The problem with sexual harassment is sexism, not sexual desire

250 Law Profs Release Statement on sexual harassment – pointing out the obvious – that it isn’t about sexual desire – it’s about harassment.

Stressed Businesswoman — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

To quote the statement – “harassment is more about upholding status and identity than it is about expressing sexual desire or sexuality. In the usual case, harassment provides a way for some men to monopolize prized roles in society, and to maintain a superior masculine position and sense of self.”

All forms of harassment – and bullying is a form of harassment, are ultimately about social inclusion and exclusion and the power to control resources by controlling who is included in the “in group” that shares those resources.

Focusing on the form the harassment takes – is focusing on the wrong thing. The problem isn’t the specific behavior. It’s the use of harassment to oppress or subjugate people that is the problem.

Focusing on specific forms of behavior – causes people to avoid those behaviors. Which might seem good, but not when the behavior is something like asking someone out for a date – which in general – should be ok. Asking someone out on a date with coercion or oppression tied to the invite – is not ok. Get the point?

Understanding that harassment isn’t about sex, or gender, or race, or religion, it’s about policing who is included and who is excluded, changes how we understand the dynamic at play.

Our goal isn’t to restrict certain behaviors, it’s to protect people from harassment, discrimination and oppression. How does looking at problem behaviors at work from the lens of social inclusion vs social exclusion change how you view what is happening?

When I give talks on this and discuss this as a function of social inclusion or exclusions – a room full of human resource professionals – who know this stuff – suddenly have a light bulb go off in their head. This is about morality. Are we going to allow a single individual exclude someone in our work group? The answer – hopefully – is no. Obviously not. And yet, that’s what we allow when we allow harassment.

We need to tweak how we think about bullying and harassment dynamics. Understand what is happening is about social control – and take the steps necessary to make sure everyone is included and no longer allow individuals to exclude people based on whatever aspect of that person they decide is undesirable.

To learn more – get my book and take some of my courses –

And if you are an educator trying to help kids – understand this dynamic – of inclusion and exclusion is happening at all ages among the kids and among the staff. The same techniques to help ensure inclusion can be used for kids and adults.