The Backlash! - Backlash Article Archive - What is Sexual Harassment?
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What is Sexual Harassment?
By Rod Van Mechelen
"Men just don't get it." - Representative Patricia Schroeder
The Fuss
1992 Bellevue, Wash. - "Men just don't get it." Long after the media made much ado over Anita Hill's condemnation of Clarence Thomas, this pop-feminist battle cry crops up time after time to grate at us like the screeching of a tortured chalkboard. "It's a man's world, men oppress women, and men just don't get it."

Certainly, many men do not understand what all the fuss is about. But is it really a man's world? If so, then what makes being a man so good? Why should men be glad for their man-ness? With what joy can men adorn their lives so that, on death's eve, they may smile and say, "I am glad to have lived life male"?

Most women might dismiss such questions as inane -- in a man's world, how could most men not be glad for their lives? In a man's world, men are rewarded simply for being men. In return for being male, the world provides socialization and education that engender career success, adventure, exciting opportunities. Doors that slam shut and must be pried open for women swing easily aside for men.

For women, the slamming doors seem innumerable, and they feel it is they who must earn what they get, and they who should ask what makes life good, because men have it made.

Or do they?

In reward for graduating with honors in Physics, Lance found it all but impossible to get a job in his field, while the women in his class, whose grades were far inferior to his own, received red-carpet treatment and numerous offers for high-paying jobs from corporations eager to hire women. Similarly, while there are growing numbers of grant and scholarship programs for women, "women's resource centers" on more and more college and university campuses, and increasing opportunities for "displaced home-makers," similar programs for men are increasingly rare, or non-existent. It's no accident the majority of bachelors and masters degrees are now earned by women.

Nor is it any accident that most of the overtime is worked by men, most of the dirty, dangerous jobs are held by men, men account for 93 percent of deaths on the job, and most of the people working more than one job (for pay) are men. (Statistical Abstract of the United States)

Additionally, in reward for their masculinity, men lead in almost all causes of death (except breast cancer).

Finally, in reward for bearing the burden of being a member of the sex that is expected to make the first move to create relationships, men risk charges of sexual harassment and acquaintance rape.

It used to be a man's world and a woman's home, but feminists demanded and got increasing opportunities and options for women. "This is the nineties," so the saying goes, "and women can do anything they want." So most American women have the option to pursue a career, or to marry and link their identities and success to men. Most have the legal right to demand entry into traditionally male careers in male-dominated work-places, and they are demanding the legal right to force men in those work-places to conform to female-standards of behavior.

What, in our society, have men gotten in return? Increased opportunities in home and personal life? Some have, but while most men today accept the new opportunities afforded women, fewer and fewer women are willing to date, let alone marry, men of low status, men who are not young or virile enough, and very few women initiate a relationship with any man. In other words, men have changed their attitudes and expectations, but women have not.

Traditionally, men exchanged economic power for sexual power. That is, women controlled access to their sex and held power in the home, men held power in society and earned access to women's sex. But today, the majority of American women have all the options women traditionally had and in most states, with the exception of killing in combat, all the legal rights men have. Meanwhile, most men have none of the options women traditionally had, and they have even lost some of the rights men traditionally had. The ancient balance of power between the sexes is gone. The Law has forced men to give up economic power and opportunity, and in exchange, women are giving up...nothing.

Is this really a man's world? If so, then it seems that being a woman is far more rewarding, or at least far less punishing, than being a man. Under such circumstances, why should men care about women? Particularly when caring can be a crime.

The Crime of Caring

When is it not okay to care? When is it wrong to extend the hand of love to a friend in pain?

Late in 1990, despite his difficult divorce, his disastrous child-custody suit and tough work schedule, one of my Microsoft friends -- Allen Wells -- seemed to be doing all right. Many of us admired his fortitude. To the trained eye, however, it probably would have been obvious he was considering suicide. Early in 1991, he killed himself, and then it was too late to care.

A few months later, I felt as though I was watching a sequel to a sad movie as a close female friend, who was also a Microsoft co-worker, seemed to be drawing into herself. It was like watching a radiant star collapsing, then flaring up like a super nova. Out of care and concern, I extended my hand in loving friendship, and it cost me my career: For the crime of caring, our jealous department head destroyed my career and ruined my life by invoking the "power of the pointed finger" to charge me with sexual harassment.

Why would she do this? Ellen Bravo, Executive Director of 9 to 5 (the National Association of Working Women), felt it was because I was arrogant: "I think you were guilty mainly of arrogance," she said. (Night Talk with Jane Whitney, ABC network, April 13, 1992) But since when has caring been a crime of arrogance in this country?

In my "arrogant" presumption that to care is good, and in my absolute belief in the principles of justice, what humility would women in general, and feminists in particular, have me learn? Whatever the lesson, it must be universally applicable to all men, because there are millions of men waiting to hear it. Men who, by virtue of their more or less purely white ancestry, are more vulnerable than I to mainstream male-bashing.

During my adult life, here is the lesson I have learned: Women wield such power in this "man's world" that with a word, a whimper, no more, they can destroy most men. The power of the female victim in American society is great. By this cause, all men have reason to fear and distrust them. In the pages that follow, I will tell how I learned this by telling my story. Unfortunately, and at the risk of sounding trite, it's a story that's all too common. The story of how women use victim power to destroy inconvenient men.

Inconvenient men

In this "man's world," there are two kinds of men: "real" men, and inconvenient men. A real man is one whose economic power, social status or virility makes him sexually desirable to women. Such men feed and sustain both the good and bad elements in women's myths and fantasies. But inconvenient men only get in the way. They have nothing to offer but themselves -- their love, attention and nurturance -- and some are without shame. Things most women seem to value in rock stars, but not in janitors.

As E. Jean Carroll of Esquire magazine noted, the "future feminists" have no reason to even consider men who are accountants (or anything less) when they can have a "tall, rich, handsome" sports star. (The Geraldo Rivera show, April 13, 1992)

Ignoring and rebuffing nurturing men, millions of women wear makeup, provocative dress and spine-deforming shoes to attract the attention of rock stars, professional athletes, the rich and powerful. Then, they complain that men don't nurture.

This is a problem because most women truly do want nurturing men in their lives. Their real problem, however, is that with so many skeletons of rejected and ignored "nice guys" rattling in their closets, it's difficult to make a legitimate claim to victim status -- guilt has a way of interfering with their ability to enjoy their victim power. The most effective way to mitigate this guilt is to convince the world -- and themselves -- that nurturing men don't exist.

This is like the old solution to the "Indian problem": "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." Similarly, no "nice guy" is safe from their unconscious efforts to immolate the innocent in their quest to validate their own victim status. This means nurturing men are seldom truly safe around women in general, and women with an ax to grind, in particular. But nurturing men have it relatively easy compared to shameless men.

Women use blame, guilt and shame to control men. Mothers and teachers encourage men to be vulnerable to this from earliest childhood, and girls rely on the power of the pointed finger to "keep men in line." Thus, they fear shameless men because such men can't be controlled with guilt and blame. They give lie to the myth of female moral superiority.

Much of women's power over men depends on that myth. Consequently, not only are shameless men a threat to their power, but most women fear what they can't control. Thus, they often resort to agency-violence, using the words, "he makes me afraid" to obtain the assistance of men whom Mark Hunter describes, in The Passions of Men, as "not only macho, but criminally so." (The Passions of Men, Mark Hunter, p 205) The "bad cops," bouncers in bars, bullies, and any other man willing to use violence or the threat of violence to act as women's agents to combat and destroy men without shame.

In the final analysis, however, nurturing and shameless men are not the only ones at risk: all men are in danger. Even "real" men, as, under the wildly expanding definition of sexual harassment, thousands of women are now calling upon their agencies to treat as criminal the common behaviors of men. (On Sexual Harassment, Sue Browder, New Woman magazine, February 1992, p 35)

Every man is vulnerable, and we all have good reason to fear charges of sexual harassment because, of all the ways pop-feminists are teaching women to exercise and abuse their power over men, unreasonable accusations of hostile environment sexual harassment may soon become the most common.

Until recently, sexual harassment was very well defined -- someone using their position and power to coerce subordinates to provide sexual favors. But now sexual harassment extends to almost all aspects of our lives, and includes almost any behavior which, by virtue of a person's gender, creates a "hostile environment." Under such conditions and until we precisely define what sexual harassment is, all men are at risk.

What is Sexual Harassment?

(W)omen notice that sexual harassment looks a great deal like ordinary heterosexual initiation under conditions of gender inequality.
-- Catharine A. MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State
Sexual Harassment laws fall under the heading of Sex Discrimination. According to the Northwest Women's Law Center, the "courts have recognized two types of unlawful sexual harassment: 'quid pro quo' harassment (which is Latin for 'something for something') and 'hostile work environment' harassment."

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo harassment is very straightforward and objective: "in 'quid pro quo' cases, employers condition employment benefits on sexual favors." (Ellison v. Brady, 924 Federal Reporter 2d Series, p 875)

According to Anita Hill, this kind of sexual harassment is rare: "A recent New York Times article quoting psychologist Dr. Louise Fitzgerald says that (quid pro quo sexual harassment) makes up considerably less than 5 percent of the cases." (The Nature of the Beast, Anita Hill, Ms., January/February 1992, p 33)

In their view, hostile environment sexual harassment is the biggest problem, and it's where men are now becoming the most vulnerable.

Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment

Most cases of alleged sexual harassment are of the hostile environment variety: "Many feminists . . . argue that 'sexual harassment' consists in the creation of a climate of fear, intimidation, and hostility to women." (Feminism and Sexual Harassment, Nicholas Davidson, Society, May/June 1991, p 41)

In the case of Ellison v. Brady, the court held that "a hostile environment exists when an employee can show (1) that he or she was subjected to sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, (2) that this conduct was unwelcome, and (3) that the conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment." (Ellison v. Brady, 924 Federal Reporter 2d Series, pp 875 - 876)

For the majority opinion on this case, Judge Robert Beezer considered that "EEOC guidelines describe hostile environment harassment as 'conduct [which] has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.'" (Ellison v. Brady, 924 Federal Reporter 2d Series, p 876) As with quid pro quo sexual harassment, this seems fairly straight forward. But the issues become cloudy when we try to define such terms as "unreasonable interference" and concepts like "intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment." To deal with this, the ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that a hostile environment is in the eye of the beholder. For that reason, it is determined according to a subjective standard known as the "Reasonable Victim" standard. Or, the "Reasonable Woman" standard.

The Reasonable Woman Standard

Ellison v. Brady established the "Reasonable Woman" as the standard for determining whether or not a man has sexually harassed a woman: "In order to shield employers from having to accommodate the idiosyncratic concerns of the rare hyper-sensitive employee, we hold that a female plaintiff states a prima facie case of hostile environment sexual harassment when she alleges conduct which a reasonable woman would consider sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment." (Ellison v. Brady, 924 Federal Reporter 2d Series, p 879)

The reason given for this was, "there is a broad range of viewpoints among women as a group, but we believe that many women share common concerns which men do not necessarily share. For example, because women are disproportionately victims of rape and sexual assault, women have a stronger incentive to be concerned with sexual behavior. Women who are victims of mild forms of sexual harassment may understandably worry whether a harasser's conduct is merely a prelude to violent sexual assault. Men, who are rarely victims of sexual assault, may view sexual conduct in a vacuum without a full appreciation of the social setting or the underlying threat of violence that a woman may perceive." (Ellison v. Brady, 924 Federal Reporter 2d Series, p 879)

As noted in Time magazine, this "is an interpretation fused to an ideology that places all behavior in the context of male power":

In the view of Boston University psychology professor Frances Grossman, "From the guys who wink on the street to the biology professor who tells a sexist joke in class, to the guy who says, 'Hey, baby, let's go out,' to the guy who rapes -- all are of a piece in their role of disempowering women." (Office Crimes, Nancy Gibbs, Time, October 21, 1991, p 54)

There are three major problems with this. First, it completely ignores that most women expect men to initiate sexual relationships, and that, from the biggest rock star to the poorest laborer, this expectation is often tremendously disempowering. Second, by legal definition women can rape boys, and by pop-feminist definition there may be more adult male victims of rape than there are female victims. Reluctant consent, for example -- a class of rape pop-feminists have been working to create -- is one area where researchers have found more male "victims" than female "victims." (Time, June 3, 1991, p 53) What's more, most men have been sexually violated by both male and female aggressors in a way that is not only just as damaging as the rape of a woman, but is unique to the male physiology: being kicked in the testicles (which, in our culture, is treated as a joke, especially by women). Thus, in the sense of sexual violation, women are not disproportionately victimized. And third, the "reasonable woman" standard is defined solely by pop-culture and is, therefore, but one step removed from being completely arbitrary.

Initiating Relationships

In almost all societies, men are expected to be the initiators. Women expect us to make the first moves: ask them out, "steal" the first kiss, initiate sex, and almost everything in between. As Warren Farrell noted, women expect men to take some "150 initiatives between eye contact and sexual contact." (Why Men Are The Way They Are, Berkley Books, 1988, Warren Farrell, Ph.D., p xxx)

This imposes the expectation of passivity on women, and for many women this is very frustrating because too often the "wrong" men ask them out or, conversely, the "right" men never do. But if this passivity frustrates women, then being the ones always expected to make the first move can be nerve-racking for men because, in the context of romantic love, taking the initiative means incurring the risk of rejection.

To lessen this risk, almost every man has spent hours rehearsing what he should say on the telephone before asking a woman out for a date. Most women believe this does not bother men -- wrong! Trying to initiate a relationship with a woman can be a lot like aversion therapy.

Aversion therapy is one of the techniques used to help people quit smoking: Every time they take a puff, they receive a mild electric shock. After a while, the body associates the pain of the shock with smoking, and the person doesn't want to smoke, anymore. Similarly, every time men ask women out, they don't know if they're going to be rewarded, or shocked. What most do know, however, is that it seems like they get shocked a lot more than they get rewarded. In the long run this leads many to feel utterly emasculated and disempowered.

Victimization: Villainizing Men

As if to add insult to this injury, in our culture it has become acceptable, even admirable, to encourage women to fear men. In New Woman magazine, Sue Browder suggests that the reason women fear men so much is because the media teaches them to: "Women are barraged with reports about crime against women." (Women & Crime, Sue Browder, New Woman, April 1991, p 62)

Statistically, men, and not women, are disproportionately the victims of violent crime. Commonly, however, pop-feminists negate this by asserting that most violent crime is committed against men by other men, and the problem, therefore, is one of testosterone and male violence: this means it can be ignored because, in their ideology, only cross-gender violence counts. Hence, they argue, society must find ways to tame the savage male beast and keep the world safe for women who, by virtue of their gender, are automatically all victims. (Women on Rape, Jane Dowdeswell, p 17)

While it's true that most reported acts of violent crime are committed by men, the bigotry behind their assertions is exposed when we note that black men are arrested for murder and non-negligent manslaughter nine times more often than white men, forcible rape six times more often, and aggravated assault almost five times as often. (Sourcebook of criminal justice statistics 1990, pp 422 & 424.)

Arrests are not the same as convictions, and racism, not black male violence, must account for at least some of the difference. For the sake of this discussion, then, let's throw out half the difference. Black male violence still surpasses white male violence by a wide margin, and pop-feminists know it: "According to the FBI, 47 percent (of rapists were) black and 51 percent (were) white." (Against Our Will, Susan Brownmiller, p 191)

Despite that Blacks comprise less than 13 percent of the population in the U.S., black men accounted for more than half of the murders and almost half of the forcible rapes in 1989. By the bigoted logic of pop-feminism, this means black men are the problem and all women should, therefore, fear the black "savage male beast." But we can see with unbiased eyes that the violence black men commit is less a gender issue than an indictment of the social-policies that rule and oppress Blacks in general, and black men in particular.

What's more, few men, regardless of their race, commit acts of criminal violence. Even assuming the arrest statistics exclude individuals arrested more than once, and even assuming every arrest leads to a legitimate conviction, that would still indicate fewer than two men in 10,000 commit murder each year, three in 10,000 commit forcible rape each year, and three in 1,000 commit aggravated assault. In other words, even if the pop-feminists' assertion that most rapes go unreported is true, we all have a far better chance of sustaining a permanently disabling injury in an automobile accident than women have of being raped, assaulted, or murdered.

Generally, therefore, men really aren't all that violent. Despite this, and in contradiction of the facts, most women still believe they are uniquely at risk. The problem, however, is not male violence, but women's attitude toward men. This needs to be addressed, but pop-feminists disrupt any meaningful dialogue by calling it, "blaming the victim."

Women, like the 682 women who murdered their husbands and boyfriends in 1990, are victims.

In 1990, 1,985 husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends were murdered by their partners. Of these, 34 percent of the victims were men, according to the Uniform Crime Reports, 1990, Department of Justice, FBI, p 13. This highlights two things: first, two out of three victims were women, indicating men more often employ deadly force. Second, many women do, too.

This raises an interesting question: if the women committed murder because they were suffering from the Battered Woman syndrome, did the men act out similar motivation? Were they suffering from a heretofore unacknowledged Battered Man syndrome? And if 2 out of three such murders are committed by men, does this indicate men are battered (emotionally, or otherwise) far more than women are?

Where women commit crimes, pop-feminists always find some basis for excusing their crimes. Excuses like the "battered woman syndrome." Excuses that portray male victims as villains. Breaking down the violent crime statistics reveals that pop-feminists are as guilty of sexism as racism, but they are also guilty of distorting reality by looking at the world through eyes that never see how some men are victimized by women. Making a great fuss about wife-battering, they dismiss or understate the problem of husband-battering, even though it may be even more of a problem than wife-battering.

In 1985, there were 1.47 battered husbands for every battered wife. (Handbook of Family Violence, Steinmetz and Lucca, p 237 In Washington state, Pop-feminist lobbyists dismiss this by suggesting that because most men are bigger and stronger than most women, female-perpetrated violence against men doesn't count. In response, we might question the idea of "emotional battering" and ask about rapes that do not include physical injury -- if bruises are what counts, then, by their own reasoning, many women who were raped or emotionally battered are not victims, either.)

Moreover, by pop-feminist definition men may actually be victims of female-perpetrated rape more often than women are victims of male-perpetrated rape. (For an in-depth discussion of this, see What Every Man Should Know about Feminist Issues, by Rod Van Mechelen.)

Women also account for at least one in five cases of sexual molestation of boys (Abused Boys, Mic Hunter, p 40), and the number is almost certainly higher because we are only just beginning to find out how many boys, girls and men are victims of female-perpetrated sexual assault. As Mic Hunter notes in Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse, this is a problem that has been mostly ignored because "society tends to view the sexual offenses of women as relatively insignificant." (Abused Boys, Mic Hunter, p 39)

Clearly female innocence is a myth: women are as good and bad as men. The myth, however, exaggerates the problem of male-perpetrated violent crime. Every criminal act of a woman that goes unreported has the effect of making the problem of male-violence seem bigger by comparison. Pop-feminists rely on this exaggeration to incite women's fears of men. The very same fears which feed directly into the context and content of the reasonable woman standard and the pop-culture from which it is derived.

Pop-Culture and the Reasonable Woman Standard

Pop-culture is defined by our popular attitudes and beliefs which, in turn, are largely formed by the media and public education. So to expand the scope of what a "reasonable woman" would consider sexual harassment far beyond any reasonable bounds, pop-feminists promote their ideas, through women's studies classes, seminars, brochures, newspaper and magazine articles, and on TV that sexual harassment can happen anywhere, and can include just about any behavior, with the possible exception of being dead.

If it became widely accepted, for example, that men's heavy breathing could be generally construed as sexual harassment, then every male jogger would be in the absurd but very possible danger of being charged and prosecuted because the courts are required, by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Civil Rights Act of 1964, Sections 703(a)(1), 42 USCA Section 2000e-2(a)(1).), to focus on the perspective of the "reasonable victim," which is defined by pop-culture. Hence, there is no objectivity. For this reason, the standard is as sexist as a "reasonable white person" standard would be racist. And just as unfair.

To justify this, pop-feminists ironically rely on the unique nature of male-biology at the same time they deny it exists. The reasonable woman standard arises from the assumption that "men are very easily aroused." Pop-feminists automatically reject this as a mitigating defense against a charge of rape, but pragmatically take it as justification of the reasonable woman standard. Unfortunately, this also leads some women to "easily misconstrue the slightest hint of friendship as a sexual invitation." (Brain Sex, Anne Moir & David Jessel, p 112)

As they always try to have it both ways, pop-feminists will almost certainly insist it is no error to construe sexual invitation in the slightest hint of friendship from a man, while it is equally certain they will deny that men are uniquely susceptible to sexually arousing stimuli, and that this should be a legitimate component of a uniquely male reasonable man standard.

The Reasonable Man Standard

All men's rights may be threatened by the reasonable woman standard. What pop-feminists don't see is that women's rights may be equally imperiled because, just as Ellison v. Brady established a unique standard for women, so it also established a unique standard for men. This will be explored in detail in Chapter four, but for now we will note that, should men be popularly persuaded that makeup, tight clothing, blouses that show any cleavage, and perfumes can be components of hostile environment sexual harassment of men (because these things can have "the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with [a man's] work performance"), then millions of women may find themselves targets for complaints of sexual harassment.

This is fairly typical of what happens with the pop-feminist issue of the day: In their desperate search for anything they can use to fan the flames of anti-male sentiment, they are reduced to grasping at straws that usually end up burning their fingers. Child abuse, for example, was loudly promoted as a feminist issue until it became widely known that most confirmed cases of child abuse are perpetrated by women. (Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1992, 112th Edition, Table no. 301)

Then, in 1986 and 1987, Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Catharine MacKinnon asserted women suffer a severe decline in their standard of living after divorce that justifies forcing men to pay alimony. But that issue, too, backfired when it was demonstrated that this is usually a temporary condition, and that their calculations ignored that in divorce settlements women receive most of the assets -- like the family home -- while men remain responsible for most of the liabilities -- like the mortgage. The reasonable woman standard may go the same route as, by a uniquely male reasonable man standard, far more women may be guilty of harassment than men.

Indeed, the release of Disclosure -- Michael Crichton's "based on a true story" account of a man who is sexually harassed -- has joined Strange Justice (the feminist take on Anita Hill) and the Jenny Craig Eight (eight men from Boston who filed charges of sexual harassment against the Jenny Craig weight loss clinic) to underscore this very point.

Do men feel harassed by the same things that bother women? Some do, certainly, but is this always the case?

In the frequently cited case of Ellison vs. Brady, which established what is known as the "reasonable woman standard," the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held, in an a clause that almost amounted to an afterthought, and received little publicity, that "where male employees allege that coworkers engage in conduct which creates a hostile environment, the appropriate victim's perspective would be that of a reasonable man." (Emphasis added.)

So, if a man claims he feels sexually harassed, it can be for reasons that women "just don't get," in the same way that men "just don't get it" when women complain of sexual harassment. We even have a more or less objective way to determine just how a "reasonable man" would define sexual harassment of men.

According to EEO guidelines, "a hostile environment exists when an employee can show (1) that he ... was subjected to sexual advances ... or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, (2) that this conduct was unwelcome," and that it "has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance."

In the opinion of millions of men, an "attractive" woman who wears a tight sweater, a blouse with a plunging neckline, libido-arousing perfume, a short skirt, tight pants, or a Wonder Bra, is engaging in "physical conduct of a sexual nature." And our "reasonable man" says that if men do not welcome such conduct from our female coworkers, and if it interferes with our work performance, then far more women are guilty of sexually harassing men than the other way around.

Just how many men would not welcome such conduct from women? How about those who know that if they notice such conduct, they can get into trouble. As Warren Farrell, author of The Myth of Male Power, points out, "It would not be a big deal for most men if no one were making a big deal of the man's response." In other words, to a certain extent the reasonable man standard will defined by the reasonable woman standard.

If pop-feminists actually wanted to promote good relationships between women and men, I'm sure they would have acted to block the creation of such a dichotomy, focusing instead on objectifying the standard rather than making it a matter of public opinion, and on alleviating the conditions that lead to sexual harassment in the first place.

What conditions lead to sexual harassment? Why do men sexually harass women? The first, best response to this is, men don't; people, do. Where the perpetrator is male, however, the primary motivation, according to many, is power:

(S)exual harassment is not about physical attraction. It is about power. Some people just like power over others. They like to see that they are feared. They enjoy making people do things for them. . . . Almost always, the offender wants to make you afraid. (Everything You Need To Know About SEXUAL HARASSMENT, Elizabeth Bouchard, p 23)
In many cases this may be true, but not necessarily as an exercise of power over others. In Senator Bob Packwood's case, for example, he was undoubtedly accustomed to being chased by women because, as most men know, many women are turned-on by powerful men. Consequently, Packwood was only doing what had worked for him before. This is an important point: most men do not do what does not work for them. If Joe Sixpack says, "hey baby, let's do the dirty on the desk," and gets slapped, after a while he gets the message and stops doing that. Many women often respond with trembling desire, however, to such crass invitations from powerful men.

What about cases where blue-collar men do it? The case against Stroh's Brewery is a good example of this: Jean Keopple's male co-workers hounded her with lewd remarks, pornography, insults, stalking, and sabotage. Why? According to Michael Kaufman, a Toronto author and one of the leaders of the White Ribbon Campaign against violence against women, men do such things because they feel it threatens their "unearned power" and "absolute authority." (Canada: Will Ribbons Keep Men's Violence Under Wraps? by Michele Landsberg, Ms. magazine, November/December 1992, p 17)

The reality, however, is that women are putting tremendous economic pressure on men these days. With a declining standard of living, women and men need every economic advantage they can get. This is especially true for men because, while most women will marry up, few will marry down. Consequently, the social reality for most men is that they must earn more than some minimum number of marriageable women do, or remain single and celibate for life:

The woman's financial superiority thus leads to a society of sexually and economically predatory males. The sexual power of women, if combined with economic power, leaves many young men with no civilized way to achieve sexual identity. (Men and Marriage, George Gilder, p 41)
Most men have a visceral understanding of this, and even married blue-collar men can feel threatened by it. Most women, however, just don't get this; when men resist their efforts to achieve economic-parity, they don't perceive it as an attempt by those men to maintain social-parity, but as economic oppression and sexual harassment. We cannot fault women for this -- they have the right, after all, to earn a living, too. Yet, we cannot ignore what this does to men. Some, such as Warren Farrell, believe the answer is for women to start marrying for love and companionship rather than money and security. This would give men the leeway they need to substitute personality and social skills for success and performance skills. The problem with this approach, of course, is that it requires women to change their attitudes about love and relationships. A tall order.

The Stroh's case and Senator Packwood represent the two extremes of the spectrum: power, and powerlessness. There are reasons for both. Reasons that do not justify harassment, but provide the basis for understanding the problem; the first step to a solution. More about that in Chapter eight.

Beyond this power continuum lie other behaviors pop-feminists call sexual harassment, behaviors they allege stem from men exercising their power over women. They are mistaken: What oppressive power do men exercise when they tell risqué jokes? The same power women exercise when they tell "dumb men" jokes? Or the power women exert when they chuckle over the assumed male predilection to "do it without directions"? Are they exercising their power over men? Regardless, it seems more likely most cases of male-perpetrated hostile environment sexual harassment stem either from male powerlessness or pop-feminist prudishness.

Pop-feminist prudishness does not make men sexually harass women, but it does create the illusion of harassment where no crime has been committed. Most men are not millionaires. Most are neither rock stars nor professional athletes, and most will never know the kind of adulation many nubile young women give to such icons of male glamour and virility. As Warren Farrell notes, all most men can realistically hope for is to earn their way to equality with women. (Why Men Are The Way They Are, Berkley Books, 1988, Warren Farrell, Ph.D., p 112) Hence, many men surround themselves with reminders (such as pin-ups and posters of women) of why they are working themselves into early graves in dehumanizing jobs. Such reminders express not power, but powerlessness and hope.

Hope is all many men really have, and of all the crimes pop-feminists have committed against humanity, the worst may be that they are disempowering men by criminalizing male sexuality and depriving most men of hope.

Disempowered men, men without hope, may resort to actions that frighten women. In the case of Ellison v. Brady, for example, a male co-worker, afraid to approach her directly, pestered Kerry Ellison with "fan mail" over a period of years. To Ellison, this was frightening, and she felt he was doing it as an exercise in power. (Night Talk with Jane Whitney, ABC network, April 13, 1992) But his actions make much more sense when seen in terms of mutual disempowerment and fear.


Rod Van Mechelen

Rod Van Mechelen is the author of What Everyone Should Know about Feminist Issues: The Male-Positive Perspective (the page now includes several articles by other authors), and the publisher of The Backlash! @ He is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and served for 9-1/2 years on the Cowlitz Indian Tribal Council.


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