Your wife might disagree.
The other day, a man I know laughed about some videos that he watches regularly on YouTube. He enjoys seeing the reactions of people from other countries and cultures to American food and products. On this day, he laughed about their reactions to some American jokes.
In one video, a young husband holds his cell phone in one hand. The viewer sees him waving his other hand around as he walks through his home. He ends up in the kitchen where his wife washes dishes at the sink. He slaps her on the butt and scurries away cackling madly.
The foreign viewers frown and look at each other, their faces questioning what they had just seen. One said, “Is this supposed to be funny?” The other said, “Do they think this is sexy?” Clearly the joke was lost on them. Me, too.
If you think it’s sexy
As a child, I often saw my father pinch my mother’s behind while she was busy with ironing, vacuuming, or other chores. He would also pinch my grandma or me. It’s called ‘goosing’. My mother would giggle, my grandma told him to “Stop that,” and I learned to duck-and-cover.
Looking back, my dad must have thought it showed his affection for us. It happened frequently. After my brother was born, he copied my dad’s behavior. It wasn’t funny or loving from either one of them. I always felt attacked and embarrassed.
In hindsight, I realize I felt sexually harassed. I think many women may feel the same.
Lighten up. You’re taking this too seriously.
I get it. It’s supposed to be a joke, but a joke for whom? And where do we draw the line on jokes? People who are on the receiving end of sexual harassment don’t find it funny. They may be embarrassed, but they also may feel unsafe.
Would you find this behavior funny if it happened to your daughter, sister, mother, aunt, niece, or grandmother? What if you were a young teenage boy and received that treatment from an adult, man or woman? Is it okay for a woman to treat a man that way? Would you feel flattered by this treatment, or threatened?
The thing is, if we watch a video and laugh at the ‘joke’, we might be part of the problem, too. We shouldn’t consider this to be funny at all. If the husband scowled at his wife instead of running away, we would definitely have concern for the wife’s safety. Laughing it off doesn’t make it funny.
What is sexual harassment?
In the United States, someone is sexually assaulted every 93 seconds and 90 percent are female. Out of every 1000 rapes, 995 go unpunished. These statistics are alarming but not surprising to women, who are often blamed for what happens to them. Many choose to remain silent.
Sexual assault is any nonconsensual sexual act, such as rape and other sexual violence. According to the EEOC harassment includes any on-going and pervasive “unwelcome verbal, visual, nonverbal, or physical conduct that is of a sexual nature or based on someone’s sex.” While law enforcement tracks sexual assault, sexual harassment has little documentation.
According to a recent report by NPR and a survey by the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment, 81% of women and 43% of men have experienced sexual harassment, such as catcalling, leering, sexual slurs and groping. Remember my father’s goosing? Yup, it can be called sexual harassment.
What is the cost?
For individuals, the cost is high. It can affect self-worth and mental health as well as their physical health. It can lead to termination of employment, demotions, or lack of promotion. The individual may feel forced to avoid opportunities and training necessary for advancement.
This results in loss of pay and lower wages for the person who experiences sexual harassment. Victims change their own lives to avoid the harasser, and a mere 11% report the behavior. Only 1% of victims actually confront the person who harassed them.
Companies too experience losses due to sexual harassment in the workplace. These losses can be in the form of legal expenses, employee turnover, absences, low morale and reduced productivity. The costs add up and affect the profitability of the business.
How can you end sexual harassment?
The most important thing to do is speak up. It is scary, but necessary. If no one talks, the problem can’t come to light. Think about the #MeToo movement. If one person speaks up, others may feel empowered to come forward. Keep speaking up until someone listens.
Find support. Look for people who can help you speak up or will have your back. They may be other victims, or they may be witnesses. They could also be close friends or family members who give you encouragement. Your doctor, minister or other professionals can be on your support team.
Talk the to person who is doing the unwanted act. Maybe they don’t realize how it makes you feel. If I were the wife of the man in the video, I would tell him, “Hey, don’t do that,” and make sure he understands that it isn’t funny or sexy to me.
Get creative in response. If I was sexually harassed by a stranger, I might try to get a bit creative by pretending to interview him for an article about the thinking behind sexual harassment. Here are a few other creative ways people have dealt with unwanted sexual advances.
Be a responsible bystander witness.
Report sexual harassment to the police or human resources on the victim’s behalf. Write down your name and number and give it to them. Let them know they could call you for support any time.
For a victim you don’t know in a public place, create a distraction. Holler, “Yo, Maria. There you are. I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Al is waiting for us, we gotta go.” Then take her arm and lead her away. Always check that she’s okay.
Companies must follow through on clearly defined sexual harassment policies.
They must provide safe and effective ways to report it that doesn’t create consequences for the victim. Companies cannot condone the offender’s behavior by ignoring it or making excuses.
The victim should not be forced to change to be safe. Instead, companies need to require the offender to make reparations. This will help ensure a safe workplace.
Teach your children well.
Children imitate the behavior of the adults around them. My brother imitated my father. My son imitated my husband. I also imitated the adults in my life. That is one important way children learn what is, and is not, acceptable behavior.
Show your children, through your actions, what is loving and respectful. Teach them empathy by encouraging them to think about how inappropriate touching or name-calling makes another person feel. Help them learn that if what they do hurts, it is abusive.
Remind your children that touching someone inappropriately is never a joke. Slapping, punching or hitting someone is not funny. Neither are wolf whistles, cat calls, or saying, “Hey, bay-bee.” They must understand that if they see or experience something that makes them feel uncomfortable it is okay to tell a trusted adult.
Children need to learn that if they are interested in someone, they should speak to them with thoughtfulness. Help them learn what another person would find flattering and not harassing or abusive. My mother would have been pleased with my father giving her hugs or a kiss on the cheek. I know I would have felt loved by that.
Sexual harassment is everyone’s problem
Companies and individuals are responsible for putting an end to sexual harassment. Teaching children different behavior is key to permanently ending this #MeToo crisis. Victims must continue to speak up, and offenders must be made aware that their behavior is not flattering or wanted.
People who act this way may never have considered that it might be wrong. It’s hard to admit when we have made an error in judgment, especially when social media is full of approving examples billed as jokes. It’s okay to step in a point it out.
Harassment of any kind shouldn’t be so normal that it is just background noise that we no longer notice. It’s up to each of us to admit our own part and do what is necessary to improve the world around us. Afterall, we only control our own actions and reactions. We can’t control others, just set an example.
If we change the way we all think about sexual harassment, we can stop it quickly. We mustn’t ignore the behavior or believe it’s normal to treat people that way. If we all take responsibility for stopping it, we can make our world a safer and more enjoyable place to live.
To find help, search for Sexual Harassment Support Services in your browser. Look for local, county and state resources where you live. For sexual assault, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673.
- Institute for Women’s Policy Research
- Legal Jobs
- Stop Street Harassment
- EEOC Fact Sheet
- American Psychological Association
Pat Davis, a retired teacher and editor of Simply Living and Living Simply, lives with her husband and neurotic cat, Neko. She loves to read, write, travel, bake, garden, sew, and craft. Top writer in Food and Cooking.