Friday, January 18, 2008

To the sexual harassment Google searchers who found my blog: USE YOUR WORDS

I was torn today between three posts: a rant against Romney, my personal angst, or a hand out to some of the people who found my blog using search terms that saddened me. I compromised and will share space with two of these.

Each of my responses hinges on the assumption that the questioner isn't asking because it's all okay. I assume the questioner is asking because it troubles him/her and is a problem.

1. Is it harassment if my boss emails me and tells me to f*uck off?

I can't speak at all to the legality of any of this but if my boss did that, I'd be pretty upset. And understandably so. It's grossly unprofessional and inappropriate. (I assume you aren't seeking validation because it was said jokingly and is the common form of speech, a la teenagers shrieking goofily, "Oh SHUT UP!" when what they mean is, "For real, seriously?") There's a problem, and if it's a pattern, I urge you to try constructive problem solving with a person who can help. If it is past any point of return, consider whether it is the right environment for you.

2. Boss hand on thigh

Yes, this is in appropriate.

Women, we need to not worry about hurting feelings or creating an awkward moment at the expense of ourselves.

First, the awkward moment was already created when the man acted inappropriately. You can ignore it but it won't go away.

Second, this means you need to use your words.

"That's a personal touch, please remove your hand and don't do that again."

You can both speak up and be polite.

Third, you need to keep track if there is a pattern or he won't stop, and report it. I don't promise reporting it will solve it, or provide justice, but I still strongly believe it needs to be done.

3. Boss coming on to me

See number 2.

4. Coworker saw my underwear and harassing me

Juvenile locker room behavior aside, this creates a hostile and distracting work environment if it goes on too long or too strong. Use your words. Follow avenues available to you to stop this and solve it.

5. Advice about sexual harassment at work

Don't take it. Just don't.

You didn't cause it; it's not your fault. It's wrong and needs to stop. You know it's wrong because you feel uncomfortable. If you ask for it to stop and it doesn't, you need to use your words and take action.

To all these and the rest:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a straightforward fact sheet about sexual harassment. Click here to read it. A key point from that sheet is
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

That sheet also provides instructions about how to file a complaint. If your company wont do anything, there are other avenues available to you.

Human resources at offers some examples of sexual harassment:
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of situations. These are examples of sexual harassment, not intended to be all inclusive.

* Unwanted jokes, gestures, offensive words on clothing, and unwelcome comments and repartee.
* Touching and any other bodily contact such as scratching or patting a coworker's back, grabbing an employee around the waiste, or interfering with an employee's ability to move.
* Repeated requests for dates that are turned down or unwanted flirting.
* Transmitting or posting emails or pictures of a sexual or other harassment-related nature.
* Displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, or posters.
* Playing sexually suggestive music.

I believe every person is responsible for knowing this, and for being accountable for when their actions---intention or not---harm a coworker. Companies should provide the education, but if not, know it yourself.

To those being harassed

It's not your job to fix the system. I sometimes wonder if one person can, anyway. But each time we stand up against sexual harassment, each report we all adds up and hopefully creates a better situation for the next woman or next generation.

You do what you can, not what someone else thinks you should or what you think a better woman would. You are a good woman. And this sort of abuse wears you down, drains you, robs you of your power. Sometimes, we can't do as much as we'd like. The most important thing is to salvage yourself and get your power and equilibrium back. Just do what you can.

To those of us who let it roll off our backs or think we just need to be good sports

It's a slippery slope, friends. We are all well-conditioned to not be the spoilsport---women even more so with the nice thing. But there is a hard line, here, now. What is a funny joke to one woman might seriously disturb another.

Take a look at the definition and examples of harassment.

And just keep that out of the workplace. In case.



But consider...all I went through? Somebody else thought it was funny.

Too, too many people don't understand the boundary. So just keep on the safe and courteous side.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
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Professor J said...

Good advice, all, Julie.

thailandchani said...

Excellent! This is a really clear guide to use.

Kathryn said...

That is a great detailed list!

painted maypole said...

i hope your words inspire others to use theres.

Multi-tasking Mommy said...

You provided us with some great resources!

SciFi Dad said...

You get harassment, I get questions about Jessica Seinfeld... ironically, I have been known to verbally harass Jessica Seinfeld from time to time.

Gwen said...

Good advice, Julie, but here's the thing: I was most susceptible to sexual harassment when I was young (I was going to say "when I was working" because that amused me, but no, for reals). And part of this was because I didn't have the confidence to say to the man who was pressing his crotch into my back to please back up. There's a whiny little part of me that thought, "what the hell? Not only am I being harassed but Ihave to be the adult about it?" What I felt comfortable claiming at 21 was so much less than what I feel comfortable with now.

Magpie said...

Well done. I hope it is useful to someone.

Michele said...

Thanks so much for getting this vaulable info out there. Something we all need to know and be reminded of often.

Family Adventure said...

Thank you Julie. I believe this post helped many.


Jennifer said...

Women, we need to not worry about hurting feelings or creating an awkward moment at the expense of ourselves.

Amen. And I could relate to what Gwen was saying -- it's easier to really KNOW this as a more adult woman than as a very young 20-something, just starting out in the world. It's just that much harder to find our words at that time in life.

we_be_toys said...

Nice PSA Julie!

It surprises me that anyone would have a doubt about whether they were being harrassed - how does it feel? If it feels wrong it probably is.

You go girl!

ewe are here said...

Great advice!

But someone thought what happened to you was funny??? Gaw.

Maddy said...

Sage advice. I love how I say 'use your words' a zillion times a day, but I'd have real problems putting it into practice in the real world in those situations.
Best wishes

slouching mom said...

There is no doubt in my mind that this will help someone or some several.

Kyla said...

Excellent advice, Julie.

Suz said...

We had mandatory sexual harrassment training at work this week, requiring us to devote two hours of our time to a lecture / discussion. I was moaning and complaining and then, I thought of your experience and just paid attention.

flutter said...

excellent advice, Julie

Mary Alice said...

Sometimes if you just is.

melissa said...

I totally agree with the age thing. I would have let some things slide at a younger age that wouldn't even get out of the starting gate now.

Excellent and helpful post.

Aliki2006 said...

Good, relevant advice--I hope it helps those out there who need it.

Mrs. Chicky said...

No doubt about it, this will help someone in their Google searching.

And I just get the searches for dog porn. I wonder why.

FENICLE said...

Great list!!! Very detailed info.

Lawyer Mama said...

This is so sad! I'm horrified (but not surprised) that it's necessary for people to look for help and information online. Thank you, Julie, for being a great resource.

Daisy said...

Good, solid advice. I was harrassed in an unusual way. A coworker who didn't like the boss wanted me to accuse the boss (a good friend) of sexual harrassment. Of course, I said no. From then on, I was the victim of some nasty workplace bullying that could have ruined my career.
No, I don't work there any more.

Wayfarer Scientista said...


Cecilieaux said...

I have problems with the assumption in two instances:

-- I find it hard to believe that phrase "f*ck off" has actual sexual meaning of any kind, any more than "f*ck you" or "what the f*ck." It is not recommended phrasing with which to greet the Queen of England, but it's not harassment and you should have said so a bit more baldly.

-- "Saw my underwear"???? What were you doing that put anyone at work in the position of seeing your underwear?

As to the rest, of course. Why is anyone even pondering these questions lo these many years since Anita Hill?