Facing Sexual Harassment Head-On


“If your flirting strategy is indistinguishable from harassment, it's not everyone else that's the problem.” ― John Scalzi

I really, really didn’t want to write about sexual harassment this month. I didn’t want to write about those who couldn’t keep their hands to themselves or those who thought that it was funny or those who bragged of assault like a victory. And I especially didn’t want to write about how those people somehow found their way to power. But every time I turned on the news, there it was.

If anyone had any doubts that sexual harassment was not only real but a constant, continuing threat for women everywhere, I sure hope that this month has enlightened them. Because as much as I wanted to believe that we now live in a world where this kind of behavior is rare at best, it is becoming increasingly clear that this is not the case. A recent online campaign, #MeToo, in which women all over the world came together to share their stories of harassment, along with the increasing number of people coming forward with accusations have revealed just how common the problem is. Among those accused have been Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Bill O’Reilly, Roy Moore, and others: very different people from all over the political spectrum that are proving that sexual harassment is not a partisan issue, it is a human issue.

But when it comes down to it, it’s even more than just that. Because while it may be tempting to just write off those accused as evil or bad, that suddenly becomes a lot more difficult when it is your friends, leaders, and others that you trusted and looked up to that are caught on the other side of the accusation. Suddenly we find ourselves rationalizing, trying to explain away the behavior of those who were so good in every other area. It’s easier to believe that only bad people are involved in this oppression, which leaves you with two choices: abandon your belief in the accused or find a way to excuse their behavior. But in many cases, the problem of sexual misconduct goes much deeper than the flawed character of an individual, it is systemic.

Sexual harassment is so pervasive, not because we have a bunch of evil people everywhere, but because we have somehow created a culture that is okay with it. We have somehow created a culture that laughs and looks the other way. We have somehow created a culture that turns around and elects it into power. From the romantic trope of the overly persistent boyfriend to the mantra of “no means yes” and the idea that a woman’s clothes could somehow be more at fault than her rapist, society has accepted this culture in discreet and pervasive ways. These ideas take route in us as we grow and allow us to ignore, to laugh off, and even to justify a culture that is harming women. It turns us into the people that take the picture, that laugh at the jokes, that watch the show, and that allow society to continue believing that treating women like this is okay.

Culture is by no means an excuse for the reprehensible behavior displayed by so many. It is not an excuse for assault nor harassment nor making women intentionally uncomfortable for your own enjoyment. But it is something that we have to talk about and consider. Because if we don’t get to the route of these problems, we’ll never truly be safe. We have to be the ones to bring it up, the ones who call it out, the ones who make it matter. Because it does, and we do, and so do the feelings and bodies and safety of women everywhere.

I didn’t want to write about sexual harassment this month, and maybe, just maybe, that is a part of the problem.