Homenews

A workplace ‘culture of silence’ perpetuates sexual harassment, not happy hours and hotels

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Numerous women have said that film producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed or raped them. But rather than blaming the man responsible for the sexual assault, conservative commentators, former White House officials, and journalists alike are turning their focus on eliminating interaction between men and women.

Last week, the New York Times published an investigation on the experiences of actresses who were alone with Weinstein and the allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against Weinstein, which occurred over the span of three decades. On Tuesday, The New Yorker published an article detailing the experiences of multiple women in excruciating detail. It also exposed the ways in which the industry protected Weinstein and how his employees helped him meet women, despite their discomfort in doing so.

Weinstein has been fired from the company he co-founded, and A-list celebrities, such as Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Judy Dench, George Clooney, and Jennifer Lawrence, have spoken out against him and his treatment of women he worked with. On Wednesday, Weinstein’s wife of a decade said she’s leaving him. On the surface level, it seems that Weinstein’s career is over and that his accusers have found justice. But the response to the Weinstein sexual harassment reports proves that instead of putting blame where it belongs — on sexual predators — some men are still interested in blaming women and their presence in the office for their own abuse.

Former deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, Sebastian Gorka, tweeted that all of these sexual assaults could have been avoided if Weinstein simply didn’t meet with women one-on-one. He referred to Vice President Mike Pence’s rule of not eating alone with any woman other than his wife, Karen, and suggested if Weinstein simply hadn’t met with women alone, he wouldn’t have assaulted them.

Gorka’s tweet laid bare the real argument that is being made when men say they can’t be alone with women. It perpetuates the cultural pretense that when men are sexually violent, it is simply an impulsive mistake, a part of their nature that they can’t control, instead of a decision they made to prey on particular women they know they can control or whose reports won’t later be believed. The New Yorker’s investigation into Weinstein’s alleged sexual assaults clearly show that his decisions were calculated and followed a pattern. For example, Weinstein reportedly used female executives to give the women he harassed a false sense of security before he met with them alone. The New Yorker piece read:

Some employees said that they were enlisted in subterfuge to make the victims feel safe. A female executive with the company described how Weinstein assistants and others served as a ‘honeypot’—they would initially join a meeting, but then Weinstein would dismiss them, leaving him alone with the woman.

Other men noted that women shouldn’t have met with Weinstein in hotel rooms, as if Weinstein didn’t also sexually assault women in his own place of business.

Weinstein used every tool available to him to manipulate women into meeting with him, including his colleagues and the impunity he enjoyed at his workplace. One of Weinstein’s producers told a woman that she was meeting several people for a Miramax party at a hotel, but when the woman arrived and the producer led her to the room, Weinstein was the only person there, according to the New York. Weinstein also reportedly sexually assaulted a woman during daylight hours inside his Miramax office. He expected that some of the women he harassed and assaulted would speak out, and he made the consequences clear to them. The reporting on Weinstein shows that he is a man who knew how to intimidate and control women to force himself on them and keep them silent. There is nothing accidental about it. He was inventive, cunning, and powerful enough that a formal workplace culture never would have stopped him from sexually assaulting women.

Still, none of these details have stopped people from suggesting that a different kind of workplace would have solved the Harvey Weinstein problem and magically stop men from sexually harassing women. Josh Barro, a senior editor at Business Insider wrote that the real problem is fun office cultures. Barro wrote for Business Insider:

But there are industries with cultures that involve after-hours social activities that blur the lines between business and leisure and can easily appear inappropriate for colleagues who could be suspected of sexual involvement.

Barro doesn’t think that getting rid of after-hours socializing will hurt women. He thinks it will break up all-male networks. To that, I laugh heartily. Men may not go to official after-hours events that their boss encourages them to attend, but such a ban certainly doesn’t prevent men from meeting with each other after work (and why should it). The only result is that there isn’t an official employer-endorsed space for both men and women to gather. If women already feel shamed for meeting with men alone, it certainly won’t help for employers to make mixed-gender socializing seem strange, or even harmful.

In response to the Times piece detailing men’s concerns about accusations of sexual harassment or the “appearance of impropriety,” Barro wrote that instead of dismissing these men’s fears, the whole office culture must adapt to them and their concerns. He said it requires more than “just the hand wave of ‘don’t harass women, it’s simple.’”

But it is that simple. The office culture that needs to be destroyed is not one that has happy hours. It’s one that has no real system of accountability for powerful men who could easily crush the careers of their subordinates. The reports about Weinstein follow a series of high-profile sexual harassment cases across a range of industries over the last year, including Fox News personalities, actors, musicians, and Silicon Valley investors and executives.

Still, Barro isn’t alone. The flurry of reports of sexual harassment have caused some many men to decide to avoid one-on-one interactions with women altogether. As one orthopedic surgeon told the New York Times, “I’m very cautious about it because my livelihood is on the line. If someone in your hospital says you had inappropriate contact with this woman, you get suspended for an investigation, and your life is over. Does that ever leave you?”

The men interviewed didn’t mention the effects sexual harassment has on the career of the women who come forward, nor did they appear to understand the career risks women take to report sexual harassment. If they did, they might understand that it is not a flippant choice. By saying they’re not interested in interacting with women because they’re scared of sexual harassment allegations, these men demonstrate one of the main reasons why women don’t come forward with allegations sooner: they don’t want to be shut out of career opportunities.

Unfortunately, this view is all too common. A 2010 Center for Talent Innovation study found that almost two-thirds of male executives said they stopped having one-on-one meetings with junior female employees because they feared that people would think they were having an affair. Nearly two-thirds of people interviewed for a May poll by Morning Consult said people should take caution when meeting with people of the opposite sex at work. Fears that other people may view their meetings as improper stop the majority of senior men from meeting with women, even though women’s careers benefit from having sponsors.

Demanding that entire industries that revolve around evening cocktails and building relationships with colleagues outside of work hours stop all off-hours socialization is unrealistic, but even if it were possible, it still wouldn’t prevent sexual harassment. Weinstein himself met with women in a variety of settings, but he also found ways to cleverly shift where and when meetings would take place. The former assistants and executives mentioned in the New Yorker piece, some of whom facilitated the meetings, said there was a “culture of silence” around sexual assault.

Other sexual harassment allegations show that men don’t need social events or “fun” workplace atmospheres to harass women. Regarding a sexual harassment case at SoFi, an online personal finance company, the plaintiff said that he saw his manager put “explicit sexual innuendo and statements into normal workplace communications.” A former Fox News host, Eric Bolling, was accused of sending lewd photos to his female colleagues via text message in August. Should male colleagues no longer send professional communication to all co-workers or have their female colleagues’ phone numbers? That would be ludicrous. The best solution is for men to be as considerate to their female colleagues as they are to their male colleagues, to no longer shut them out of business meetings for the sake of “appearances,” and to work to create an environment that supports their female colleagues when they do come forward with harassment allegations. Here’s another thought: They could also stop sexual harassing women.

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