Here's how to shut down ignorant men who think women are "overreacting" about sexual harassment
Now that the conversation about high profile sexual assault allegations has reached the point where men like Matt Damon feel emboldened to share their thoughts about “levels” of harassment and assault, some creepy (or otherwise ignorant) dudes are starting to share their opinions on the matter, too. This — sigh — unfortunately means that you’re probably going to need a few more ways to shut down those men who think women are overreacting about sexual harassment. Yeah, our work is never done.
If you listen closely, the suggestion is always there, lurking beneath some phony empathy for the situation or for women in general. It’s the oldest trick in the book, to discredit women by calling them “hysterical” or “crazy,” which men have been doing to women since forever. And now, we might be “overreacting” to men flirting with us in the office.
Men historically don’t take women seriously, and there are legitimately guys out there who think women are trying to “crush” men by speaking out against assault and harassment. A study done by the Pew Research Center this summer found that most men think women overreact to cyber bullying and trolls. It’s almost like these men don’t wake up after sharing a news article on Twitter to anonymous egg avatars threatening to rape them (or telling them that they’re too ugly to be raped; take your pick) because of their political views. *eye roll*
Another survey done this fall found that one in four men doesn’t think exposing oneself is sexual harassment. In addition, 83 percent of women and 69 percent of men find sexually explicit emails or texts to be sexual harassment, while 77 percent of women and 68 percent of men say pinching or poking constitutes sexual harassment. Maybe this is because most men don’t have to dodge grimy little hands on the subway or worry about being pinched in the break room. Who knows.
According to Psychology Today, men just don’t get it. We have to “talk about it in language they can understand.”
This is a little hard to believe, especially since we don’t want to assume that men aren’t intelligent or empathetic enough to just take our words for it. Men aren’t dumb, so why are they pretending that what women are talking about isn’t real? It might be because they have so much privilege in the world that it’s literally impossible for them to imagine these low-key (or not so low-key) nightmares happening on a regular basis. But ignorance is no excuse, and now that so many women have come forward and it’s on the cover of Time magazine, it feels like men have to start listening and changing their ways.
Here are some ways to call out men who think we’re making a “big fuss” over being harassed and abused while just trying to live our best lives and get our work done.
1It’s in the numbers, bro.
One in five women, as opposed to one in 71 men, will be raped in her lifetime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. A recent study from the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that almost 90 percent of women age 18-25 report sexual harassment, which is way higher than previously reported, likely thanks to awareness around the issue. The ever-growing list of high-profile sexual predators is comprised of men who have multiple women accusing them. Not that men who only have one accuser aren’t also predators, but it’s hard to deny the stories of so many women.
In some ways, it feels like the sheer number of allegations from high-profile women and the anecdotes from pretty much all of their female friends feels so overwhelming to some men that they assume it has to be made up or blown out of proportion. We know, dudes, it feels that way for us, too. All the time. But that doesn’t make it not real.
2Women know all about the “levels” of harassment.
Matt Damon was taken to task over the weekend for feeling the need to remind women that we have to differentiate between an ass pinch and someone masturbating during a business dinner. There is no hierarchy to sexual abuse and misconduct, especially to the victims. The emotional fallout of any act can be just as damaging, so no one gets to tell the victims that their experience is any better or worse than another.
And women can tell the difference between a violent crime or child molestation and a threatening catcall or inappropriate line of questioning from our boss. We’re basically experts in it, since we’ve grown up having to deal with it every single day of our lives. Guess what? Katherine Reardon, who published a seminal article in the Harvard Business Review about workplace harassment in 1993, has been working on a spectrum of sexual harassment behaviors for years. It’s a great place to start talking about these “levels” that men like Damon want to make sure we know about.
They start out with “awkward,” “non-offensive” things, like compliments from a boss to an employee or grabbing a woman’s arm while talking, but can be categorized as “non-intentional.” The upper levels are all intentional. Sure, it’s a working model and up for debate, but it’s one women are rightfully having, so men can chill on trying to explain the harassment and abuse we experience to us. We’re on the case for making sure the punishment fits the crime without just blasting all men off the face of the Earth. But remember, all of the acts on the spectrum are unacceptable behaviors.
3Please stop blaming us for your behavior.
Whether it’s Silicon Valley execs who are scared to take meetings with women or Ford factory employees telling women that they were “snitch bitches” or “raping the company” with their complaints, men have a way of swiftly putting the onus on women who are harassed and abused instead of on the men doing the harassing and abusing. Instead of sitting around being “scared” that women are coming for men’s “locker room talk,” or explaining to us why and how men harass us, men could make themselves useful.
How can they be useful? Maybe by, you know, taking ownership of their behavior, calling out their friends, helping to implement better HR policies to make reporting sexual harassment easier, and generally just working with women to get rid of toxic masculinity in every corner of our lives. Yes, we know, it’s a daunting, seemingly impossible task, which totally explains men’s reluctance to want to roll up their sleeves and get down to business and feel more comfortable finding excuses (hysterical women!) to stay the same. That can’t, and won’t, fly anymore.