Often it’s the boss who is the harasser, leaving employees with little to no recourse.
The New York Times ran an article recently on Dov Charney – the former head of American Apparel. It details his sexual peccadillos, like masturbating in front of a journalist and dancing naked for his staff. While he was making money, everyone seemed to be fine with it. He’s just cool and eccentric and sexy and liberated.
However, not everyone saw it that way and sexual harassment lawsuits were the inevitable result. Yes, he paid his garment workers well, but, he also created a sexually charged atmosphere that was hostile to women.
The question that this article raises is why was he not only tolerated but celebrated for what was clearly inappropriate behavior. And yes – masturbating in front of a female reporter who viewed it as reporting on a war zone – you have to be detached, is inappropriate. Dancing naked in front of your staff is inappropriate. In fact, it’s insanely so. It calls to mind the mindset of Caligula – and that’s not a good thing.
So why was it tolerated? Why is it still tolerated? Why is it tolerated in the name of genius? Insane is insane and shouldn’t we be brave enough to shout out that the emperor has no clothes?
And why – is it always men – who are being sexually inappropriate with women. And why is it almost always women who put up with it to be able to have a job or move up in the job – convincing ourselves that – yeah – we can be liberated.
Harassment and bullying are about power. The abuser doesn’t always understand that what they are doing is abusive. They are getting what they want – so … what’s the problem. The more powerful someone is – the more likely they can get away with being horrid to others. And because sycophants are everywhere, they are probably able to convince themselves that – it’s all ok.
Part of changing the culture – is understanding that no matter how celebrated an eccentric person is – if they are pushing their sexuality onto others, it’s inappropriate. It should not be tolerated. Because when someone has the power to exploit their and other’s sexuality – abuse of that power is not only going to happen – it already is. It may look consensual – but that’s just an illusion.
Like all bullies – silence does not mean consent. In fact, it’s usually just the opposite.
To change the culture, we have to no longer be silent. Men – this means that crude comments sexualize jokes, dehumanizing of women as objects of sexual gratification – has to stop. You have to stop. You have to stop tolerating it.
Look, I’m a Humanist. I’m all for a happy sex life. But ethical sex is consensual sex and it’s not a good idea to assume consent just because people aren’t speaking out against something. If it looks inappropriate and feels inappropriate it is inappropriate. Speak up and help us all change the culture.