The #MeToo Anniversary: After One Year, Has Anything Changed?

Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published the first story on Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times on October 5, 2017. Their story gave much-needed momentum to the #MeToo movement launched by Tarana Burke more than a decade earlier, which brought to light African American women’s experiences of abuse. The Weinstein accusations started a public outpouring of abuse stories from women, and some men, around the globe and exposed the pervasiveness of this problem. Kantor and Twohey note that it has become clear over the past year that nothing is going to change for women unless we keep speaking out. They state that a reckoning “wide and deep” was reignited one year ago and is likely to continue. In fact, the voicing of sexual assault experiences needs to continue if there is any hope of societal change. The recent Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation process added new fuel to the #MeToo fire by revealing that not much has changed. Women witnessed the demeaning mockery and dismissal of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford by the president and several GOP senators after her public testimony about her assault experience. Kantor and Twohey note that we must continue to tell our stories, in public and in private, because honest sharing of previously hidden traumatic experiences causes subtle adjustments in our collective understanding of the line between right and wrong. They explain, “Progress requires a correct accounting of what women have really faced.” But is anything different after a year of #MeToo? While societal attitudes do not seem to have changed much yet, Zoe Greenberg of the New York Times writes that some laws have changed at the state level and some industry practices are changing as well. For example, since October 2017

  • Some states have passed laws banning or limiting nondisclosure or other confidentiality agreements as a condition of employment.
  • A few states expanded sexual harassment protections to apply to more workers.
  • Certain private companies, including Microsoft, Uber, and Lyft, eliminated forced arbitration agreements when settling sexual harassment claims.
  • Some private companies are including “morality clauses” or “Weinstein clauses” in merger deals or book contracts requiring full disclosure of accusations of sexual harassment.
  • The Screen Actors Guild has published a code of conduct that calls for an end to auditions and professional meetings in homes and hotel rooms.
  • Several women, including Christiane Amanpour, Jennifer Salke, Hoda Kotb, Jennifer Lee, and Tina Smith, have been elevated to replace powerful men like Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer who were forced out by multiple sexual harassment accusations.
In another New York Times article, several prominent authors offer warnings and suggestions about what lies ahead:
  • Sarah Polley urges us to notice “how quickly we went from looking openly at the challenges women face to how the conversation about misogyny affects men.” She urges us to stay focused on unearthing women’s experiences.
  • Catharine A. MacKinnon, a legal scholar, notes that the norms of rape culture still permeate the law. She points out that the burden of proof for sexual assault in criminal law are difficult for survivors to meet and statutes of limitation are too short to allow victims of sexual violation to get past their trauma enough to report the event.
  • Stephen Marche writes that men are largely absent from the conversation. He notes that “the only way out of the intractable problems of gender—harassment, the pay gap—will involve robust male participation.”
  • Shanita Hubbard states that race and class have always been the deciding factors in whose pain is prioritized. She explains that “research indicates that African-American women experience higher rates of rape and sexual assault than white, Asian and Latina women. At the same time, their reports of sexual violence are less likely to be recognized by the legal system.”
  • Katie J. M. Baker writes that it is unrealistic to think that men accused of sexual misconduct won’t try to reappear as though nothing happened. She points out that there is a big difference between shunning and effective gatekeeping. The industry gatekeepers must facilitate these comebacks responsibly and with public accountability.
In conclusion, MacKinnon notes, “#MeToo may be the first change toward women achieving human status since the vote.” Our rage and our stories are moving us forward, and we must not be silenced again.   Photo courtesy of GGAADD (CC BY-SA 2.0)]]>

What Happens after #MeToo? Will Anything Change for Women?

The #MeToo movement over the past year opened up a wound in our society and allowed women (and some men) to exhale—to tell their stories of sexual abuse by powerful men and be believed—and see powerful men be held accountable by losing their jobs. But many of these powerful men are starting to reemerge as though nothing happened. Is this going to be like the Catholic Church moving predator-priests around from parish to parish to protect them at the expense of vulnerable parishioners? Is society going to continue to fail women and go back to protecting powerful men? Jennifer Weiner of the New York Times notes that “one by one, like bad dreams, the #MeToo men have come back from the allegations against them, having suffered . . . the equivalent of a misbehaving child’s timeout.” Here are some examples of #MeToo men reemerging:

  • Aparna Nancherla of the New York Times writes about comedian Louis C. K., accused by five women of sexual misconduct by masturbating in front of them, who decided that enough time had passed for his second chance when he appeared, unannounced, at a comedy club in New York City roughly nine months after the accusations. Once on stage, he never mentioned the allegations against him or apologized to his victims. Nancherla notes, “The women who came forward as victims of Louis C. K. had nothing to gain except to be bullied, ridiculed, and insulted.” In many cases, their careers were damaged and they did not get a second chance.
  • Nathaniel Popper writes that in the tech industry, the founder of Social Finance (SoFi), Mike Cagney, was ousted in September 2017, by his board for committing sexual misconduct, lying to his board, and fostering a pervasive hostile work environment in his company. Just four months later, two SoFi board members invested $17 million in his new start-up company. Popper notes that other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors who lost their jobs in the #MeToo movement have also rebounded. He cites Joan C. Williams, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law, as saying that investors only care about making money and not about the employees who will be hurt by the toxic cultures these abusers create.
  • Accused harassers who also hold public office are hoping that voters will forget and will reelect them for office. Julie Turkewitz and Alan Blinder of the New York Times write about sexual harassers running for state office in Arizona, Washington state, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin who have been accused by long lists of women. All of them are running again. The authors note that while some have apologized, others have not. Even those who apologized feel that all should be forgiven and the slate wiped clean—even though in some cases behaviors have not changed.
  • In the case of retired federal appeals court judge Alex Kozinski, more than a dozen women accused him of sexual harassment and other misconduct. Leah Litman, Emily Murphy, and Katherine H. Ku, writing for the New York Times report that the judge retired before the investigation could be completed and the investigation was dropped. Because no formal finding of guilt occurred, the retired judge discounts the allegations and has never addressed them. He receives his federal pension and is now planning to teach—where vulnerable law students will be easy prey for him.
Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times notes that for the most part, the powerful men who are reemerging have not grappled with the pain and embarrassment they have caused to women. She notes, “I feel sorry for a lot of these men, but I don’t think they feel sorry for women or think about women’s experience much at all.” I agree. I fear that nothing is really going to change in our society unless these actions are taken:
  • Men need to do some serious reflection together about why women are so furious with them.
  • Men must offer ideas about how to make things better and play an active role in confronting other men (young and old) about their disrespectful behavior toward women.
  • All of us need to take action when we hear rumors about inappropriate behavior by a friend or colleague. Confront your friend or colleague about what you have heard.
  • Men who have been accused of serious misconduct must be held accountable and reckon with the past as they move forward.
  • Institutions must consistently acknowledge the past accusations against a person who has been given a public platform, or we risk failing women again.
We must not go back to silencing women and sweeping sexual harassment under the rug.   Photo by Concha Rodrigo on Unsplash]]>

Universities Must Do More to Stop Harassment: New Report

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, highly respected independent agencies, issued their first-ever report on sexual harassment and found that universities have failed to prevent sexual harassment. Pam Belluck of the New York Times writes that the conclusions of the 311-page report are the result of a two-year study started before the #MeToo movement began. Belluck notes that “academic workplaces are second only to the military in the rate of sexual harassment.” One study cited in the report found that 58 percent of academic employees report experiencing sexual harassment. The report also cited a 2017 survey by the University of Texas system of students in scientific fields that found the following rates of sexual harassment:

  • 20 percent of female science students.
  • More than 25 percent of female engineering students.
  • More than 40 percent of female medical students experience sexual harassment from faculty or staff members. In addition, female medical students experience sexual harassment from patients.
Belluck notes that the report identified three types of sexual harassment in universities:
  • Sexual coercion
  • Unwanted sexual attention
  • Gender harassment, described as “verbal and nonverbal behaviors that convey hostility, objectification, exclusion or second-class status.”
Gender harassment was by far the most common type women experienced. The National Academies report notes that the cost of any form of sexual harassment for women is high and can “undermine work and well-being in a whole host of ways.” For example, the experience can trigger depression, sleep disruption, cardiac stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Lilia Cortina, a member of the study team. Cortina, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, notes that sexual harassment experiences can be even worse for women of color and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women. The cost to the scientific fields themselves is also high because women leave and the fields are not able to retain a full range of talent. The National Academies report states that universities must stop focusing on “symbolic compliance with current law” and on avoiding liability for their institutions and instead focus on preventing sexual harassment. Belluck notes that the report offers fifteen detailed recommendations, including
  • Overhauling academic advising systems so that students and junior researchers are not at the mercy of one senior researcher for advancement and access to grants.
  • Establishing informal ways for students and staff to report sexual harassment.
  • Urging legislators to pass laws so people can file harassment lawsuits directly against faculty and not just the university.
  • Abolishing nondisclosure agreements where settlements are made. These agreements currently allow a perpetrator to move on to other academic institutions without disclosure of their inappropriate behavior.
  • Adopting training programs that focus on changing behavior, not beliefs.
Ultimately, the cultures of academic institutions have to change if sexual harassment is to be prevented. Power structures, policies, and procedures that protect powerful faculty and prioritize protecting the institution from liability will never be able to create safe and respectful work environments for students and staff.   Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash]]>

Good News! MBA Programs Focus on Sexual Harassment Prevention for Future Leaders

The #MeToo era continues to have a positive impact on our culture, including on the training of future corporate leaders in MBA programs. Katie Johnston of the Boston Globe writes that “As the #MeToo movement continues to reveal how ingrained sexual harassment is in corporate culture, business schools have started taking steps to teach future leaders how to deal with, and eradicate, such behavior.” Johnston cites a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Business as saying, “People are waking up in business schools and realizing we’ve had a blind spot.” Johnston writes that while MBA programs had begun putting more focus on ethics and values after recent corporate scandals, such as the one at Wells Fargo last year, it was not until the Weinstein scandal that business schools began to add sexual harassment to the curriculum. In fact, in some cases the MBA students themselves took matters into their own hands before programs got the message. At MIT, the MBA students organized their own improvisation workshops about how to deal with sexual harassment. MIT now acknowledges that leadership must include being able to address both systemic and behavioral changes to eradicate sexual harassment. David Gelles and Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times quote Leanne Meyer of Carnegie Mellon as stating, “up until now, business leaders were largely responsible for delivering products. Now, shareholders are looking to corporate leaders to” take a stand on moral and social justice issues. MBA programs have started training leaders to do just that. Johnston, Gelles, and Miller describe some of the changes business schools are incorporating into their programs and curriculums:

  • New courses at MIT Sloan are dedicated to advancing equity and inclusion in the workplace.
  • A new ethics course at Stanford teaches how to create a workplace environment where people are comfortable reporting sexual misconduct.
  • Several schools are adding case studies, such as one on harassment at Uber.
  • Some students are forming male ally groups to support gender equity.
  • More courses show how leaders can create a workplace culture where sexual harassment isn’t tolerated.
  • At the Northeastern School of Business, a curriculum overhaul currently underway will weave issues facing working women into the fabric of its coursework.
  • Stanford Business School students study psychological research showing that people are more willing to challenge authority if at least one other person joins them.
Gelles and Miller note that the Forté Foundation is working with a number of business schools to help more women advance into leadership roles. More than two dozen schools have started groups based on the Forté model, including a group called the Manbassadors “for men committed to gender equity in business.” One male participant in the Manbassador program at Dartmouth explained that the goal is “making sure that as men we’re very aware of some of the privileges we’re afforded simply because of gender.” I don’t know about you, but I feel hopeful that because of these changes corporate cultures may really change one day to become equitable, inclusive, and safe places for women to work. The next generation of leaders appear to be taking the gender blinders off. Hopefully the corporate cultures they create will be equitable and inclusive for all currently disadvantaged groups.   Photo courtesy of Paul Lowry (CC BY 2.0)]]>

How Women Are Changing Mainstream Politics

Women are running for office in record numbers since the 2016 election. Michael Tackett of the New York Times writes that Clinton’s loss triggered not only a surge of female candidates but also a surge of young women managing campaigns and “reshap[ing] a profession long dominated by men.” Many women running for office want female campaign managers who will shape winning messages and plan bold platforms and strategies. Tackett reports that this year, 40 percent of campaign managers for Democratic congressional candidates are women—a dramatic increase from the negligible numbers counted in a 2010 study conducted by Rutger’s University Center for American Women and Politics. Many of the campaign messages produced so far this year by both Republican and Democratic women are changing the rules of politics. Stephanie Ebbert of the Boston Globe notes that “running like a man often doesn’t work” for women. Women candidates are throwing caution to the wind and, according to Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, are “running very boldly.” For example:

  • One Republican congresswoman running for the Senate told her party in a campaign ad to “grow a pair of ovaries.”
  • Two Democratic candidates for governor have created ads to pitch their candidacies while breast-feeding on camera.
  • A Democratic woman asked in her campaign ad, “Who can you trust most not to show you their penis in a professional setting?”
  • The Vote Me Too PAC is running ads that say, “51 percent of our population has vaginas. 81 percent of members of Congress don’t have vaginas. [This] leads to a culture where sexual discrimination and sexual violence are tolerated.”
Ebbert quotes Kelley Ditmas, assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University, who says that women are touting “their gender as a value-added, as a credential, as one among many merits that they bring to office-holding.” Susan Chira of the New York Times writes that women running for office are using motherhood not just as a credential but also as a weapon in some of the following ways:
  • They tell their own wrenching stories of sick children and their fears for them as they watch their government attack healthcare.
  • They tout their experiences with motherhood helping them to hone the skill of multitasking, which will help them cut through the gridlock in Congress.
  • They tell stories of their fears of gun violence in their children’s neighborhoods and schools as they support gun control measures.
  • In one campaign ad where the candidate was breast-feeding on camera, she linked her work as a state legislator to a bill she helped pass to ban BPA from baby bottles.
As part of the record-breaking surge of women running for office, Julie Turkewitz of the New York Times notes that a historic number of Native American women are running for elective office. No Native American woman has ever served in the U.S. Congress. Four are running for Congress and many more are running for seats in state government. This surge is partly the result of liberal energy unleashed by the 2016 election, the #MeToo movement, and a broader move of Native Americans into mainstream politics in recent years. Turkewitz shares the story of Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, a Native American woman running for office. Haaland argues that many of the issues affecting native communities, such as low wage jobs, violence against women, and access to safe and affordable healthcare, affect everyone. In several states, the Native American population is large enough to sway elections. Having more women in elected office can create great change as issues concerning women gain more support. These are exciting times to support women candidates. Let’s encourage everyone to vote in primaries and the November elections.   Photo courtesy of Chris Tse (CC BY-ND 2.0)]]>

Sexual Harassment: New Research on the Numbers

The #MeToo Movement has surprising momentum and appears to be reshaping our national dialogue and workplace cultures—at last! It seems that every week we read about high profile men (and some women) getting fired for sexual harassment. Almost every organization I work with as a consultant reports firing or disciplining employees in a variety of roles and levels for sexual harassment. Sexual harassment has been in the news at various times in the past, including in 1991 when Anita Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his Senate confirmation hearing. But we have not been able to grasp the seriousness of the problem as a society, “believe the women” bringing accusations, or undertake research that can help us understand the depth and breadth of the problem. Susan Chira of the New York Times cites Holly Kearl, author of an important new study, as explaining why we must take this problem seriously: “Sexual harassment is a human rights violation—whether it takes place on the sidewalk of a street or in an executive boardroom—because it can cause emotional harm and limit and change harassed persons’ lives.” I can personally attest to that. The #MeToo Movement has provided an outlet for women and men to share their stories and finally be heard. The scope of the problem fueling and sustaining the movement has finally been documented in Kearl’s study. This study asks about a broader range of behaviors in multiple locations, not just in the workplace, over a longer time span and provides a clearer picture of the pervasiveness of this problem than we have had to date. Previous studies had a narrower focus, such as only in the workplace, only about rape or assault, or only during a narrow band of age, and did not give the whole picture. Chira notes that this well-designed study asked a nationally representative sample of one thousand women and one thousand men about verbal harassment, sexual touching, cyber sexual harassment, being followed on the street, genital flashing, and sexual assault in public spaces, in workplaces, in schools, online, and in homes. The findings from this study highlight the extent of this problem:

  • Eighty-one percent of women and 43 percent of men said they had experienced sexual harassment or assault over their lifetimes.
  • Seventy-seven percent of women and 34 percent of men said they had encountered verbal sexual harassment.
  • Fifty-one percent of women and 17 percent of men reported unwelcome sexual touching.
  • Forty-one percent of women and 22 percent of men said they were sexually harassed online.
  • About a third of women and one in ten men reported being physically followed, while 30 percent of women and 12 percent of men experienced genital flashing.
  • Twenty-seven percent of women and 7 percent of men reported sexual assaults.
  • Few differences were found by race or ethnicity among women who reported harassment. Hispanic men reported the most sexual harassment and assault in every category the survey recorded for men.
  • People who reported having a disability were much more likely to experience sexual harassment and assault.
  • Lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men were more likely to experience sexual assault than straight women and men.
Thanks to studies like this one, we can finally have an informed dialogue about the need for strategies to address this problem and stop it from being swept under the rug again. Let’s keep the pressure on for change.   Photo courtesy of Giuseppe Milo (CC BY 2.0)]]>

Why Training and HR Fail to Stop Sexual Harassment: What Organizations and Individuals Can Do

One of the patterns emerging in recent sexual harassment cases brought to light by the #MeToo movement is the failure of human resources (HR) departments in many organizations to respond to sexual harassment complaints from employees. In fact, we’ve heard example after example of HR enabling retaliation against accusers, protecting powerful men who are accused, or simply dismissing complaints with only cursory investigations or none at all. Noam Scheiber and Julie Creswell of the New York Times explain that although employees are told to report mistreatment to HR, HR is often not the right place to go. The authors explain that there are various inherent conflicts in HR’s role:

  • HR is charged with protecting the company from liability and therefore faces a conflict of interest when also expected to protect employees. In other words, HR’s main client is the company and the senior leaders.
  • Scheiber and Creswell note that “even if human resources officials conclude that the accused should be disciplined or fired, they typically have no independent authority to make it happen.”
  • HR personnel are subject to the same power dynamics as other employees if they recommend termination of a valuable employee and incur the wrath of a senior executive—their own job could be at risk.
Another issue the #MeToo movement is bringing to light is that sexual harassment prevention training does not prevent sexual harassment. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times writes that research shows that corporate sexual harassment training, at best, only teaches people basic information. At worst, it can make people uncomfortable and reinforce gender stereotypes. Most often, the training is rejected as a waste of time because people view it as either legalistic or impractical because it does not teach people how to stop harassment when it occurs. In fact, most sexual harassment training exists because the Supreme Court mandated it in workplaces in 1998 so companies could avoid liability in sexual harassment lawsuits. Most organizations are just checking this box for their own protection and not for actual prevention of sexual harassment. Miller suggests that, to prevent harassment in all forms, “companies need to create a culture in which women are treated as equals and employees treat one another with respect.” Here are some ways to create this type of culture:
  • Offer bystander training to give everyone the skills to stop disrespectful behavior by coworkers.
  • Involve white men in delivering bystander training so discouraging sexual harassment is seen as important to white men as it is to women and minorities.
  • Promote more women. Miller notes that companies with more women in management have fewer sexual harassment incidents.
  • Pay and promote men and women equally.
  • Create gender-balanced teams, hiring panels, and performance review panels.
  • Give dozens of people in the organization responsibility for receiving complaints so people can talk to someone they feel comfortable with and are not limited to HR, where they may not feel safe.
  • Institute proportional consequences for harassers. Consequences should reflect the severity of the offense. Automatic firing is not the solution. Nip small offenses in the bud.
If you work in an organization without the supporting practices and structures described above, Marty Langelan shares these tested tactics for discouraging sexual harassment on the Ms. blog:
  1. Use an all-purpose statement such as “Stop harassing women. I don’t like it—no one likes it. Show some respect.”
  2. Name the behavior, and don’t smile when you say it.
  3. Use an interruption tactic, such as a time-out gesture, to cut off the behavior.
  4. Force the person to explain him- or herself. Langelan suggests asking questions such as “Why do you think it’s okay to ask me to give you a massage?”
  5. Organize consistent group action against a persistent harasser. Agree on what you will all say to him or her, and repeat that statement whenever the bad behavior occurs.
  6. Document the incident on the spot with your phone’s camera or a written record.
  7. Use short, direct statements to give the harasser feedback on why his or her behavior is inappropriate and what behavior would be better.
  8. Use basic self defense if you are physically attacked. Take an aikido class if you can.
  9. If you are a bystander, speak up.
  10. Recruit unexpected allies, including the bully’s buddies.
Langelan recommends using consistent, everyday interventions to redefine workplace cultures. If your organization is not doing enough to create a safe workplace culture, organize your colleagues to work together. You can make a difference, but not alone.   Image courtesy of T’ruah (CC BY 2.0)]]>

How We All Lose When Women Are Devalued

A coaching client recently shared with me that while still a college student she was sexually assaulted by an important person at her school. When she told her guidance counselor about it, he advised her to say nothing to protect the reputation of the school. She said nothing. Now, many years later, and thanks to the #MeToo movement and some professional development work she’s engaged in, she has become aware that some of her physical and emotional problems are probably related to the buried trauma from her sexual assault. For the first time, she is starting to talk about what happened to her, which is so important for the healing process. Untreated trauma from sexual assault can cost victims their health, marriages, careers, and their lives if it is not addressed. As Sallie Krawcheck of the New York Times writes, it can seem like a seismic shift is taking place in our culture as the avalanche of sexual harassment and assault stories, previously unspoken, silenced, or disbelieved, come pouring out. While this outpouring is important, Krawcheck notes that sexual harassment is part of a larger problem in our culture: women are demeaned and devalued. The cost of demeaning and devaluing women is not only the high incidence of sexual harassment and a general culture of rape on our college campuses and elsewhere but a problem that’s costing all of us in other ways as well:

  • Women’s ideas are discounted and their talents ignored in all kinds of social, academic, and work settings. In a previous article, I wrote about Krawcheck’s direct experience with the ways that homogeneity on Wall Street resulted in the groupthink that crashed our economy in 2008 with the subprime lending debacle. Krawcheck was fired from a senior leadership position at Smith Barney for diverging from the groupthink of the financial industry and daring to be client focused. We all lost when the market crashed.
  • Krawcheck points out that, “despite research showing that companies with more diversity, and particularly with more women in leadership, offer higher returns on capital, lower risk and greater innovation than firms without such leadership, Wall Street has been, and is, predominantly male at the top,” as are most other sectors of our economy. Without diversity of perspectives and a broad range of skills, poor decisions get made that can have widespread impact on the lives of everyday people.
I agree with Krawcheck that the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are important, but that the current focus on sexual harassment is only one step on the change journey. Valuing girls and women means eliminating gender bias in our workplaces and institutions and creating safe, respectful and inclusive workplaces, schools, and social institutions.   Photo by Sam Valadi, CC BY 2.0.]]>

Sexual Harassment Is Local and Global: Why It Persists and How to Stop It

The outpouring since October 2017 of previously untold stories of sexual harassment and assault in the United States, known as the #MeToo movement, has been both shocking and exhilarating as brave women have been able to finally tell their painful stories and be heard and believed. With new revelations appearing in the US media daily about inappropriate behavior by both high- and low-profile men in the workplace, on college campuses, and in public spaces, it would be easy to miss the equally powerful stories coming out, often from surprising corners of the globe, about similar experiences. It would also be easy to get caught up in our outrage about these individual stories and to lose sight of the reason for this global phenomenon: patriarchal systems that are structurally set up against women. Here are some global examples: Indonesia—Tunggal Pawestri is among the women in Indonesia who are speaking out about the widespread daily sexual harassment endured by women, especially on roads, sidewalks, trains, and buses. Joe Cochrane, writing for the New York Times, explains that because Indonesia is a patriarchal society

  • It has no legal protections for victims of sexual harassment.
  • The topic of sexual harassment and assault is taboo, even in families when children are molested by close family friends.
Not surprisingly, incidents of sexual harassment go largely unreported, but women are starting to speak out on social media. Reading the stories of other women encourages women to share their own and discuss actions they can take together. Cochrane explains that the country’s sexual harassment problem stems from its patriarchal society in which men traditionally hold authority over women. Afghanistan—Maryam Mehtar is one of the brave women speaking out in Afghanistan, emboldened by the uprising of women in America and Europe against sexual harassment. Rod Nordland and Fatima Faizi write that women in Afghanistan tend to remain silent when faced with a problem seen as commonplace and unsolvable in their patriarchal society. The authors explain that
  • If women do speak out and identify their attacker, he might kill either the victim or her family members.
  • It might even be a family member who carries out an honor killing of the victim. Rape victims are sometimes killed by their own relatives who feel they have brought shame on their families.
  • Women who work outside the home are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault from coworkers and bosses as all women who work are considered whores.
Nonetheless, women in Afghanistan are starting to use social media to speak out, to establish NGOs to support women who have been harassed and assaulted, and to demand equality for women. Japan—Shiori Ito spoke out about being raped by a high-profile male television journalist when she was a young media intern. It took courage for her to share her story and name her attacker in a country whose institutions do not support victims. Motoko Rich of the New York Times explains that in Japan
  • Complaints of sexual harassment and assault rarely result in arrests or prosecutions.
  • Public education to discourage sexual assault is nonexistent.
  • Rape laws make no mention of consent.
Rich cites Tomoe Yatagawa, a lecturer in gender law at Waseda University as explaining that “prejudice against women is deep-rooted and severe, and people don’t consider the damage from sexual crimes seriously at all.” The author quotes Shiori Ito as saying that she knows she must be strong and continue to speak out if Japan’s patriarchal institutions are ever going to stop protecting men and start respecting women. Radical Islam in France—Henda Ayari, a French citizen of North African parentage, chose to publicly denounce the beliefs of her radical Salafi Muslim community in 2015 after the terrorist attack and bombing of the Bataclan concert hall. New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall writes that Ayari’s denunciation of the treatment of women in Salafism brought many threats and insults to her on social media. Then, in 2017, after “reading the accounts of women outing their sexual aggressors in the #MeToo campaign on social media after the Harvey Weinstein scandal,” Ayari decided to unburden herself of the secret she had been carrying about being raped in 2012 by a famous Swiss-born Muslim scholar in France by posting her story on social media. She received many messages from other Muslim women in France who have kept silent about sexual abuse and are struggling with patriarchal Salafist strictures that isolate women and require obedience to men. Speaking out and telling her story to demonstrate that women are not inferior, deserve to be respected, and do not have to wear a veil to be a good Muslim has given her a sense of purpose. She has founded a nonprofit to help women seek legal help and refuge. Sweden—When Cissi Wallin, vacationing in New York City with her family from Sweden in October 2017, read the story on Harvey Weinstein, she wondered, “What if people would believe me now?” Jenny Nordberg of the New York Times explains that Wallin had filed a rape complaint in Sweden in 2011 against a high-profile journalist, which was dismissed within a few weeks. Inspired by #MeToo, she decided to post the incident and the name of her attacker on social media. Soon more women came forward about this same man. Then stories of other high-profile individuals came pouring forth from tens of thousands of Swedish women about brutal sexual assaults in every profession. Nordberg notes that while Sweden prides itself on being best in class on gender equality, all the rules, regulations, and agencies devoted to gender equality have not changed basic cultural patriarchal assumptions about the supremacy of men and “traditional sexual norms” that leave women responsible for protecting themselves. Nordberg explains that men in Sweden use their professional power and influence to harass or abuse younger, often subordinate women, often at work, and, like everywhere else, seem to consider it their right to do so. Clearly there is more work to do in Sweden, and everywhere else. Susan Faludi of the New York Times notes that outrage and removal of a few men will not result in women’s equality. If we do not stay focused on changing public attitudes about gender roles and on changing the economic and legal structures that perpetuate the gender pay gap, deny access to family planning, and silence women’s complaints about sexual abuse, we will never have true gender equality or workplaces free of harassment. Faludi explains that the #MeToo movement is important, but it will not change anything if we do not also follow the lead of Alabama’s black women voters and turn out for elections, encourage the ongoing Women’s March on Washington, and support the stunning number of female candidates seeking office in the coming elections. #MeToo is the next step in a long journey, but it is not the end of the road.   Photo by Josh Estey, CC BY 2.0.]]>

Invisible Victims of Sexual Harassment: Hotel and Blue-Collar Workers

The tidal wave of public accusations and firings of high-profile men for sexual harassment and assault, known as the #MeToo movement, has swept across several sectors and industries in recent weeks, including technology, entertainment, finance, and government. But not everyone who experiences sexual harassment and assault as an employee feels included in the #MeToo movement. Hotel and blue-collar workers are often invisible victims of sexual harassment for whom participating in the #MeToo movement either is too dangerous or does not help them. Benjamin Mueller of the New York Times explains that hotel workers, especially housekeepers and janitors, are particularly vulnerable to being sexually harassed because they work alone. While some states and several cities have passed laws to protect hotel workers, hotels tend to put the needs and experiences of guests, especially VIPs, before those of employees. Consequently, workers do not trust management to do anything about their complaints and fear being fired as troublemakers if they do report harassment. Immigrant workers are especially vulnerable because of limited job opportunities. A union survey of hotel workers in Chicago found that 58 percent of them had been sexually harassed by a guest, so this is no small problem. Difficulties for blue-collar workers were recently revealed in an exposé of sexual harassment at Ford Motor Company written by Susan Chira and Catrin Einhorn of the New York Times. The most interesting point about the situation at Ford is that sexual harassment is not a new problem there. Women at Ford filed and won a lawsuit for $22 million in the 1990s for sexual harassment and assault in two Chicago plants. The women endured being groped or rubbed against, male colleagues masturbating in front of them, and offers from supervisors for better assignments in exchange for sex—with retribution if they refused. A number of these Ford women worked with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the 1990s to sue the company and won a settlement, but twenty-five years later, at these same two plants, women are subjected to many of the same abuses. Chira and Einhorn report that when the women complained in the 1990s, they were, “mocked, dismissed, threatened and ostracized.” Many of the men whom they filed complaints against kept their jobs after the settlement, while the women were asked to leave. New sexual harassment lawsuits have been filed with a recent settlement by Ford for $10 million, but, in spite of lots of sexual harassment training, the culture of the organization has never changed. The story of sexual harassment at Ford shows the challenges of transforming an organization’s culture. After the lawsuit of the 1990s, the company did not act aggressively enough to root out the problem. Instead, they

  • Delayed firing those accused.
  • Let sexual harassment training wane.
  • Failed to stop retaliation.
  • Failed to staff an antiharassment hotline. They published the number but calls were not returned.
  • Instituted policies that required witnesses to prove a claim of harassment.
Chira and Einhorn note that while senior leaders at Ford currently make pronouncements about not tolerating sexual harassment as a company, employees say, “They don’t even go on the floor, so they don’t know what goes on.” Blue-collar women at Ford now feel that not only does the #MeToo movement not help them, even lawsuits do not work to improve their work environment. It’s easy to understand how they may feel invisible. We must work together to make their situation visible, amplify their voices, and put pressure on all companies to change their cultures to be safe for workers. As the story of the Ford women demonstrates, lawsuits and training are clearly not enough.   Photo by Diego Torres Silvestre, CC BY 2.0.      ]]>