Sexual harassment is everyone’s problem

Sexual harassment is very complicated.

I need your help. I heard this story recently about a young, attractive teacher in a middle school. I’m interested to know what you think about it.

An inappropriate note was found on the boys’ bathroom wall about her. Her department head, who was male, told her that she had to learn to set limits in these kinds of situations. “She has to learn how to handle that and set limits.”

Luckily, I was on hand to consult this well-meaning soul. I thought it was an opportunity to sit all the boys down with all the male teachers and have a talk about how this kind of thing makes women feel and why it is wrong to do it.

He said, “Wouldn’t it disempower her if a man had to save her?”

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Who’s problem is sexual harassment?

The man was not to save her but to show these young boys how to treat women with respect. Learning how to be a Stand Up Guy comes from man to man.

For sexual harassment, the school administration ought to be notified anyway.

I wondered why was this woman left to fend for herself as if it was her problem. This is what a woman hears:

Sorry, you are beautiful, you have to deal with this!

I am not for a minute advocating that she do nothing. I hope that she could gather her power and react in a way that helps her feel good about herself. And I hope people around her, namely this supervisor, can notice and honor her response. But, I am just saying that it is not her sole responsibility.

But this is a community problem, not only her individual problem.

Sexual harassment happens too often

Let me tell you a story. Once I was running on well tread path here in Rochester, I ran past two teen age boys, who immediately made a disgusting comment about me that they thought I could not hear. I turned around and spoke to them as a mother. (Since I could be their mother.)

“What did you just say?” Came my mama’s-angry voice. Shocked and tongue tied, they tried to tell me they weren’t talking about me.

“That is NOT how we treat women.” I stared them down to check comprehension and punctuated with, “Don’t do it again!”

Though I was shaken and embarrassed, I knew this was not about me.

I let them go ahead of me so I was no longer in front of them. All along I was aware of two middle aged men walking behind them and I matched my step to theirs as if being in a group could protect me. They acted all oblivious, even though I knew they heard. They were right there.

Even though I was powerful enough to handle the situation, I was hurt that they didn’t say anything. Not hurt for me, but hurt for women. Did they think this was OK? I knew they were fathers themselves since we were at a sporting event. What would they say if it was their sons?

A sexual harassment story from the 1970’s.

In a large corporation, there was a beautiful secretary. Men from all over the organization went out of their way to traipse past her desk to have a peek. It made her uncomfortable as a parade of men went past her each day trying to get her attention, or looking at her creepily. She told her male boss and he thought he was being understanding by suggesting she take her work in to the conference room. It wasn’t until he spoke to me some 40 years later that he realized that no one addressed the men’s behavior, and this must have made her feel horribly invalidated.

But she was probably so used to being invalidated, she might not have noticed it, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, it affected her. It affects all of us.

Not much has changed in 40 years. The more we say that “boys will be boys,” the more we allow the situation to stay the same. Respect is taught by the elders. We are the elders to the next generation.

It is up to us to model it. We have to teach respect in every action we take.

What you can do about sexual harassment

1. Be integrous.

There is a huge continuum of thinking it is OK not to do the right thing. You can’t teach one thing and then be inconsistent with another. If the waitress forgets to add your side dish to the bill, do you think you get away with something, or do you tell her? These little times are very important lessons for our children. Also, respect means not stealing, cheating or lying.

2. Keep your anger in check.

Anger is not an excuse to lose your values. Another person’s limits do not justify being mean. Anger is OK, violent behavior is not.

2. Treat people as you want to be treated.

We expect this means that they will treat us back the same way, but this is not always the case. We don’t treat people nice just so they will treat us back nice, we treat them nice because it is the right thing to do.

3. Be accountable for your own electronic use.

And then monitor your teenagers’ electronics. The anonymity of the internet allows people to be less respectful since they don’t have to be accountable to it. Adults and kids play with this freedom and are increasingly inappropriate, (e.g., Middle school boys ask girls to send them naked pictures.). This makes people hurt and uncomfortable.

4. Never talk about people in front of your children.

It’s nice after a hard day to come home and complain to your best friend: “Can you believe so and so did such and such?” But when you do this in front of your kids, you are teaching them this is OK.

5. Fathers, take time to talk to your boys about how to treat women.

Boys feel very uncomfortable and unworthy when they begin to like girls. Unfortunately, this causes them to tease girls to hide their true feelings. This makes me so sad because I was a victim of this in grammar school and I felt horrible.

6. Mothers talk to your daughters.

Let them know they can come to you to discuss anything. Tell them boys who treat them bad might like them, but that this is NOT OK. Talk to them about their friends and their friends’ boyfriends. You will get an earful of how some middle and high school boys treat girls. Help the girls stick together. Again, notice your daughter’s skills in setting limits with boys. Honor them.

The happy ending: The male department head went back the next day with a new plan to address the situation in the boy’s bathroom. The teacher appreciated that the administration handle it. Also, she felt valued as a human being.

Do you think I over reacted? Or do you think these men under-reacted?

Thanks, Harleena, for including me in the 20 Inspiring Women Bloggers of Aha-now!

20 thoughts on “Sexual harassment is everyone’s problem”

  1. You are so right Jodi – change comes one person at a time and by living and modeling the right behaviors.

  2. Hi Jodi,
    The stories you have mentioned here can be experienced by everyone around the globe but here, in US, where the statue of liberty stands so tall!
    I have heard a lot of them but the one which happened in my school was very much similar, connected with the beauty of a woman! and the culprit was…a middle school boy, I think this age is most vulnerable…when they don’t know how to handle their impulses and urges. This boy wrote in the diary of another boy, very unseemly words about a young, beautiful teacher, who chose to resign than live with the humiliation of facing the class. It was something like her beauty was compelling him to ‘R’!!
    Though the matter was handled very seriously by our school Principal, who was a female but the much needed counselling and sensitising the boys of that age towards the respect for women and girls of their age was missing.
    The points you have mentioned here are SO relevant! I wish all parents and teachers could read them. Thanks for sharing, I appreciate your concerns for the society.
    Happy Women’s Day to you too.
    Balroop Singh recently posted..Are We Really Selfish Or Just Branded So?My Profile

  3. No, I do not think you over reacted at all. You modeled correct behavior & how to handle a situation like this with grace & dignity. Unfortunately, this happens so much. It even happens in families. I have found that the most common response is to stand by & pretend you don’t see it happening. This is wrong. You are right, this is everyone’s problem.

  4. Such an important topic! I don’t think you over reacted in your situation. It takes courage to call someone on their behavior instead of ‘ignoring’ it. I saw an interesting video on youtube about this issue of blaming the victim because they’re so attractive, they caused the unwanted attention. It was powerful and I’m sorry I no longer have the link. It was on facebook at one point. I hope the teacher is comfortable in her classroom. No one deserves that.

    1. Thanks Lisa! She will do fine, because she knows who she is. But this sort of thing affects us all! I’ll poke around on youtube for the video and check it out. Thank you!

  5. Hi Jodi,

    I think this is such a common problem all over the globe, not just in a few places. We have it a lot in our country, but all this happens because WE let it happen also. I think a lot lies in the woman’s hand and she can take a stand and do as much as possible to stop things, just like you confronted those boys – you have to to make it all come to stop.

    You gave some nice ways and those values our parents have to inculcate in young kids, especially boys so that the problem from the root core lessens. It is SO essential.

    Thanks for sharing, and you are SO deserving to be included in the inspiring women list on my blog for all that you do. Happy Women’s Day to you too 🙂

    1. Thanks Harleena! I think it comes from both sides, we protest and we will, and men have to take a stand, too. The world will change when the marginalized stand up and those in power refuse fear and let them in! Thanks for commenting on the tips, I was taking after your writing style.

  6. Jodi, I don’t think you overreacted at all. Your courage and compassion in standing up for the teacher inspired me. I believe we do have a responsibility to speak up and say it’s not OK to objectify and embarrass –or worse– other people. And your guidelines on how to do that are spot on. And yes, this is everyone’s problem and everyone’s responsibility. Thank you for reminding us of this!
    Tina Fariss Barbour recently posted..A bit more time . . .My Profile

  7. We have to react Jodi (and you were right in doing so) or people will keep thinking it’s right to act this way, when it’s not.
    Each parents, teacher, adult in general has a role to play. We need to teach our kids respect.
    Sexual harassment must not be tolerated. Unfortunately, it seems like these things happen way too often in our life, without us noticing them, cause many times we accepted them under the idea that “boys are boys”, as you rightly said.
    It’s a global problem. And it’s never too late to raise our voices to stop it.
    Take care Jodi. xx

  8. No Jodi you did not over react to this. Boys have to be taught respect for woman. it all start in the home, the way the father treats there mother. if he treats mom badly, he will think that is how you are suppose to treat a woman.
    Children start learning from home and when they get older, as a parent you have to get to know there friends, so they don’t loss that respect.
    To me you are showing others how to correct a bad situation, before it really gets out of hand.
    Debbie recently posted..How Single Mom’s Are Sexy WarriorsMy Profile

  9. I agree, Jodi,

    Sexual harassment is EVERYBODY’S Business.

    It’s NOT OKAY.

    My gosh, it’s so WONDERFUL to have advocates standing next to us in a crisis….Rather than one who sits indifferent not giving a Sh*t.

    ….exclaiming, “That’s her business, not mine.”

    It. Is. Your. Business.

    Just like domestic violence, rape, incest, harassment….

    Relevant, insightful Post.

    LOVE! Xxxxx
    My Inner Chick recently posted..Believing in Your Story, Your Vision, Your LifeMy Profile

  10. Like Mary said, you handled this with grace and dignity, and much better than I have at times (like when I threw my water bottle at a guy in Turkey some years ago).

    I think that parents modeling respectful behavior is super important. I’m also frustrated by the young men and women who are today’s role models, though, e.g., Kanye West announcing his impending fatherhood at one of his concerts by saying “Make noise for my baby mama!” And then his partner apparently being okay with that. Aye yay yay. Can we get some better role models, please?!
    Laura Zera recently posted..Travel: Cameroon’s Far North RegionMy Profile

  11. Its sad that women cant live their lives without having to hear such things as sexual comments & be expected to laugh it off as just a joke. It is not a joke it can & often is very hurtful to the person concerned. If I heard such comments made to a family member I would be hard pressed to keep my cool. So I would think it is the same for any female having to hear such things. We men need to learn there is no place for such behaviour at anytime. I can hear all men now saying listen to the homo listen to mammys boy believe me I am neither I just believe we have to respect one another

  12. This has always played a big part in my life. I DON’T think you over reacted Jodi. These men defiantly under-reacted I’m pretty impressed with what you did, and disappointed in the fathers, but not surprised. Hopefully your reaction forced one or both of these men to take a look at how well they are teaching their boys to respect a woman. We all have our good and bad qualities, but our parents are the first to teach us how to love people. I was raised to love and respect all women in life: Mothers, Sisters, Girlfriends, Co-workers, Wives, and so on. Sadly, I have stood out and even been mocked or picked on by other boys/men my entire life for the way I treat girls/women with love and respect. Why is this sensitive side of a man not completely welcome in our world? Why is a woman blown away or think Im hitting on her when I open the passenger car door for her? Even when dating a woman, she remains blown away about opening her door. Why is it so amazing if I am willing to give a foot message every night when in an intimate relationship and why is it weird if I like watching so called “chick flicks? lol.. I guess these are questions I always asked myself inside. All of those things just come from respecting women & how sacred the feminine half of the world is. Like, isn’t ever guy like this? and doing these things? I always asked my self. Thank God that there are quite a few men in the world that respect and love women in a very sacred way. I learned this love and respect mostly from my mother and the environment I grew up in. Both my Father and step father although not perfect, they never would have encouraged or let me get away with a vulgar comment about a beautiful woman jogging by and more importantly I don’t ever remember seeing the men that raised me ever partake in disrespecting a woman. The most powerful way to carry a message is to become the message your self. As for the teacher and the secretary. We all have a role or part in every situation. But too often Society puts all the responsibility on the woman when it comes to looking beautiful. I will stop with this. When a women walks in a room looking Beautiful and even if she is asking for attention, she can still be respected and we have a responsibility to do so guys. Look her in her “EYE’S!” and tell her she looks nice and go on your way. This is the responsibility of all us boy’s/Men to be Men to become the “message” and respect every woman no matter how she is acting or who she is…..

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