The Politics of Sex
Why sexual harassment is such a big issue for women
If a woman at work caressed a man on his rear, he’d thank her, not sue her. So how can a man understand why sexual harassment is such a big issue for women?
Men, imagine growing up always receiving compliments from women on your mechanical abilities (as many women receive from men on their bodies). But suddenly a social worker is responsible for evaluating you as a dad, and if she doesn’t take you seriously, you risk losing your child. Imagine that as you’re changing diapers, the social worker tells you how the traces of grease under your fingernails are a real turn-on. You observe that she’s not focused on your parenting skills. Does it feel you’re being told that a man’s place is under the car? If the stakes were that your child might be taken from you if you are not taken seriously (just as a female junior executive might lose her jt>b if she is not taken seriously), might you find yourself feeling ambivalent about what would, in another context, feel like a compliment?
Now suppose the social worker s compliments about mechanical abilities were directed at the other men, not you. Would you be relieved? On one level, yes. But if you found out she gt* these other men to give her free car repairs and afterward evaluated these men as the best dads (!), might you become hypersensitive to compliments given to other men about their mechanical abilities? Especially if only one dad could get the child (just as sometimes only one woman can get the promotion)?
It’s hard for men to "get" this because most boys got their adolescent attention from performing and pursuing, and the workplace is just an extension of performing and pursuing. And in the workplace, performing and pursuing mean pay and promotions. But the adolescent girls who got the most attention got it from physical attractiveness. For an engineer, though, physical attractiveness is not supposed to lead to pay and promotion. So the workplace feels more alien to many women – the workplace is not an easy extension of female adolescence.
How can a man understand this on a gut level? Think of every woman as in a beauty contest every day of her life. (Whether attractive or unattractive,
she is evaluated by parents, relatives, boys, and other women.) In my workshops – especially corporate workshops – I ask men to actually experience the "female beauty contest of everyday life." As he’s being evaluated for his body, I ask him to pretend the judges are mostly female executives who must decide whether to promote him to the executive level The men chosen as finalists are feeling complimented but frustrated that maybe they’re being appreciated for the wrong reasons. They experience the love/hate relationship that so many women feel toward their bodies. On the other hand, the men not chosen as finalists feel rejected. In different ways, each of the men feels like he is in a hostile work environment. 1 have seen some men walk away in tears. These men have walked a mile in women’s moccasins.