Is harassment just so over?


Hey remember sexual harassment? Those were fun times, weren’t they?

The implication is that a combination of awareness, women’s growing economic power and legislation that began with the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act and has been updated repeatedly, has stamped out the problem.

Laura Bates, who set up the website Everyday Sexism earlier this year, isn’t so sure. Like those 1970s speak-outs, her site allows women to share their experiences, and over the course of six months 7,500 entries have poured in, “thousands of which pertain specifically to workplace harassment, workplace sexism and sadly, in many cases, workplace sexual assault and even rape”. “What I don’t know is whether the prevalence has diminished or not [since the 70s],” she says. “But I do know that an Equal Opportunities Commission report in 2000 said that 50% of women still experience sexual harassment in the workplace.”

Problem not so stamped out then.

So why is there this idea that workplaces are so much better now? Part of it, perhaps, is that sexual harassment affects women at different times in their lives. Endean says it is a particular problem, for instance, for young female apprentices in male-dominated workplaces and, anecdotally, many of us are affected by the issue when we start work in our late teens and early 20s. It’s an issue of power. As individual women get older and more personally powerful, sexual harassment often has less effect on them, and so they believe it has been left behind in another era.

Paula Kirby please note. Not all women are treated the way Paula Kirby is treated, therefore what Paula Kirby knows from her own experience is of limited utility for understanding what women in general experience.

Not only is classic workplace sexual harassment still going on, says Bates, but technology has created new forms; in the space of six months, she has seen several thousand abusive emails, including rape threats and death threats. As those 1975 feminists knew, what’s important is to stop the silence around the issue. “I think there’s an idea that women have to put up and shut up,” says Bates. “They’re told they’re whining, being uptight, frigid, sometimes even blamed for causing it in the first place.”

Oh surely not! Surely that never happens.

 

Comments

  1. Stevarious, Public Health Problem says

    There is also, of course, the whole thing where nowadays where some cases of sexual harassment DO get prosecuted. So of course, certain individuals will point to those cases and say, “Look, see? This guy lost his job because he grabbed a bum/demanded sex for a raise/called her pretty/asked her out! So it’s not a problem anymore!

    Ignoring, of course, that there is huge social pressure for that sort of thing to not be reported, that there are frequently harsh penalties for people that DO report (when the reports are not met with just simple indifference), and that those few cases where there IS a good result are the exception, not the norm.

  2. julian says

    I’ve been following @EverydaySexism for a while now. The only criticism I can make is that there’s going to be contention as to what qualifies as sexism. Many of the entries revolve around street harassment (“Hey, slag!” “Nice tits” ecetera) which we know many don’t accept as examples of sexism.

    Her workplace harassment retweets seem less controversial. Many of them are women being questioned about pregnancy during interviews, being ignored or assumed to be secretaries during meetings, being told they have nice knockers by supervisors. It’s pretty angering stuff.

  3. says

    …what Paula Kirby knows from her own experience is of limited utility for understanding what women in general experience.

    So… So… Paula, having now known all this, is going to apologize unconditionally to Ophelia, Rebecca, Jennifer and all the other women of the freethought movement that she has managed to belittle and disparage and demean, right? Right? Amirite?

  4. mythbri says

    Yeah, I live this every weekday. Not so much with overt and inappropriate come-ons, but, well, like this:

    I’m one of four women that works at a company of 35 people. I’m waaaaaaaay in the minority, and there have been things that have made me uncomfortable. My co-workers will make dismissive comments about the intelligence of women, either in general or specific women. My co-workers will speak dismissively of their wives. My co-workers will joke about women’s liberation and their right to vote, work, say no to sex, step outside the kitchen, etc. My co-workers once spent an entire meeting watching YouTube videos about women driving and parking badly.

    I have no confidence in management’s ability to handle complaints of harassment, particularly sexual harassment. I have no confidence that I would be supported if I ever made such a claim (I’m extremely thankful that I don’t need to, but I am aware the possibility may arise, and some confidence in a supportive system would be a relief).

    How in the world am I supposed to handle this? If I say anything, I’m a “bitch”. If I say nothing, I must agree with them, or they must have my unspoken approval.

  5. iknklast says

    Actually, for many of us the sexism doesn’t go away as we get older; it’s just that, because we are now ignored totally, some can pretend sexism doesn’t exist (not recognizing the lack of respect as being sexism.) Much of the sexism I deal with is stubtle, just the sort of vague correcting of something that they assume I must have gotten wrong because it’s not something they’ve heard before (and they have no experience in my field, but hey, surely if they haven’t heard it before, it must not exist, right?) in a tone that would never be used with one of the male professors. Little things…but still difficult to deal with. Since much of it comes from the students, it can make my job difficult, if not impossible at times.

  6. xmaseveeve says

    This is excellent. Women should not judge other women, or assume that all women are treated equally. My dear, late brother was convinced that Ayrshire miners never swore. He drank with them in bars, and, even when drunk, singing, joking – they never used foul language. But he was a lawyer, defending them for striking. Perspective is all.

    Keep up the great work, Rebecca.

  7. xmaseveeve says

    Julian, Comment 2.

    I don’t know if you’re a troll, but you have just proved the necessity of doing this: calling out even relatively trivial examples of sexism. So thank you for pushing your little uninformed opinion through the cracks in the woodwork.

    No one but a willingly raving bloody lunatic would say that, ‘Hey Slag’, ‘Nice tits’ is not sexist. Unless you’re talking to Ashley Cole and and John Travolta.

    I’m not saying verbal abuse is always as bad as sexual assault, but these words are certainly sexist unless you live on planet Taliban.

  8. Rob says

    So, I’ve just spent an hour I didn’t really have to spare skimming Everyday Sexism. I know that all of that stuff happens, but to see it written down time after time it was… like watching a train wreck. I couldn’t stop. Some items made we feel like crying, others made me furious or disgusted or, yes, ashamed. There were times I thought – God I did that once. I like to think I’m a different person now. Not that I think I was ever ‘bad’, but anyone can be stupid until they learn better somehow.

    I like to think that not all of us are like that or have to be like that. I want to believe that even some of the worst examples of manhood out there can change. Gotta hope for the best right?

    What I did like was the sense of strength and dignity and empowerment that so many of the women showed. An hour or two on that site should be compulsory viewing.

    Thanks for the link Ophelia.

  9. Tony •Prom King of Sunnydale High• says

    julian:

    Many of the entries revolve around street harassment (“Hey, slag!” “Nice tits” ecetera) which we know many don’t accept as examples of sexism.

    If they don’t accept that as sexism, they need to go reread a dictionary.

  10. Tony •Prom King of Sunnydale High• says

    xmaseveeve:

    I don’t know if you’re a troll, but you have just proved the necessity of doing this: calling out even relatively trivial examples of sexism. So thank you for pushing your little uninformed opinion through the cracks in the woodwork.

    I’ve been posting here for a few years and I’ve seen comments by Julian many times. I don’t believe xe is a troll.
    The point xe was making is that there *are* people who don’t consider certain acts to be sexist. That’s not to say that they aren’t. Just that the people who perform those acts (referring to all women belonging in the kitchen or being unable to drive) don’t understand what sexism entails, thus they fail to understand that they’re *being* sexist. I’ve worked in restaurants since I started in the workforce 20 years ago. I’ve seen a lot of sexism. I’ve seen many men fail to understand that what they’ve said is sexist.
    Julian wasn’t excusing the sexist actions of individuals. Xe was stating that those individuals don’t agree with the definition of sexism (or at least don’t understand it). That’s not an uninformed opinion.

  11. sheila says

    “BTW- you didnt say what you do at the observatory? Wash windows? Waitress in the cafeteria?”

  12. dirigible. says

    “many don’t accept as examples of sexism”

    That’s what we used to call “being wrong”.

  13. jhendrix says

    I’m not sure if we’ll ever see the end of harassment, like we won’t see the end of theft.

    Still, I’d like to think that things have progressed that many places have policies against harassment and it’s acknowledged as “wrong”. It’s that way in my company, though I’ve no clue how much if any goes on that I’m not aware of. I do know we have to take yearly training on it, and are instructed to report any observation of it immediately to either our direct manager or HR.

    Still, I’m in the MegaCorp world, so things probably aren’t that easy for a lot of women in smaller organizations without policies in place.

    Hopefully things will become less frequent as we move forward, and the reporting/enforcement angle manages to make progress.

  14. Tony •Prom King of Sunnydale High• says

    dirigible:

    “many don’t accept as examples of sexism”

    That’s what we used to call “being wrong”.

    True, but until those idiots can be convinced that they’re wrong, they’ll continue engaging in that behavior.

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