of us would wish on our worst enemies. That weight in the pit of your stomach. The heaviness of your heart. The feeling of uncleanliness that makes you want to scrub your skin until you are sore, but knowing that won’t be enough to make you feel clean again so you wish you could peel it off. For those confronted with repeat harassers, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you see him coming. Your skin crawls, both in anticipation of being harassed, and for days afterward. You try to brace yourself to deal with it as if creating and invisible shield around you. You pray that maybe today you will be spared the humiliation. Maybe today he won’t notice you. You would get up and leave your desk but it’s too late to do so without calling attention to yourself. You don’t want to deal with it or the anger and frustration of being treated this way. You want to slap him, throw your beverage on him, kick him in the crotch or shout at the top of your lungs, “LEAVE ME ALONE!”. But you don’t because you want to avoid the confrontation and the repercussions of the confrontation. Speaking up can make this much worse, so you just suffer in silence until you can figure out a better situation. You need this job and you need the money. You are disheartened, dehumanized and downright disgusted.
Women who have been sexually harassed (all of us?) know these feelings all too well. Given recent headlines, I thought it important to find a way to support and encourage women who may have dealt with this or may be still dealing with it. Your harasser has no idea how it makes you feel. Much worse, he may not care. Women are fun and sport to many men. In the same breath, such men would never want their own mothers or daughters treated the same way. Hypocrisy? Yes – so now what?
Well, one thing is to know not all men are that way. There are men that are decent, respectful and understand that they should treat women the way they want the women in their lives treated. Some men will step forward to confront a man harassing a woman. To such men, I want to say, “thank you”. It will take men to to teach other men appropriate interaction with women.
Women have a part to play too. There is strength in numbers and we can force change by grouping together.
Forcing change is not about making someone else do something. It is about changing yourself. To a large degree, you can control the behavior of others with your own behavior.
There is a women’s revolution under way in America. Let this issue be a part of it. Seek out ways to connect with other women. Join a professional, social or political group and network like nobody’s business. Be sure to approach such situations with openness and a professional demeanor. Be all about girl power and leave the cattiness and competition at home.
When men get used to paying a high cost for behaving a certain way, they will change their behavior. This applies to all men that sexually harass women, from the construction worker on the street to the top level jobs in the land. If a man knew his job and livelihood were on the line, and he may become a social pariah, I think it would be a great deterrent. Of course, there are those that will test the limits and they should be punished accordingly.
As women, if we can do nothing but glare at the person that commits these acts in the workplace, we should band together to do it. We can use the art of unspoken communication to let a man know we heard about who he is and we disapprove. We can use the value of “reputation” against these people. We can get together to make a complaint as a group. If you are uncomfortable going to HR, try the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC.gov.
If you can transfer to another department or seek employment elsewhere, do it and protect your piece of mind. It’s hard to conquer the world when someone is constantly dragging your spirit down.
Men understand: Whatever you do will be done to your own daughters. Whatever you have done was probably done to your own mothers. If that does not give you pause to at least give serious consideration to changing your behavior, you have issues far beyond this and should seek counseling immediately.
One more thing ladies: it isn’t your fault. Don’t be embarrassed, or ashamed. Hold your head high!