Yes, the media is all over Harvey Weinstein's egregious behavior and dreadful reports of sexual harassment in his high-powered Hollywood circles. Let us take this moment in time to address sexual harassment in all other arenas of life. As we know, sexual harassment goes on in significantly less glittery and star-studded workplaces and circles of life. You see, sexual harassment has and continues to infiltrate places where men and women work together, get educated and even socialize. Men are harassed and women are harassed. At this moment we will discuss women being harassed by men. That is a large enough issue to tackle at this time. Sadly but certainly there will be other opportunities to discuss the equally distressing harassment of men.
It goes like this: A woman is meeting with her male boss and suddenly supervision meetings meander to comments about the woman's appearance, her style or her boss's sexual desires. In other words, the discussions are clearly unrelated to improving her work life. In fact, these meetings are about to make her work life significantly more confusing, complicated and distressing. Her life, in general, will be impacted and certainly not positively.
Or: The boss is starting to request more meetings with a woman he supervises. He gets too close for comfort. He leans in and reaches not for his pen but for the woman's body. And, this woman becomes scared and confused and has no idea what to do. This is because she was trained to do a job not to take care of her boss's sexual needs and desires.
Or like this: A graduate student is meeting with her professor. They are talking about her upcoming internship. All appears to be going well. Abruptly, the discussion shifts to the professor's desire to see the student outside of the office in a completely different outfit or perhaps with no clothes on at all. Maybe he even exposes himself. There are many, many permutations of what may happen in offices all around the country at all different times of the day.
Or maybe even like this: Your teenage daughter is being coached to be a better athlete. Well, her coach unilaterally decides to school her in something other than her sport. He brushes up against her newly developed body. And, not just to help her adjust her form. And, this escalates over time. He begins to press against her body so that he can stimulate himself. The teenager is very likely feeling unsure about what is happening. She continues to be coached and, unsure if the coach is behaving appropriately, she doesn't tell her parents about the coach's new technique.
Unfortunately, many of you who are reading this can relate to at least one of the above scenarios. And, clearly, you can relate to the power dynamic. You are in the hands of (hopefully not literally) someone who has power over you and you just don't know what to do. You probably feel dirty, scared and very, very anxious. After all, you don't want to lose your job, get kicked out of school or even disappoint and upset your parents or other significant people in your life. You start to wonder if what just happened really happened. You start to question your own perceptions. And, you hope with your entire heart and soul that this behavior is time-limited and will stop. You may even feel like you did something to cause this. Self-blame and shame are very common feelings. So, what is a woman to do?
I am going to try to be helpful but bear in mind that I know how much women have at stake here. You might follow my recommendations and find yourself out of a job and in a very tricky situation. Whatever you do will not be easy but I am trying to preserve your emotional health. Your relationships with the powerful men in your life may not survive. This, may, however, be a good outcome. I am painfully aware that most of you are not going to have an easy time but please read on.
I am very concerned that women who are being sexually harassed also feel emotionally isolated. They keep the harassment to themselves and this leads to anxiety and feeling alone. I implore you to speak to at least one trusted friend so that you can get support and avoid the anxiety and stress associated with keeping a secret.
Trust your intuition. If something feels wrong then it probably is. If you are not sure then get the opinion of that trusted friend, You need to feel validated. If you don't then I am afraid that your mental health will deteriorate and you will quickly lose your sense of balance.
Get some distance from the above-described male. Move back. Try to avoid meeting alone with these men. When they move into areas where they are not welcome change the topic. Redirect the discussion. And, if you can, tell them that you are uncomfortable. They may not care but they may take heed.
Let's say that you have spoken with trusted friends and you feel validated that the powerful man in your life is crossing a line. And let's also hope that you trust your intuition that something is terribly wrong. You have then attempted to get the "leaning-in" man to lean back. Despite all of this the man continues to harass you. You have a major problem on your hands and you don't know what to do. At this point you must consider reaching out to the personnel department at work, to the chairman of your department at school, to your parents who hired the coach etc. The list goes on. You need help. Report it. And, with the support of your family, friends and perhaps the personnel department you may get help. Of course, this may not be enough. Sometimes you have to leave a job or other situation. The dilemma, of course, is that not everyone is in a position to hire lawyers, lose a job or a position in life. I beg you though to seek support with whatever you choose to do because no one-not a single one of us-can handle harassment on our own. It is bigger, uglier and more insidious than most things in life.
I wish you luck. I wish you love. And, I pray that you get emotional support. I want you to know that you are not alone. And, mostly, I hope that your life is not too disrupted by this process that you did not ask for. I hope that you are able to get your life back on an easier and less bumpy trajectory.