Girl I believe you
Are you losing your mind thinking
What will it take to make somebody listen to you
Continuing my series exploring the issue of sexual harassment, this post continues the review of the BPSU’s report on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, written by now Minister Jason Hayward.
Having provide a definition of sexual harassment and some general types of it, the report has an interesting section on ‘Gender Lenses’. Essentially, this section notes that perception of sexual harassment (and/or its severity) is often influenced by gender.
“Men and women exhibit vastly different views of the propriety of sex in the workplace. In general, men and women differ concerning the appropriateness of sexual conduct in the workplace; behaviour considered offensive by women may be viewed as harmless by men.”
This is important to note, especially in the current context that has spurred this conversation about sexual harassment. As most, if not all, of the women affected by this appointment (either having previously experienced sexual harassment, or potentially subject to such) are civil servants (and thus restricted in having a voice as the matter relates to political appointments), only one side of the story is being given – all from men, and thus potentially subject to the gender lens/filter raised in the report. Additionally, many of the social media discussion on this largely seems to reflect this gender bias (with the addition that several male commentators feel that women are weaponising sexual harassment claims).
Now, the report cites two studies by:
- Gregory, Raymond, F. (2004) Unwelcome and unlawful: sexual harassment in the American workplace. New York, Cornell University Press.
- Bannerjee, et al (2011) Gender differences in perception of workplace sexual harassment among future professionals (Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 20(1): 21-4).
Both of these are excellent papers and well worth the read for those interested.
Now, the key takeaways from these papers that the report notes are:
- In general men and women diverge greatly on what they would consider offensive sexual harassment (in particular being propositoned by the opposite sex).
- In general men blame women for sexual harassment, in the form of saying women are responsible for their harassment in the workplace based on their dress or working in a male dominated space, and so on.
- That there is a need for awareness training – especially for men – regarding the full definition and scope of sexual harassment.
These findings are not new, nor are they exceptional. As Bhattacharya & Stockdale (2016) note:
- “Men’s attitude toward sexually harassing activities continues to be more tolerant than women’s.”
- “Women are more likely than men to define social-sexual behaviour or events to be sexually harassing or rate such events to be more severe, threatening, unwelcome, serious, or harmful…”
- “…there is abundant evidence that women tend to be more sensitive than men to SH [sexual harassment] perceptions and that individuals endorsing traditional masculine gender role orientations or sexist attitudes tend to be less sensitive to SH perceptions…”
There are, of course, plenty additional academic studies that basically find the same thing. In general, men are less likely to perceive their behaviours as sexually harassing than the women who are generally the subject of the harassing. And furthermore, men are more likely to blame the victim.
Myself, I was struck by the similarity here with perceptions of racism. As far back as 1981 (and no doubt earlier – see McConahay, et al ‘Has Racism Declined in America? It depends on who is asking and what is asked’), it was recongised that Whites (who generally benefitted from slavery, segregation and ongoing structural racism) are less likely to recognise the continuation of racism beyond the overt ‘old-fashioned’ in your face form of racism.
“As our studies demonstrated, whites mainly recognise old-fashioned racism as reflecting racism. Any of their opinions, beliefs, or actions that work to the detriment of blacks are not seen as prejudice; and since most white Americans either do not hold old-fashioned racist beliefs or they feel guilty about the ones they do hold, whites tend to think racism is a thing of the past. Hence, whites perceive the continuing efforts and demands of blacks as unjustified, while blacks see whites’ resistance to these efforts as tangible proof of racism and hypocrisy, and the cycle of conflict continues.”
In general, using the US example again, perceptions on racism remain different depending on whether the perceiver is white or black.
There is a clear gender bias or ‘lens’ in perceptions of sexual harassment.
Not covered in the BPSU report, but something which I think is worth at least mentioning here is the matter of internalised sexism. In this, I am referring to women that have internalised sexist attitudes and help enable the perpetuation of such – in this case either dismissing claims of sexual harassment or blaming the victim.
There are, of course, various aspects of internalised sexism, but the one I’m referring to here is these aspects:
“Defending, justifying, and excusing individual acts of misogyny, mistreatment, and/or abuse, either toward oneself or toward other women.”
“Defending, justifying, and supporting societal, institutional, political, and/or cultural bias and oppression against women (internalized oppression). Blaming women for causing their own victimization.”
This has certainly been on display on some social media conversations concerning the Commissiong controversy, as well as the radio. In this, the women involved have helped support and legitimise the oppression of other women. There are even some women with internalised sexism who will actively seek out sexually harassing behaviour from men, and to that degree dismiss the very real trauma of sexual harassment on other victims.
In some situations, this can be particularly problematic should a woman with such internalised sexism holds a key role of a shop steward in a unionised workplace. This may cause women workers to feel they cannot go to their union for assistance. This is not the case – if you as a worker are in such a situation where you feel your shop steward is compromised, you can and should go directly to the union itself, be it to a Division Vice-President or to the Executive Committee of the union itself.