Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sexual Harassment: What Allies/Witnesses Can Do

A while back, a friend of mine asked what he could do when he sees this happening to a friend or stranger.  His concern was that as a dude, he didn't want to compound the situation by assuming or coming off as just another macho dude trying to help out a defenseless lady (I'm totally paraphrasing here).

And I think it's a good point.  I can think of at least a few incidences where a butch or masculine-identified lover of mine took it upon themselves to intervene in a situation where it wasn't at all warranted.  Example: I was out with my girlfriend, some guy ran into me or something - I can't quite recall, but the point is, it wasn't too egregious and I was already moving on.  But my girlfriend decided that she needed to defend my honor or something, and without checking in with me, got all aggro on the dude in question.  I was NOT happy.  Besides the fact that I'm not a big fan of street altercations, I was mostly pissed that she didn't ask me about it - that somehow she had to be the big bad butch protecting her little lady.  I ain't no little lady and if I need help, I'll ask for it.

While I'm not any sort of anti-sexual harassment advocate, I think that's my biggest advice:  ask the person being harassed.  Just ask.  If my girlfriend had just said, "hey, that guy was really rude to you and I'm pissed - do you want me to do anything about it?" then that would've given me the power to decide.

If, during my recent experience being harassed in downtown Olympia, there had been a bystander who'd hollered as they were walking past "hey, is that guy bothering you?  do you need some help" - that would've given me the power to say "yes, please, I feel unsafe" or "no, thanks, I've got this under control." (and for the record, oh, how I wish someone had been there to ask me that!)

The last thing I need is to feel like someone else thinks I am unable to decide for myself what I need - it's like a double-whammy of disempowerment.

In Seattle, I once witnessed a woman being verbally abused by a man.  I was across the street and hollered "excuse me, miss?  I don't think it's okay for him to be threatening you like that.  Do you want help?"  She said "no" and I said okay, but I did continue standing there for a little while, just in case.  It may not have been the perfect thing to say, and I have no idea if the situation was as bad as I thought, but at least the woman in question knew that someone noticed how she was being treated, that I thought it wasn't okay, and gave her the choice of accepting help or not.

Unfortunately, a quick Google search didn't turn up any resources for what bystanders can do, though there are good links for those who've been sexually harassed.

What do you think?  What do you want people to do if you're being sexually harassed?  What do you do when you witness others being sexually harassed?

1 comment:

  1. The other day my old friend/ex Stuart and I went to an amusement park/zoo/aquarium. Here in china people aren't used to seeing someone so busty as I am, and there was quite a bit of staring, muttering, and especially jaw dropping as I ran down the stairs. But the worst was when we went on a ride and the guy who came around to check our restraints started pumping the part that comes down from the top in an explicitly sexual manner and yelling to his friends to watch. Stuart, being a proper Brit, was appalled not only at his actions, but at my inaction. He very appropriately asked if he could go beat up the kid, or if I wanted to report it, and I just said no. What would reporting the kid do other than get him angry and in trouble? Would that really keep him from doing this or something else again? I get harrassed and stared at all the time, and I've tried all sorts of reactions, but I find that the more aggressively defensive I am, the more aggressive the harrasser becomes, and so while something might start out as verbal or obscene staring, it can quickly become physical. Which isn't to say I don't do anything, but I've found that the best approach is to smile sweetly and wave in a friendly manner, or say thank you, because the acknowledgement let's them know that it hasn't gone unnoticed, and it often is embarrassing. Of course, this method doesn't work as well in the states as it does in Asia, but it can still be an effective way of getting someone to stop long enough for me to get out of the way. My point is this, though, while I appreciate that my friend wanted to do something to help me, I don't see how either the display of aggression, which as you said would just prove how fragile and helpless I was, or the reporting of someone I wouldn't be able to 100% identify because I had taken off my glasses would have done anything to change his behavior for the better and not worse. So while I'm glad he asked, I am also glad he listened to me when I said that no, there was nothing I wanted him to do.