There is a long history bringing us to this moment where society is finally listening to women speaking out about sexual assaults from men in the workplace. Whether this movement can accomplish change hangs in the balance. Those who think women should just get over it seemingly want to give men a free pass. Admittedly, there are degrees of harassment, and this new movement will succeed only if we are collecting evidence and analyzing degrees of egregiousness.
After finishing my undergraduate work in anthropology, the dean of my department gave me a night class to teach. I felt he was demonstrating extraordinary confidence in my abilities. Instead he just wanted an excuse to see me during evening hours and invite me to a hotel room. My dilemma was that if I declined, he would probably not hire me again, nor provide stellar recommendations, or mentor me when hurdles arose. He should have been the one who could advise me on what to do in this situation. Was my career going to end before it began?
Too many young women, initially aspiring to build careers, have deserted workplaces when a male, assigned to mentor, instead moved to conquer. We need to make sure that women report any improper behaviors directed at them. Exit interviews should include asking departing employees if they experienced sexual harassment. I regret not reporting two different occurrences. Looking back, I believe in both instances, the perpetrators were repeat offenders. Our silence serves only to abet those who will harm others. Too often, we move on with our lives. Now, this movement compels us to speak, and to encourage others to speak.
Most men and women from time immemorial partnered their attributes and bonded with respect for each other. Some men, however, never develop empathy or respect for women. Some men continue to see women as conquests.
We need to thank those good men who won’t be patting our butts, the men who are supportive colleagues in the workplace, the men a married woman can have lunch with and know there won’t be come-ons, and male department heads who understand discrimination and will listen when we report the guy who keeps leaving suggestive notes on our desk. We can’t do this alone, but we can transform the world if we, men and women, work together toward the goal of ridding the workplace of sexual harassment.
KAREN COODY COOPER, LAKE WORTH