,

Sexual Harassment Isn’t Funny, and it’s Time We Shut it Down

Recently, I was sitting in a local coffee shop grading papers, trying to mind my own business. Two young women were working behind the counter of this intimate little shop, and I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. It began with casual talk of guys—cute guys, flirting with guys, which guys had hit on them recently, and what Halloween costumes they wanted to wear when they went out partying with guys (Sexy Baseball Player was mentioned). It was innocent enough, just two young women sharing their thoughts about the attention they were getting, or wanted to get, from men.  But then the conversation, while remaining light hearted and full of giggles, took a turn I never expected.

They started telling tales of sexual harassment they had experienced at work.

I grew furious-not at them, but at the realization that for all the advancements women have made, some things still haven’t changed.

Like women being sexually harassed at work and standing for it.

This was a public establishment, and these women had to know their words would reach the patrons’ ears. But they didn’t seem to mind. In fact, their tone did not change—the exchange did not become conspiratorial, their voices didn’t become hushed. They spoke about it as if it were completely normal, completely acceptable, and maybe even welcomed. They joked about it as if their shared experience was nothing but harmless workplace antics. I was confused, and my heart was breaking.

It started with the recounting of something the manager had said to one of them: “You know, you shouldn’t come to work so clean, it makes me want to taste you.”

“Oh my God, he said that?” responded the other woman, with a hearty laugh.

They laughed together. My stomach dropped.

And then: “Remember that time he had me pinned up against the register? It was all I could do not to gag and push him off of me.” The laughter continued, no trace of them being indignant.  I kept waiting for them to begin a discussion about what they were going to do to address the unwelcome and inappropriate behavior.

They didn’t.

I was completely distracted, torn between angry disbelief at their acceptance of this behavior, and the protective instinct to tell them it wasn’t their fault. I wanted to say, “You know, you don’t have to put up with that kind of treatment. You don’t deserve that.”

No woman does.

But I kept quiet. What if they enjoy it, I wondered. Maybe I am taking this too seriously. Maybe they encourage these advances and I should just keep my nose out of their business.

But here’s the thing: convincing ourselves that it is no big deal allows men to think they can behave this way. It is what leads to pussy grabbing and forced kisses and uninvited groping and comments about our bodies.

It’s what leads to sexual assault.

I don’t think there is a woman alive who hasn’t experienced this in some form. In 1989, I worked with a man who was flirtatious. He was more than twice my age. He fed me tidbits about his sex life, and sometimes asked me questions about mine. I was fifteen, I had no sex life, and I didn’t know that I was being harassed. I enjoyed this attention from an older man. It made me feel grown up. He never touched me and I never spoke up. But looking back, I know that it was harassment, and he should have known better.

Has nothing changed in twenty-seven years?

Women, young or old, should never have to accept harassment. So why did the young baristas laugh it off? Maybe their laughter was a way for them to cope with an infuriating situation without the risk of losing their jobs. Maybe their shared laughter was a way of saying, “I hear you.” Maybe it is because it is still so pervasive and so acceptable to treat women this way that we don’t even see it when it is happening to us. Maybe it’s simply easier to convince ourselves that it isn’t a big deal.

It is a big deal.

As women, we have a responsibility to say no to this nonsense.  It devalues us as equal human beings. We cannot make light of it anymore. As a mother of boys, I will work tirelessly to teach my sons to respect women, but it’s not enough. We all need to empower our daughters to reject harassment. In a time when our country is on the brink of a women’s revolution we, as women, have a critical role to play. We have to demonstrate to our daughters what we will and won’t stand for. We have to say enough is enough.

Sexual harassment isn’t funny.  It isn’t cute.  It isn’t something we can afford to be quiet about any longer.  If we want to be valued as equal creatures to men, and we want to be paid equally for equal work, we cannot simply laugh it off when we are treated as objects to be toyed with.

We have to take control of our own worth, and set the bar for how we expect to be treated.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *