What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment happens when submitting to or rejecting “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature “affects your job; disrupts your work performance; or leads to an “intimidating, hostile or offensive” workplace.
Last week we discussed sexual harassment, sexual assault, and stereotypes of women. Men face similar issues, perhaps addressed less openly.
According to a Washington Post survey, ten percent of men have experienced sexual harassment at work. In 2015, 6,822 sexual harassment claims were filed with the EEOC. Seventeen percent of those cases were filed by men, compared to about eight percent in 1990. Reporting may be improving.
Some estimate that 75 percent of all workplace harassment incidents still go unreported, maybe with good reason. “One 2003 study found that 75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation,” according to the EEOC.
Why Men Don’t Report Harassment
Men may fear mockery by coworkers. There may be a stigma that men can’t truly be sexually harassed by a woman. Or that being harassed by another man implicates their sexuality. Men and women alike may fear being embarrassed if details of harassment were to be leaked.
Statistics don’t reveal whether the alleged harassers of men are male, but they typically are. It’s rare for a man to file charges against a female coworker or supervisor.
Stereotypes of Men
There are three primary stereotypes of men at work: fighter, sturdy oak, and breadwinner. They are largely a reflection of cultural views of masculinity and men’s roles prevalent in the culture of this country.
The fighter is a brave warrior, expected to be aggressive and win at all costs. According to studies by Klerman & Liebowitz and Worley & Vannoy, more than half of men working outside the home would like more time with their families. At the same time, they fear doing so would be viewed as contrary to the fighter stereotype, appearing not fully committed to their jobs.
Despite the passing of the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, women still spend the majority of time caring for family.
That stoic, self-sufficient pillar of strength is a self-made man. Oaks aren’t supposed to ask for help, express doubts, or seek advice. This causes men to miss out on collaboration and support of their coworkers.
Time and time again we define those we meet by their job titles and therefore make assumptions about their income level, social status, and “success” in life. Men who tie their self-worth to their earning power crumble in down economies.
Lessons of Children’s Games
(The gendered speech community in which we are primarily raised may or may not align with our sex.) Boys’ games usually involve fairly large groups, are competitive, involve rough play, and have specific rules. Boys learn how to accomplish goals, compete for status, exert control, get attention, and stand out. Later they are awarded for the same behavior at work.
Girls’ games are more likely to occur pairs or small groups. They play house or school which do not have preset, clear-cut goals or roles. There is more conversation about what to do and what roles to play. During play, girls spend more time talking than anything else. Girls learn to create and maintain relationships, include others, and show sensitivity.
Masculine Norms in the Workplace
In many organizations, men were there “first” and are awarded for their pattern of communication. Women are expected to take on a more masculine way of communicating. They are encouraged to be more assertive and less emotional.
Managers are assumed to be male despite a 2007 study that shows both masculine and feminine styles of communication are essential in leaders (Eagly & Carli). The most effective leaders appear to incorporate both styles.
Raising a Man, My Experience
I’m a mother of a young boy. I want him to grow into a well-rounded man, to be an excellent father and husband. This requires awareness of gender stereotyping. I made sure my child had dolls to play with as well as trucks, stuffed animals, books, and sporting equipment. I let him pick what he wanted, when reasonable. You need swimming goggles? You want the pink ones with Cinderella? That’s great! Want to get covered in grease in the garage with daddy? Have a blast! Want different outfits for your dolls? Hmm… there is next to zero boy dolls and boy doll clothes. (We improvised. Preemie baby clothes off the clearance rack makes great clothes for dolls and stuffed animals.)
Decorating my son’s room before his arrival wasn’t difficult. We picked a neutral green and went with a jungle theme. That wasn’t the end of it. What was marketed to girls was cute and frilly. Boys’ décor was angry and aggressive. Mutant turtles or ‘roided up superheroes weren’t going to cut it. Even car themed prints had angry faces. Why would I want my child to be surrounded by angry faces? This is the child who cried every time I read “Are you my Mother?” I don’t tell my boy to “toughen up” and “be a man.” Men should be sensitive and caring.
If you have a male child encourage him to identify his feelings. Say, “It seems like you’re upset.” Give him the vocabulary to talk out his emotions and he’ll be less likely just to act them out.
- Refuse to partake in perpetuating unhealthy stereotypes. Don’t say, “That’s just like a man/woman.”
- Don’t accept aggression at work.
- Do make failure and asking for help okay. Encourage it.
- Don’t define people by their jobs. Instead of asking, “What do you do?” ask, “How do you spend most of your time?”
An article by Esquire made some excellent suggestions. Though the article was written in the context of men to speak up in the instance of male on female sexual harassment, the principles are fairly universal.
“I don’t think that a man should intervene any differently than you would with any other unethical behavior,” says Michael Gold, PsyD, who has provided therapy to sexual offenders through the department of corrections. “Say, ‘That’s not okay. I’m not going to be a part of it.’ Or, ‘I’m standing up, I’m ending this meeting right now.’ It’s no different than if you heard a coworker tell a racist joke, and it’s no different from finding out that someone is defrauding the company. You say, “I’m uncomfortable with this, I’m not going to be part of this.’ Make people aware of where you stand.”
Read the Article, “What to Do If You See a Female Coworker Being Harassed.”
Suggested Book: Gendered Lives by Julia T. Wood
Read the Previous Blog, “Stereotypes of Women at Work and Why They Need to STOP”