Defining the problem of Sexism & Harassment

by Amy Adams

Nothing cute or witty to say here, just the facts Jack.

The media has been focused on sexual harassment in Hollywood and the United States but it is a worldwide phenomenon that has been measured in various studies. One of the problems that have been identified around the issue of sexual harassment is that no universal definition exists and every incident must be put in context based on relationships, circumstances and environments.

Even within a particular culture, there are variances and people don’t always agree on what is unacceptable or inappropriate behaviour. There are so many factors that influence the nature of this problem as well, so today’s focus touches on them.

Defining the undefinable

First, the issues that belie not having a universal definition –

  • The lack of a universal definition of what constitutes sexual harassment makes it more difficult to objectively measure and quantify it. (un.org)
  • Whether sexualised behaviours are considered sexual harassment will depend on the relationship between the people involved and the context in which they occur. (UK Army Report)
  • Individuals are likely to have different levels of tolerance for these behaviours; what is viewed as sexual harassment by one may not be by another. (UK Army Report)

Sexual harassment is a broad term that usually refers to incidents at a workplace or in a professional setting. It can include quid pro quo forms: the threat of retaliation or victimisation if women do not submit and the promise of reward if they do. It is frequently divided into three forms:

  1. verbal harassment – remarks about someone’s body or look, catcalling & whistling, sexual jokes, verbal sexual advances – flirtation and unwelcome invitations
  2. non-verbal harassment – leering, staring, offensive displays of women’s objectified bodies as in advertising campaigns, or sharing pictures without women’s consent
  3. physical harassment – wide range including unsolicited physical contact, assault, rape

The some of the examples listed above can fit into the categories of sexual misconduct or sexual assault.

Name It

Listing these factors to me is a good way to name the problem. Let’s keep in mind that there are many men who are interested in tackling this problem or learning how they can help and that will be addressed in another piece. For now, if the purpose of people coming forward now is to create awareness let’s get outside of the specific stories and look at the cultural historic trends –

  1. Society has ignored the harassment of women. This happens in not only the workplace but in the judicial system as well.
  2. Maisie Williams, buzzfeed
  3. Women are named as the cause or instigators of harassment or assault by –
    a. the clothing they wear. There have been numerous instances where school dress codes were put in place that were biased against girls and young women. In some cases, administrators even stated the flawed argument that boys will be distracted and somehow that is a female person’s fault.
    b. they can be accused of simply lying and/or their historical and unrelated sexual behaviour especially in criminal trials can be used against them – they are essentially being put on trial instead of their perpetrators.
  4. Hierarchical workplaces place position and the people in them above others. People in positions of power or celebrity are often given preferential treatment.
  5. The holdover of the notion of women as property, more specifically their chastity as the property of their father’s or husbands. It takes years for a culture to fully embrace change and even though legally women have rights, they are not always recognised by individuals.
  6. In general, due to a larger physique have more muscle mass thereby basically men are physically stronger than women.
  7. Men hold more power in a patriarchal society.
  8. Sexism exists. Sexism says that one gender is inherently superior to another and it is a learned behaviour that starts in childhood. This includes the idiom ‘boys will be boys’ and can be seen in the types of products marketed to children, in particular girls.
  9. Girls begin to be objectified as they near or hit puberty.
  10. Women are objectified in the media – advertising

    Welcome to the party. #officeparty #honeybirdette

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    and especially through the normalisation of pornography which results in a lack of empathy and creates unrealistic ideals around sexuality and relationship – 69% of pay-per-view Internet content market is pornography.

  11. Princess phenomena are perpetuated in films and television.
  12. Laws and culture protect men in power.
  13. When women are perceived as powerful, they are labelled a bitch. But when a man is perceived to be powerful he is admired. A double standard, both sexes are aware of it even unconsciously since it’s embedded in the culture.
  14. Sexual abuse is about domination and humiliation.
  15. Feminists are insulted or harassed for believing that all people, all humans regardless of gender should have equal privileges.

What would you add here?

What would you add to this list? Or how would you expound on any of the given items in the list?