Thoughts on sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is in the news right now because of the allegations (and the consequences of those allegations) concerning Harvey Weinstein.

According to numerous women, including some as famous as Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, Weinstein has been harassing women in the movie business for decades with impunity.

With that story in mind, I think it’s important now to take a moment to remember how prevalent sexual harassment is, even in industries that purport to be progressive in such matters and to highlight just how crucial it is that people take sexual harassment in the workplace seriously.

What I mean by “seriously” is that when people come forward (and it isn’t always women, Terry Crews has also come forward alleging assault from another Hollywood producer), they are believed and serious, public investigations take place.

In the case of Weinstein, allegations had been made for decades against the man, but because of his power in the industry, and in wider circles of power beyond that (including sway with the news media and in politics), those allegations were hushed up. The number of victims surely multiplied exponentially due to the choices of many along the way to refuse to hear the cries of victims and to refuse to seriously investigate the claims.

A second, larger issue that doesn’t focus just on individuals within those situations but on all of us, is the fact we as a society continue to shrug at sexual harassment until it reaches grotesque levels. While we don’t live in the Mad Men era in which executives harass every woman in the office, we as a society simply expect women to deal with sexual pressure in the workplace and to get over it. One of the reasons women don’t come forward more often is because they worry not just that they won’t be believed but that they have nothing to complain about.

“You should feel flattered,” is a common response.

This, by the way, in some ways, goes double for men, who are meant to always be pleased by any sexual attention, no matter how inappropriate.

We all, individually and as a culture, need to learn to take sexual harassment seriously and to accept that it is a problem. No one is entitled to put any kind of sexual pressure upon you, and when it happens, there need to be consequences, no matter how important the person doing the harassing is.

The fact Weinstein has finally been exposed is a promising sign, but there is much work yet to do. Educate yourself on what your options are if you’ve been harassed. If you do not find a sympathetic voice within your company, consider legal help. Lawyers know the law, and they know how to strengthen your case so it sticks, even if the company doesn’t want to hear it.

Otherwise, we can all try to be more vigilant, to watch out for each other. And, of course, when stories come forward, we have to be strong enough to believe and stand by those who are risking much to expose those who are harming them and others.

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