Since the whole Harvey Weinstein story broke, there has been a surge of stories about high profile men accused of all kinds of sexual misconduct. This has got me thinking about how common this behavior actually is and what exactly constitutes sexual misconduct. Here are some of my musings on this, realizing I can only speak for myself and I certainly don’t speak for all women.
It is starting to seem like sexual misconduct is something all men do. But is it really? I just find that hard to believe. I think about all the men I have worked with over the past almost 30 years in my professional work. I can say with certainty that I have never been sexually harassed at all by any of the men I have worked with. Have men told me jokes that are off color or sexual in nature? Sure. But these jokes also came from men I consider friends and have/had friendly relationships and friendships with outside the workplace. They were never said to intimidate me, make me feel uncomfortable, or harass me in any way. I have never felt uncomfortable around any of the men I work with professionally. So when they made these jokes and I was not offended or intimidated by them, that can’t be harassment. To me, it’s harassment if it makes the other person feel uncomfortable or uneasy or mistrustful, if it’s unwanted.
Now, back in high school and college, I worked a number of retail jobs. One of the jobs I had was at Spencer’s which is notoriously known for having products that are sexual in nature, including things like vibrators and edible underwear. I worked with plenty of guys at Spencer’s, some older, some younger, some my age. Out of all the males I worked with there, only one ever did anything that I would call sexual harassment. He was a little older than I was (maybe 2 years?), and it was clear what he was trying to do. He would make explicit comments to me about my body that were sexual in nature. He would directly speak to me about wanting to use some of the sexual products at the store with me. It would happen every time I worked with him. I hated working with him. I was uncomfortable around him. I was scared of him. But I never reported it to my boss or anyone else I worked with. I never told him how it made me feel. I never told him to stop talking to me like that. I never told my boyfriend or friends or family about it.
Why didn’t I tell anyone? I know exactly why. I was scared and embarrassed. So I kept it to myself and endured it in silence. I was afraid no one would believe me. I was afraid my boss would say something to him and then he would be mad at me and it would get even worse. I was afraid he might get fired and then he would be so mad that he would try to get even with me somehow. I didn’t want to repeat the things he said, especially to someone like my mom or dad. So I just kept quiet about it. To me, this is a clear example of sexual harassment. The guy said those things to me specifically to make me feel uncomfortable and powerless. And it worked.
This guy at Spencer’s if he had said something once to me — something about my body, or said something sexual, or indicated a romantic interest in me — and I told him no, I’m not interested and please do not say anything like that again, and he stops, then that isn’t harassment to me. He tested the water, so to speak, and found out I wasn’t interested so he stopped. But if he continued instead, now we are at the point of sexual harassment.
So obviously this is not something all guys do to women they work with (or know or just see). I find it hard to believe that the majority of men behave this way solely based on the fact that the majority of men I know have never acted this way toward me or toward other women when they were around me. In fact, the majority of men I know have been pretty vocal about their disgust with this kind of behavior from men. I’m glad for that.