By Shoeb Amin
Sexual harassment and sexually inappropriate behavior is constantly in the news these days. Everyday we hear one more celebrity knocked off his (so far no her) high perch. Some call it a “watershed” moment because women now feel more empowered to come forth with their complaints and are now more likely to be believed. That is the way it should have been long ago and that’s how it should continue to be. But I personally have some questions about this issue, along with some difficult answers that I’ll share; hopefully some others will enlighten us with their thoughts.
Disclaimer: 1) The opinions expressed here are mine and not those of the Thinkers’ Forum.
2) This write up excludes serious sexual assault and rape
1) Will this “watershed” moment mean the end of sexual harassment?
Both males and females are tugged by evolutionary forces to attract each other and to be attracted to each other. In some species like the birds, males do almost all the adornment and the hard work to attract females. In our own species females do most of the adornment and the hard work to attract the opposite sex. Whether they are thinking consciously at the time or not, everything they do, from exercise to stay in shape, colorful clothing to provocative dressing to jewelry to make up and other accessories, everything is geared toward getting the attention of the opposite sex (even if it be their own mates). Men too strive for female attention but do not put as much effort and time into it. What both sexes are hoping is the attention of a desirable mate; unfortunately it also attracts the attention of undesirables and creeps.
If that first step of attracting is successful it leads to a sexual advance. This could be anything from a complement regarding the appearance to “what is your zodiac sign” to “can I buy you a drink” to all the way to groping and grabbing, the last two by people who don’t follow social norms nor legal jeopardy or by people who are in a hurry to get to third base without bothering to touch first and second bases. It is the crude advances of undesirables that constitutes sexual harassment. As long as men – and women – are tugged by evolutionary forces, as long as men and women work in close proximity and as long as women feel they can wear whatever they want and act however they want (even though they legally have the right to do both, at least in Western countries), the answer is not likely. It may become much less in the upper echelons of society because people who value their reputation and careers and have deep pockets will be less likely to indulge in such behavior and will more likely control their impulses.. I doubt it will deter a male waiter in a restaurant from behaving badly with his female co-workers.
2) Do women contribute to their own sexual harassment?
Even just asking that question can get you in the doghouse. Just click on one of the links below and read what happened to Donna Karan when she spoke on this subject. I am sure I will get a lot of heat for approaching this subject.
Most of us, when asked that question wanting to be politically correct, would say: absolutely not. That women have the right to wear what they want, go where they want and act however they want without worrying about harassment. And legally they are right; no argument there. But to those folks I would ask a question: Women (and men) also have a right to jog in Central Park after dark, they also have a right to go into a subway at midnight flashing $20000 worth of jewelry and not be robbed. And if anybody did go into the subway at night wearing all that jewelry, and was robbed and beaten, besides feeling angry at the perpetrator, would you not say; were you out of your mind going into into the subway with all that jewelry? That you were asking for it ?(getting robbed and beaten up). And we do advise both men and women to avoid wearing jewelry prominently any time of day and if using the subway at odd hours to stay in the car next to conductor. So why can’t women be told not to attract the wrong kind of attention for their own safety?
That suggestion should not even come from men but from women themselves for their own protection. Something along the lines of Black Lives Matter asking Black teenagers to practice “Hands up, don’t shoot” for their own protection. I suggest a slightly less catchy slogan “Less attention, more respect” for women. Now I am not suggesting that all harassment will go away if women dress modestly. No, men being men, some will always act like Neanderthals. And I am sure sexual harassment happens even in cultures where women dress more conservatively. Some of those cultures may even have more harassment , but mostly because of absence of law and order.But relying exclusively on men to change their behavior is impractical. Evolution is a slow process and it will take time when ALL men evolve into decent, honorable human beings. Waiting until then is like asking Black men to wait until the police become more racially sensitive while more of them get killed.
That brings up the $64000 question as to what is inappropriate dressing. There are no easy answers; I certainly don’t have one. Wearing a burqa is not the answer. I guess each woman has to decide for herself how much attention she wants, including the attention of creeps. Again this is a women’s safety issue and they should be the ones figuring out those answers.
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Interesting articles: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/10/fashion/harvey-weinstein-donna-karan.html