At a meeting last week, when I said that I didn’t make site visits much any more as I have a more advisory role, a man sitting next to me asked if that was because my high heels got stuck in the dirt. Can you believe it! When I told some of my colleagues about it the conversation moved from talking about sexism to talking about sexual harassment.
It became clear during the discussion that the boundary between sexism and sexual harassment was rather blurred. Also, as we talked we realised that in the past we hadn’t always been clear about what behaviour was acceptable and what wasn’t and what was actually sexual harassment. We realised just how much attitudes have changed over the years. This is clearly illustrated by the Bond movies. When we watch them now we can’t believe just how appallingly sexist they are and how much of the behaviour in those and other movies was actually sexual harassment or even sexual assault.
So I decided to do a post to talk about what sexual harassment actually is. So here are some examples of behaviour that amount to sexual harassment.
- offensive sexual remarks, jokes or emails
- offensive hand or body gestures
- unwelcome touching, patting, or pinching. A common example of this is when your manager persistently leans against you to look over your shoulder to see your computer screen.
- unwelcome sexual advances
- persistent and unwelcome social invitations (or telephone calls or emails) from workmates
- sexually offensive images in the workplace, including screen savers of a sexual nature. This can include images like those in the Men’s and Women’s Firefighter calendars
- unwanted comments, teasing or questions about your sex life
- implied or actual threats of being overlooked for work opportunities or promotion if you say no to your boss’s advances
- hints or promises of preferential treatment in exchange for sex
- sexual assault and rape, which of course are criminal offences.
Classic excuses that sexual harassers use are that it is just a joke, or that they didn’t mean it or that they didn’t realise it would offend you. It’s like all the excuses after Donald Trump boasted on video about sexually assaulting women and how he could get away with it because he was famous, that it was just “locker room talk”. It’s important to remember that what matters is what offends you and how you feel. Also, if you don’t feel comfortable telling your harasser that their behaviour was unwelcome or offensive, this doesn’t stop you from making a complaint about it.
In my next post I’ll talk about what you can do if you are sexually harassed. In the meantime, just remember that if it does happen to you, you should tell your manager or team leader immediately.