There are various incidents of sexual harassment that I have come into contact with throughout my life—the acceptance of this fact is stifling. When did I become self-aware this was sexual harassment? When did this become an accepted outlook as to what I have to deal with as a woman on a daily basis? As females, are we always aware that it is sexual harassment?
I am 28 years old. The past year has become a huge turning point in my life. I understand my potential as a female, what role I want to play, and I am becoming much more independent. In coming to these realizations, the apparent differences in gender roles come up quite often. Just the simple fact that I am female, automatically and unfortunately puts me at a disadvantage in so many instances. I am a sincere, open and honest person.
As a woman, my pure candor and boldness has gotten me into trouble on various occasions.
It is in my experience that as an honest and audacious character, I come across as bitchy and callous to both sexes. I feel that straightforwardness should be cherished and celebrated–not impeded or obstructed.
With all of this being said why is it that when we react negatively to unwanted male attention, our disapproving response is condemned as wrong and the blame is put back on us?
“Oh, that’s not what I meant.” “You misunderstood.” “I was just being friendly.” Or even to go to the extent of, “She’s asking for it, look at her.”
How did this become such an established outlook? Is it perhaps because males are brought into this world believing that this type of behavior is perfectly acceptable?
When a little boy is bullying a girl, it is explained as an innocent crush, excusing him from his negative behavior.
From my encounters, I believe that it stems developmentally and psychologically from our first experiences—our immediate family. A male’s interaction with his mother is constructive to how his views and behavior are towards women later on in his life. This is just as important as a female’s interaction with her father. Are the males in the family respectful of the women—are they treated with dignity? Conversely, are the females taught to treat males with respect and worth?
I was brought up in a household where my mother was a strong and opinionated lady and my father was always gentle, accepting, and respectful of her and her views. This has helped me shape my gender views as well as my boundaries with men. I should never tolerate a man making me feel uncomfortable–ever. However, if I had grown up in a family setting in which the mother was very quiet and passive, and the father was domineering, my outlook would have become very different and I, personally feel, that I would not be as comfortable expressing my opinions or standing up for myself at the appropriate times.
This is not to suggest that this situation would only result in this specific type of outlook. I do recognize that we have to become aware of ourselves and be the strong and resilient women that we look up to, and in doing so, we will create like-minded men and women so that this negative treatment and way of thinking will only be a thought of the past.
I think one of the biggest problems with sexual harassment is that it has become so tolerated and it is difficult for some to either realize what is happening, or what to do once it has happened.
I have had my own personal encounter with being victimized last year which I feel was a defining moment for myself due to the way that I handled the situation:
I was working at an office store and received a phone call earlier in the morning. It was an older male and I assumed that it was a normal customer needing help. He said that he needed to find an item for a woman in his life who is very strict. He states that he is a doctor and that he is very strict with the women in his office. I tried to steer the conversation back to the items he was looking for.
He told me I was a very good helper and that he wanted to call my boss and tell them good things about me. He asked if they would like to hear from doctors. He kept calling me a good girl. I continued to ask what items he was looking for, and he said, “I’m looking for a stapler. I don’t have the style number but it looks really big and thick and it’s really hard….”
At that point I realized what he was doing and why he was breathing so heavily on the phone. I exclaimed, “What? Excuse me?” and he feigned that he lost connection, and hung up.
Afterwards I felt dazed, uncomfortable, and completely violated. I had never encountered something like this and I was at a loss for what to do. Without my dear friend who I was working with at the time, I do not know how I would have been able to handle the situation. She cleared my head, helped me identify that it was sexual harassment, and that the next course of action would be to tell someone.
This sparked in my mind that if I was so paralyzed in this minor situation (I say minor delicately because thankfully for myself, this was over the phone and not in person), how many other women are out there who are unaware of what is happening, block it out, or do not know exactly what to do as well. I feel that my greatest struggle was not knowing how to react during the situation.
I was in a unique position where I was meant to be offering excellent customer service but this man was obviously manipulating and abusing my circumstance. This was the most suggestive occurrence during my time in sales but it definitely was not the only instance.
Being conscious and mindful of yourself and others is the best and most helpful way to protect yourself from unwanted attention. Listen to your gut instinct and know that you have the right to say, “No,” or take yourself out of ANY situation that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Don’t be afraid to come off as “bitchy” or rude if the person who is making you feel distressed is not getting the hint—they are the ones that are in the wrong by making you feel this way so bring it to their attention.
Be aware of any uneasy feeling that you may get, because chances are, it’s your intuition urging you stay on your guard and to protect yourself.
I come from a great line of strong women in my family. I had a great grandmother who made and sold liquor during the Depression to feed her family, an aunt who was a “Rosie Riveter,” a woman who worked in an aircraft factory while the men were away during World War II, a grandmother who was orphaned and modeled herself after the women she admired, and a mother who taught her daughters they could be anything they wanted to be.
We should envision that there is no such thing as a glass ceiling and no such boundaries should stop us.
This is how we can change the future of our treatment as women—to become strong and bold females ourselves that men respect and admire. It starts with you and how you want to be treated.