Discrimination and sexual harassment are very serious issues that have only received the deserved attention in the recent years. It’s not that they weren’t acknowledged before, but rather more considered as taboo or non-existent.
The Harvey Weinstein case and other mass-media cases involving famous people such as Bill Cosby and Kevin Spacey were a wake-up call for many, not just those in Hollywood. Women all over the world joined the #MeToo Movement, established in 2017, to stand together against sexual assault. The celebrities were there to set an example and show victims that someone is listening so they don’t have to be silent anymore. Consequently, after #MeToo, Hollywood celebrities founded the Time’s Up Movement in 2018 to collect funds for legal defense and provide lawyers to those in need of legal representation.
The importance of recognizing sexual harassment, as well as reacting to it in the proper way is now a top priority for businesses everywhere.
How do we define sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is a term that’s been used since the 1970s thanks to Mary Rowe, Chancellor for Women and Work at MIT and her report Saturn’s Rings. Because of her dedication, the first policies to recognize and stop this behavior were put into place. However, it was only recognized by US law due to the sexual harassment cases that took place in the 1970s and 1980s.
Nevertheless, this still didn't help the public to collectively accept this as unacceptable behavior and to encourage victims to report it. It took the Anita Hill's case in 1991 to stir the things up and bring a more substantial change. Namely, her testimony against Clarence Thomas, the US Supreme Court Nominee was what finally increased the number of reported cases in US and Canada.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment in its guidelines as:
“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when
1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment,
2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individuals, or
3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. (29 C.F.R. § 1604.11).”
This is a very sensitive topic and often perpetrators base their defense on the grounds that the behavior is difficult to properly define. However, any unwanted touching and demand for sex are considered as sexual harassment and there is no ambiguity there.
Any humiliation or intimidation, as well as pointing out someone's physical looks as precursors for a job and not skills the person has, is also sexual harassment. It doesn't matter if you think the claim is true, the very notion is inappropriate and demeaning.
Are discrimination and sexual harassment common?
Unfortunately, sexual harassment and discrimination happen more than we are aware of. This behavior is especially directed to women, although men are also victims. Every woman has experienced sexual harassment in some form or another and many simply don’t react to it.
This is not just from a fear of speaking about it but also due to society's inability to recognize certain behavior patterns as inappropriate and derogatory towards women. Additionally, many women expect it to happen and have simply “got used” to it – an attitude which is incredibly difficult to subvert.
In the instance where an employee has been the victim of sexual harassment, you will need to contact your lawyers and ask for legal advice since that will help you establish the severity of the situation and outline the next steps. It is vital that you have an established sexual harassment policy in place in order to prevent this in the first place, but to also outline the appropriate actions should an allegation be made.
Why do women rarely report sexual harassment and discrimination?
There is a number of reasons why women don't report discrimination and sexual harassment. This can include the fear of losing their jobs the physical main they may be in, the emotional paid, the fear of being ostracized by society and, in some cases, the inability to recognize the extent of the discrimination.
"There's a knowledge of and tolerance of sexual harassment, that makes women's journeys through public space always a little bit hazardous. I think the people who talk about this stuff as if it's nothing forget how heartbreakingly sorrowful we feel about that and how ashamed. The other structural conversation to have about this, apart from power, is shame. I am overwhelmed by hearing these women’s stories. Recognizing them, their sense of shame, knowing that their entry into the public world is marked forever by that. I think the politics of humiliation, which is at the center of all this, has been erased from the discourse. It can't be underestimated, because you were in that room, he did put his hands on your body. Even if you escaped, the point is that you were there." - Beatrix Campbell, feminist activist and writer
"People often misunderstand patriarchy as a totalitarian system, in which all the women feel powerless all the time, and all the men feel powerful all the time. That isn't how it works, a lot of women do feel powerful and a lot of men don't." - Natasha Walter, campaigner and feminist author
And that is exactly the way we should all perceive this issue. It doesn’t matter why women went to Harvey Weinstein's room, what’s important is they didn't agree to be sexually advanced, assaulted and discriminated.
In addition, the same applies to any person, man or woman, outside of Hollywood. "No" means "No", and there is nothing ambiguous about it, just like a compliment doesn't mean you have to be groped or valued for your looks. Sexual harassment is an unacceptable behavior which needs to be stopped once and for all.
Author: Emily is a business psychologist with a passion for marketing. Researching, exploring and writing are her favorite things to do. Besides that, she loves animals, music and traveling.