You are busy at work when the boss summons you to his office. You walk in, close the door, and sit down. Your employer begins praising you for the fantastic job you have been doing and congratulates you.
He then tells you how valuable you are to the team and how he really would like for you to remain on the job. You never said anything about leaving your employment. A chill creeps up your spine and you tense as you prepare for the news that you are about to be terminated.
Suddenly, there is a subtle shift in the conversation and what began as a harmless discussion abruptly turns into a tense, heart-pounding encounter. There is nothing overtly inappropriate or intimidating about your boss’s dialogue, but you get his message — loudly and clearly.
You do your best to hide your discomfort and respond as best you can. You leave the meeting, shaken and glad that it is over — for now — but you cannot keep from wondering what will happen next.
Although such a scenario could refer to any number of circumstances, it often alludes to unwanted sexual advances from superiors, endured by untold numbers of women in the workplace, and other places as well.
While some argue that there is a thin line between harmless flirting and sexual harassment, intentional misconduct aimed toward women by their male counterparts is extremely prevalent in society today.
These phenomena appear to intensify among men in positions where they can exert a level of control over the woman’s life. Instances of abuse and harassment of women by employers and others in authority have finally come to the forefront with recent high-profile cases like Bill Cosby and the latest scandal involving Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Like many other wrongs that go unnoticed for prolonged periods of time, it took courage, determination, and the star power of the female celebrities who came forward to shed a national and global spotlight on an injustice that so many women have had to endure for so long.
Now that the spotlight is on, there is still more that needs to be done. Many women continue to be vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse because they simply do not have the resources available to help them escape it.
Unlike the courageous celebrities who have taken a stand against sexual harassment, many women lack the financial independence to risk losing their jobs. Some women may be experiencing other conditions that prevent them from exposing their tormentors, such as threats and even physical intimidation.
In fact, many of these cases involve someone in the direct position to bring about the victim’s termination or otherwise cause difficulties in their lives. There is also fear of alienation and criticism that often comes when women make these reports.
Ironically, sexual harassment is a form of misconduct where the victim is frequently blamed for the offender’s behavior. These women are usually cast as initiators or in some other way responsible for their plight. Many wealthy and powerful harassers have even publicly attacked the characters of their victims, with some even instigating media smear campaigns on the women’s reputations.
Despite strict rules and regulations against sexual harassment on the job, there is little comfort when the offenders are frequently those responsible for implementing the rules. It is one thing to report a coworker for sexual harassment but when it happens to be someone in leadership or management, it can be a completely different situation.
The level of resistance met with will depend on the position of the offender. The higher up the ladder, the more difficult it will be and the more likely the victim will be dismissed or otherwise retaliated against.
Even if the victim eventually wins a legal case, companies tend to have enough resources to drag things out, which can cause tremendous hardship. Regardless of the outcome, there is nothing that can heal the emotional impact inflicted upon women who experience sexual harassment and abuse.
To eradicate the continuing scourge of sexual harassment and abuse of women, there must be a change in the culture that encourages it. Enduring stereotypes and the rampant commercialization of female sexuality has sent the wrong message to some men.
Instead of admiration for feminine beauty and appreciation of who she is, some men only view women as objects and property, rather than human beings. Such a worldview only serves to promote the behaviors of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, as well as other crimes against women.
Not only should men respect a woman’s choice to not be sexually harassed, but we should also let them know that we stand with them against other men who would.
[Featured Image by Richard Shotwell/AP Images]