Sometimes, it’s easier to “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil.” I have to admit, this has been my attitude over the past few days with the start of the #MeToo movement. Frankly, I was moved, shocked by the outpouring, by the accounts of woman after woman. I asked myself, “why would what happened to ‘other women’ affect me so badly?” Then, I started seeing friends on Facebook change their statuses and even share their own experiences of sexual harassment. I realized, “Me, too.”
I began reflecting on the many times I’ve been sexually harassed. I even questioned whether I’m ‘making a big deal’ out of a few experiences. Then, the therapist in me came out and said, “Stop gas lighting yourself and keep your eyes open. See evil, hear evil, speak the truth.” I needed to confront my emotions, my experiences, the way I try to help my clients learn to do.
What is sexual harassment? The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission partly defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” Wikipedia expands the definition by adding “bullying or coercion of a sexual nature…of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.” Sexual harassment doesn’t only affect women. Sexual harassment affects women, men, straight people, LGBTQ people, gender fluid people, and the list goes on. In fact, I know of men who have been sexually harassed by women. I also know of LGBTQ person’s who have been sexually harassed.
The #MeToo campaign focusses on the experiences of the harassment victims, but the point of this blog is to challenge everyone, but especially men, to think about, “Have I ever sexually harassed (or just harassed) another person” even if the act was in jest or not intended as harassment. This is important because, as the campaign has shown, harassment is pervasive, even among people you’d least expect and, essentially, among people who’d least expect it of themselves. We need to make a way for people who engage even in low-level sexual harassment to reflect on their actions, words, and unstated presumptions in a way that allows them to change, even as we condemn or criticize their attitudes.
First, what are examples of sexual harassment? Have you ever expected a sexual act or even a kiss/make out session because you agreed to a date or to cuddle? I remember numerous times when I’ve told past partners that I wasn’t in the mood for sex but would enjoy cuddling, and they still pressed me for sex after the fact. I remember one time when I met an online date. We went out maybe once or twice before I agreed to come watch a movie at his house. When I declined his advances to make out, he told me wasn’t interested in “a high school relationship.” In that moment, I felt like a sexual act with me was more important than spending time with me. I was only worth what I could give sexually. I left and we never spoke again. Oh, he was a college grad/young professional.
I’ve heard many stories from gay men sexually harassed by women and other gay men. Just because a man is gay does not mean he wants just anyone and their cousin touching him or making obscene comments about his perceived sex life. The fact that this stereotype about gay men persists says a lot about how our culture stigmatizes and ostracizes homosexuality.
What about at your gym? How many times have you “eye fucked” another person or commented about a body part without warrant? I’m not saying we can’t admire someone’s physical features or fitness achievements, but ogling or looking and then commenting to your friend is both uncomfortable and treats the other person as an object for your approval or disapproval. I remember a time at a gym when I was stretching and using a lacrosse ball to relieve tension when two guys decided they needed to comment on how close it was to my boob. That comment sexualized me and an act I was doing in a wholly unsexualized manner in a way I didn’t agree to or intend. Unless you’re asking why I have the lacrosse ball in that spot in order for you to try it yourself, not acceptable.
These are just a few of my examples of my experience. The question is what do we do now? How do we stop sexual harassment and other forms of oppression? The Bob Newhart clip, “Stop It!” comes to mind. I just want to yell, “Stop it!” to everyone I know. As a systems therapist, we are trying to change a system. A very large system. This not a family of six or even a family of ten. This is not your immediate family plus some extended family members. This isn’t even only a city, a county, and state, or one country. This is a culture and a whole world that needs to change. Keep an eye out for my next post where I share my thoughts on how to change this system and how this dysfunctional, oppressive system began and continues.