Some people might laugh at the header of this article. “Men don’t get sexually harassed, they get lucky!” they’d say. It may well be true that most men will welcome any sexual advance by a woman. You could even say that sexual harassment of men by women is less intimidating and less potentially harmful. None of that makes it okay. You wouldn’t say “Getting punched isn’t as bad as getting shot, so nobody should complain about getting punched.” How about “Some people like being choked, so nobody should ever complain about being choked?” Does that sound right to you?
I want to talk a little bit about the nature of female sexual harassment, and then give you an examples of it from my own life.
Considering the mitigating factors surrounding sexual harassment of men, I want to make a distinction: women who sexually harass are not usually looking for sex. Whereas men who harass usually hope to initiate sex, women generally do it for its own sake. Let me clarify.
Have you ever heard women talk about their bodies, makeup, and sexy clothes in terms of their “power as a woman?” The “power” they’re talking about is the power to manipulate men. When women use this “power,” they’re not using it to gratify themselves sexually. They’re using the man’s hope of sexual gratification to gain status, favors, money, emotional satisfaction or simply to amuse themselves.
Men who sexually harass use women for sex. Women who sexually harass use the idea of sex to use men for everything from money to labor to amusement. Neither one is acceptable.
A lot of people insist that, because it’s not done with the intention of gratifying sexual desire, female sexual harassment isn’t sexual harassment. To counter that, I’d like to focus in on a particular part of a definition of sexual harassment espoused by the U.S. Federal Government:
“The United States’ Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines workplace sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment” (EEOC)
The last half of this definition applies most accurately to female sexual harassment. It’s mostly implicit. It interferes with work performance–as it’s often intended to do– and it creates an intimidating work environment.
A couple of years ago I worked as a cook in a restaurant. I was sitting at the front of the house one day, waiting for my paycheck, when the bartender, Rebecca, approaches me, playing off of an earlier conversation: “I can’t believe you love LOTR too. I never would have guessed. We need to talk about this some more.”
“Sure! Do you want my number?”
I had been really surprised by how well our previous conversation had went. I genuinely like talking to her as a friend. That meant a lot to me, since I was recovering from some recent trauma, and really craved companionship. I was not, however, at all interested in sex.
“Yeah! Maybe we can go to lunch?”
“That sounds great! I don’t know when I’ll have time but–”
“Oh we’ll find time. I really want to go to lunch with you.”
A little embarrassed, I said “Haha…me too! Yeah. Just text me sometime.”
“No. Really. I really want to go to lunch with you…”
After looking around the restaurant for a moment, bewildered, I said “Cool, yeah! Text me. We’ll do lunch for sure.”
I gave her my number and she texted me two hours later.
“I’m just lying her in my big ol’ bed all by myself.”
I explained right then and there that I was in a difficult place in my life and that I needed a friend more than anything. After a short conversation, she said she understood and we set a time for lunch. She stood me up. I became wary, but she continued to be very warm and sweet at work. We set another time for a lunch date. She stood me up again.
So why is this sexual harassment? If it’s not enough that she was sexually suggestive, then sexually aggressive, it should be enough that she’s playing head games. Now when I go to work I feel compelled to be friendly with someone who I don’t trust. She touches me and makes racy comments at work and, while part of me wants to play along, another part of me is aware that she’s probably not being genuine. Because of that, I feel like I’m in danger. Regardless of what she does with me, there’s no telling what she’s going to say to others about what happened. It makes me constantly nervous, distracted, and intimidated at work. That’s sexual harassment.
I’m not sure if Rebecca ever actually wanted to have sex with me. It doesn’t really matter. You don’t have to touch someone to sexually harass them. It’s enough to use the idea of sex to manipulate or intimidate someone. Don’t let anyone tell you that men don’t get sexually harassed, or that women don’t sexually harass men. A lot of this talk about “using your power as a woman” is actually just a dog-whistle endorsement of sexually harassing men.
I’m sure some of you can relate to these stories. You’re not alone. You’re not insane. Whether you respond to it with hope or with rejection, you are not a bad person for responding to sexual harassment.
The best thing to do, I think, in this kind of a situation is to regulate your expectations and emotions. First of all, receive all sexual advances from a woman with about a pound of salt. Just don’t believe it. When a woman says “I’m laying here all alone in my big bed,” just don’t respond. If she wants it that bad, she can come get it.
What you need to remember is that a woman will rarely make an invitation like that unless she wants something other than sex from you. The 2% chance that it’s a real invitation is not worth walking into a trap. No one will ever fault her for anything that passes between you. On the other hand,if she accuses you of something, you’re screwed even if nothing happened. So defend yourself by keeping your distance and remaining civil. If you play dead, she’ll get bored and move on.
If it’s really bad, or really persistent, you might want to try talking to someone about it. It might be the case that your boss has seen this behavior from this person before, and only needed one more confirmation of their suspicions to justify firing them.
There’s no blanket solution for this kind of nefarious behavior. People who sexually harass purposely do things in such a way that if you were to describe the situation with words to a third party, it sounds like you’re just reading into things too much. Harassers know exactly how far they can push it, and they usually have a few tricks up their sleeves. So be careful. At the end of the day, the only advice I can give is to simply remember that you’re being manipulated. Don’t take anything at face value, and keep your distance in every way.
Again man, you’re not alone, you’re not crazy, and you’re not wrong. Stand tall and keep doing the best you can for yourself.
Peace be with you.
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