In honor of Sexual Harassment Awareness month, I recently published a blog about being sexually harassed in the workplace. The piece included my personal story about experiencing unwanted attention from a client and explored the barriers to speaking up about the harassment, including the fear that doing so would harm my career. I wrote the piece in order to explain why many women stay silent and also to offer reassurance to other women in similar situations that they are not alone.
My blog got a lot of traction and I received dozens of e-mails and comments from other women thanking me for speaking out about the issue. I also received positive feedback from male allies who offered some great ideas for the role men can play in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.
However, some of the feedback was not so positive and bordered on misogynistic. A handful of men I didn't know who saw my blog on the Huffington Post made comments about how I should have "prepared" myself for sexual harassment in the workplace, and that because I wasn't prepared, I must have not been a "true" professional. One commenter offered the advice that I simply should have worn conservative clothing to work, since "it's in a woman's genes to attract men."
As horrified as I was by these comments, I was not at all surprised. Another barrier that prevents women from reporting harassment is the fear that they will be blamed for encouraging or enticing the offender. Blaming the victim mentality is part and parcel of the American rape culture and effectively silences women if they believe they will be held culpable for the perpetrator's behavior.
The issues of sexual harassment and assault are complex, multi-layered, and involve a host of implicit and explicit assumptions about proper gender roles and expectations for how women and men should behave in society. When we blame women, we release responsibility from men, and that is the opposite of what we need to do to end rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment should never be thought of as something that is expected in the workplace nor is the onus on women to prevent it from happening to them. We all need to recognize it for what it is -- a gross misuse and abuse of power.