We asked social workers who use our domestic violence software to help us understand what is going on with the sudden eruption of the #MeToo movement. Sweeping across the media landscape like wildfire, a tsunami of accusations began with Roger Ailes at Fox and Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood then quickly enveloped such well known T.V. personalities as Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keilor, and Kevin Spacey. Even the most cynical among us was startled by the sudden collective outcry sent up by the women of Hollywood. What, we asked our colleagues, is going on here?
They answered that ever since the days of the infamous “casting couch,” women seeking careers in the male dominated movie and TV industry have remained silent when being subjected to the whole spectrum of male domination from sexual harassment to sexual assault. “This unwanted male domination is, of course, not confined to the movie industry” our colleagues reminded us.
What exactly are we talking about here? What is sexual harassment? Our social worker colleagues offered this definition:
Definition: Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of discrimination that includes any uninvited comments, conduct or behavior regarding sex, gender or sexual orientation.
Bottom line: Any actions or words with a sexual connotation that interfere with an employee's ability to work or create an uncomfortable atmosphere are considered sexual harassment.
What about the other end of the spectrum? What is sexual assault? Our social worker colleagues generally agreed on the following definition:
Definition: Sexual assault is unwanted sexual contact that stops short of rape or attempted rape. This includes sexual touching and fondling. Usually a sexual assault occurs when someone touches any part of another person's body in a sexual way, even through clothes, without that person's consent.
Bottom Line: In most states sexual assault occurs when there is lack of consent from one of the individuals involved. Consent must take place between two adults who are not incapacitated and can change any time during the sexual act.
Why No Outcry Before This?
In the October issue of the Harvard Business Review, Stephanie Johnson, Jessica Kirk, and Keshia Keplinger reported that “75% of the women we interviewed mentioned they had been sexually harassed at work. They cited it as a cost of being attractive, and few spoke up for themselves or others. Indeed, a 2015 survey showed that 71% of women do not report sexual harassment.”
The Harvard researchers offered some unexpected insights into why women have not reported sexual harassment in the past.
- Price of Admittance Syndrome – “In very masculine work cultures, some men use the subjugation of women as a way to relate to other men and prove their masculinity, while reinforcing women’s lower status. At the same time, women who want to be part of the high-status group may play along with sexual harassment because they do not want to be further alienated from the high-status group (men). Women may even start to adopt the same behaviors as men to fit in and be “one of the guys.” This creates an irony that women may be ignoring or downplaying sexual harassment to gain access to the “boys’ club” while men are using sexual harassment to keep women out.”
- The Bystander Effect – “Another reason individuals may fail to speak out against sexual harassment is something called the “bystander effect”, which says that we are less likely to help a victim when others are also present. The bystander effect occurs for two reasons: diffusion of responsibility (if others are present, someone feels that other observers are responsible for intervening) and social influence (bystanders observe others’ behavior to determine the correct behavior so if no one is intervening then that seems to be the correct behavior, as people abide by the status quo). This can even give the appearance that the behavior is condoned by observers.”
Women are outraged. They have had enough. One of the founders of the #MeToo movement writes this sage advice to the outraged community of women: “To reach a point where we can accept some space between zero accountability and complete destruction, we must first grapple with the issue of equivalency. If we paint episodes of vulgar (and deeply regrettable) behavior from 20 years ago with the same brush as serial criminal behavior, we will never move forward and more importantly, we eschew the complicated nuances of context for the easier path of absolutes. Outrage is a valuable commodity… but its usefulness can be diminished by overuse. And understanding and learning from the past is the only way towards a future that reflects real change”.