Sexual Harassment Is A Men's Problem, Not A Women's

These are the experiences of women to be sure but they are the problems of men.
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man tying tie
man tying tie

The ten women who spoke out about their sexual harassment by Donald Trump have opened a veritable flood-gate, with personal revelations of abuse from both the famous and the unknown, and with commentators and columnists asking "Will more women now believe their own stories?"

While the ability to speak out is important and long overdue, I have a different question. What I would ask instead is, 'With the spotlight so harshly focused on their behavior, will men now change their ways?' For at the end of the day, that's really what is necessary for change.

Many of us who came of age in the '60s, '70s and '80s -- even those of us who were early feminists -- lived by our own 'code of silence,' rarely telling tales of unwanted sexual overtures except to very close friends. Shame? Perhaps, but as likely fear of the men -- particularly men in power who in my experience seemed to be those most likely to offend.

The boss in the restaurant who grabs for your breast while you pass in a tight corridor. The favorite 'uncle' who gives you a parting embrace that is anything but familial. The politician or film mogul who invites you to discuss a job -- in which you might be interested until you learn the price. The man in the seat next to you on a plane or train who grabs you (or in what was to me the scariest incident) sticks a 'popper' up your nose while the other hand explores your body.

These are the experiences of women to be sure but they are the problems of men.

It's not how we dress. As a young woman who wanted to be taken seriously I almost always (except when waitressing and looking for good tips) wore pants and turtlenecks or high collared shirts -- neither of which protected me from unwanted probes and comments. More pertinent and convincing -- when one walks down the streets of Cairo today, where in my youth women were usually clad in jeans or a skirt almost indistinguishable, except for their vibrant colors, from their western counterparts, I am in shock. Seeing them now donning headscarfs, hijabs, veils and full-body coverings to prevent being 'provocative to men.' Yet in a recent UN study a full 82 percent of women in that city experienced and feared sexual harassment.

It's not how we talk or what we say. Any rape victim advocate will recount stories of both the sassy and the demure bearing the brunt of sexual harassment, assault and rape.

Nor are we protected by our achievements or exalted positions. While deferential behavior and lack of power makes one a likely victim-to-be, as the president of my own company who routinely meets with 'men of power' I have been in more than one meeting where in response to an oppositional position by a strong woman the men around me have opined that ' what she needs is a good f***."

My own experiences -- and the tales of other friends who've experienced the unwanted advances of bosses, politicians, film producers, the rich and the famous -- reinforces the fact that the phenomenon of sexual harassment from comments to groping to rape is less about sex than about power, privilege and entitlement. Just as for centuries warriors have taken women's bodies as their prizes in victory, so too do powerful men assume that unlimited access to women's bodies is a perk of success.

For decades -- actually for the past several centuries -- women have worked at self-protection. We've donned sex neutral clothing, taken up self-defense, travel in groups at night, watch our consumption of alcohol at parties. Yet, according to a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 5 adult women experiences rape during her lifetime, 1 in 20 experiences some form of sexual assault or violence and according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, between 2001 and 2012 nearly twice as many women were murdered by their intimate partners (11,766) than all the American lives lost in Afghanistan and Iraq (6,488).

Donald Trump Jr., according to a story in The Huffington Post, said that women should just get used to it and deal with it. "If you can't handle some of the basic stuff that's become a problem in the workforce today, then you don't belong in the workforce," Trump Jr. told The Opie and Anthony Show in a 2013 interview that BuzzFeed recently unearthed. "You can't be negotiating billion-dollar deals if you can't handle, like, you know."

I have a different set of prescriptions.

Whenever I'm in the Middle East watching women walk through the blistering heat in layers of shapeless clothes that must heat up their bodies like furnaces, and headwear that endangers them crossing the street, I often think that blinders that are put on horses would be a better and a far more just solution for men who are unable to control their impulses.

As the mother of teenagers I was horrified by the rape-rap that permeated MTV and the radio in the '90s broadcast on radio. While I am hesitant to interfere with free speech, lyrics that denigrate women and suggest that we all really 'want it' -- are more hate crime than entertainment and perhaps are unfit for broad distribution, just as we ended the distribution of 'snuff' films a few decades ago.

As to 'locker-room banter' -- as if that made such talk benign -- it's time for a cultural change. It's up to men, particularly men in positions of power, to stop it. There are decent men in the world. I'm, married to one and know many.

Women bear the brunt of sexual violence, but just as racism cannot be solved by the action of African Americans or Latinos alone, so too the scourge of sxual violence is not only ours to end. As much as it's time for women to step up, speak out, lean in, it's time for men -- to say that the behavior of Donald Trump and other men -- from banter, boasting or bulls*** to abuse and rape is unacceptable -- and while they're at it, condemn and join women as we work to defeat the epidemic of legislative attacks on women's health care, reproductive choice, contraception, equal pay that as surely as sexual harassment deny us full equality.

Marilyn Katz is the president of MK Communications, Inc a political and issues strategy firm and a partner in Democracy Partners. An activist, author, columnist and political consultant she has been in the midst of political movements since her student days in the 1960s.

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