I need to be clear. Sexual harassment is and always has been wrong.
However, as an older white man, I can say that I am not surprised by the revelations coming out about women who have been sexually harassed by powerful older white men, I have to admit that I have been guilty of the same attitudes and behaviors.
Nothing that I have to say should be construed as an excuse for the behavior. No one should read this and feel any sympathy for men who have engaged in sexual harassment. This is simply an explanation of why I am not surprised by the recent revelations, and why I think almost all men of my age or older have a propensity to sexually harass women.
“Nothing that I have to say should be construed as an excuse for the behavior. No one should read this and feel any sympathy for men who have engaged in sexual harassment.”
I was born in 1957. My parents that raised me were married in 1939. My Dad was twenty years old, and my mother was fifteen…on the day she married. That was not typical; however, older men marrying younger women, even girls, was not uncommon, and during my childhood years, almost every Mom was a housewife.
As a child of the 1960’s, the idea that the man was dominant over a woman was not even questioned. Women were created to please men. The mindset was, women should not be overtly sexual and modest; therefore, it was the man’s place to initiate sexual actions. There was no formal instruction about initiating sexual intention with women, it was just expected that boys would learn as they go.
It was blatantly obvious to me, and probably most men my age, that power and wealth made men sexually attractive, and that women craved men who boldly took the initiative, so they didn’t have to pretend that they didn’t want sex. One way to win over a woman was to be in a position of power, and create a situation where the woman could submit to them.
“…that power and wealth made men sexually attractive, and that women craved men who boldly took the initiative, so they didn’t have to pretend that they didn’t want sex.”
The problem was, it worked. In hindsight, it didn’t work because the myth of women secretly wanted sex was true, it worked because the intimidation of a powerful man, and because most fell into the belief that it was a societal norm. Until I was in my late 20’s, the concept of sexual harassment was not even recognized as a problem in the workplace. A man marrying a subordinate was commonplace.
During my adult years, the development of workplace training began to take hold, and one of the primary topics became sexual harassment training. I, and most other men, were told that we had to be careful how we handled ourselves in the workplace, but that seemed to be focused on the workers, not so much on the executives.
When an issue of sexual harassment did come up with someone in management, companies hushed it up “to protect the woman,” and often the woman was given some type of compensation and moved out of the situation. Business, especially the human resources department, created the enabling of sexual harassment by treating it as an embarrassment for the company that needed to be dealt with internally, without law enforcement involvement.
There is no excuse for my behavior, nor the behavior of white men my age. In part, the problem is born of myths that are created in the absence of discussion and awareness of sex. Young boys will believe what other young boys will tell them when a vacuum exists of information.
We have to stop pretending that sex is only for married adults, and before that phase of life, sex isn’t supposed to exist. That doesn’t work. Sex is not taboo or should it be embarrassing to discuss. It is a natural function of life.
We also have to stop letting companies deal with sexual harassment issues. Profit, public relations, and efficient operation of the business have no place in how a workplace sexual harassment issue is resolved.
“Profit, public relations, and efficient operation of the business have no place in how a workplace sexual harassment issue is resolved.”
Finally, I apologize to any woman who feels I have offended and/or been sexually inappropriate with. There is no excuse.