An attractive young woman walks down a city street. Some construction workers whistle at her, one utters catcalls. She is embarrassed and annoyed, feeling vulnerable. Is that sexual harassment?
From this young woman’s perspective, yes.
So she attaches #metoo to her Facebook status.
Now her friends are left to wonder what happened to her. Some may know her husband, former boyfriends, current employer or even her male relatives and wonder if one of them assaulted her.
The #metoo phenomenon, while perhaps well intentioned, simply perpetuates a persistent state of female victimhood.
Victims of sexual assault, rape, groping and other physical encroachments fall into a totally different category from my hypothetical young woman catching cat-calls. A true victim is physically violated against her will. She is a victim of a crime. These women deserve our sympathy and assistance and understanding. They have truly been violated.
By contrast, many instances of perceived “sexual harassment” highlighted by the #metoo campaign appear to run the gamut from hurt feelings all the way to “hostile work environments.” These “victims” have choices. Here are a few:
- Ignore the behavior, and don’t waste your time worrying about hurtful things others have said to you; chances are, their opinions are meaningless anyway.
- Try to correct the perceived offensive behavior; call out the action, explain how it made you feel and hope the person is receptive to your complaint.
- If this is a workplace issue, go through appropriate channels to try to get the perceived offensive behavior stopped. If that fails, find a new job.
Let’s put things in perspective. At one end of the spectrum is the 100 percent chance to never be sexually harassed, offended or bothered by anyone. If that’s what you want, move to a deserted island. That guarantees no hassles, sexual or otherwise, by any other living person. It will be great — until you want to go buy something. Or eat something. Or see a doctor. Or go to a movie. Or have a conversation.
At the other end of the spectrum is a busy, bustling, crowded community of diverse people, many of whom hold different opinions, were raised in different families, and follow varying beliefs. This is great, too — so many options for food, entertainment, health care, technology, things that enhance and prolong your life. The costs? Being around other people with the risk of having your feelings hurt.
Life is a series of cost/benefit analyses. Is the “cost” of being “sexually harassed” worth the benefits of your really great job with great benefits? Only you can decide. And happily we live in a country where we are free to move to other jobs, other cities, other states when we want or need to.
Is it “fair” that you should leave your job because it is your perception you are being sexually harassed? I don’t know. Is it “fair” that your potentially oversensitive feelings prevent another person from exercising his right to express his own opinions? I don’t know that either.
“Fair” is a relative term.
Those who do not view themselves as victims make their own idea of “fair.” They do rational cost/benefits analyses to determine what is most important and then act accordingly.
Of course, this does not apply to true victims of crimes, those who were attacked against their will. The #metoo trend is likely doing more harm than good by minimizing how people view real physical sexual crimes against women. All women who have posted #metoo on social media should ask themselves: Would you discuss with a woman who had been violently raped how your feelings were hurt when your boss called you “honey”?
Women are strong. We can control our reaction to negative events, putting everything in perspective, without perpetuating the image of victimhood.
Paula Fargo (Paula@curryprint.com) is the owner of Curry Printing & Copy Center and Copy Cat Printing in Baltimore.