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Sexual Harassment Outside The Workplace

October 11, 2007

But more cases, I have discovered, are more subtle; they involve a relationship or a seduction with which the less powerful party is sooner or later uncomfortable, but in which they then feel trapped since their partner is the more powerful one in the workplace. They often do not realize that this constitutes harassment, but believe, rather, that they are responsible for having made a poor choice and are thus now condemned to live with the consequences.

Professor Zero has written an entry about the subtleties and powerlessness victims of sexual harassment experience in the workplace, especially, if the victim had a previous relationship with the harasser. To expand what she is saying into the personal, I believe that technically, a marriage or a relationship where one depends disproportionately on the other for survival and there is sex involved could constitute sexual harassment. I know I am stretching the theory of sexual harassment a bit and veering away from the corporate definition but, I think once sexual harassment is understood, truly understood, then the power politics in sexual relationships (particularly heterosexual when the male makes more money) can no longer be dismissed and most importantly male chauvinistic attitudes cannot continue to claim women hold the power because she can withhold sex. As long as men make this claim it deflects their accountability. It perpetuates their power as well. What nincompoop doesn’t know this already?

I cannot count how many times I have been sexually harassed at work, –military seniors being the biggest harassers of all. For example, I was awarded a seat for a military school when seats were limited, often reserved for the golden children. Even though I do believe I earned it and was by far the best candidate, I know I was the recipient mostly because the commander who went out of his way to procure it for me was really trying to impress his military commander wife. It was almost as I was used as “See, see, I support you honey, I am doing something good for a woman.” Naturally, he never said this aloud, I noticed it in the conversations between him and his wife (in a military capacity) in my presence. Nevertheless, another senior hinted that it was he who negotiated the seat. After he informed me of his pseudo-part, he suggested we get together and celebrate over drinks. I did nothing but looked at him appalled and walked away.

Yet if I examined a few personal relationships, I am comfortable defining some as sexual harassment without feeling as if I am diluting sexual harassment claims in the workplace. Language and other expectations used tend to be different when it is a personal relationship without a direct paycheck involved as in the employer/employee relationship even though the events unfold in a similar matter. It is all about bullying, power, who has it, which needs the other the most for survival. A paycheck or an intimate relationship, —same thing. Our value system hierarchises one over the other and separates the politics of both as being something different and unique to each other.

One past relationship of mine in particular screamed sexual harassment. I was dating a man when I was trying to join the military, only the reserves (not active duty) at that time because it paid exactly how much I was in need of each month. A man I met the first time I attempted college, one who seemed nice. I found out he was married. Not that I was stupid, I had been to his apartment, more than once, had his phone number and all the other things that would suggest if he was single or not. Come to find out, he had married an alien and for whatever reasons she was back in her country for an undetermined amount of time, perhaps until they could work out her visa status. I don’t know. Once I found out, I dropped him. Nevertheless, I had my own skeletons. Not anything I would be ashamed to admit to my friends or family or that they did not already know about but topics that were not necessarily advantageous if revealed. Specifically, we (my current legal husband) at the time had decided to divorce. Actually, we had decided it practically the day after we were married. However, it was favorable for us to remain legally married for quite a few reasons. He was working on his PhD, he was not a citizen yet, and I needed to be married since I had a child. If one joins the military with a child and not currently married, (even if they were married at one time to the child’s other parent) he or she has to sign custody of that child over to someone else. This also means that military member will not get the benefits that come along with covering a dependent (medical insurance and additional cost of living pay). Once the member is in, he or she can divorce and can keep the original dependent benefits.

I had been honest with this new boyfriend and told him all of this. Yet when I found out he was married and had a wife who expected to resume a life with him it was over. What did this asshole do right away? I had not entered the service yet, I was still awaiting the background clearance, so of course being the bully that I discovered he was, the sexual harasser he was, he threatened to tell them of my marital status if I did not promise to continue seeing him. The recruiter did come out and meet my husband (we had to plan the date and time) and questioned him about how he felt about me joining the military, if we owed money and all of that rubbish. Since I needed to join the military, needed the extra income, needed the independence away from my legal husband, the ex-boyfriend demanded appeasement for his silence. The situation became so stressful that I abandoned the job that I had really wanted in the military and accepted the first one that could get me out of the area the quickest because there is an unwritten rule about the military in boot camp. Once one is in the system and past a specific time, he or she is assumed safe. My focus was to get past that time. At that point if he tried his crap I would accuse him of being a disgruntled ex who was trying to disrupt my life. My legal husband would had backed me up. In fact, after basic training he did try. I was questioned and the military dismissed his claims and warned him to leave me alone. This is the short version, I have left out all the stalking, breaking into my apartment (not technically though, I left the key for my B-I-L so he could move my things into storage while I was at work) and stealing my clothes, mailing them to me ripped to shreds, getting a long distance phone bill where he had called his brother in another state from my phone and left the line open from the time I must have left for work until I found the phone off the hook when I got home and questioning who people in photographs that he did not have privy to were. None of which he was authorised to do. He did not have a key and I was not there when he entered. Not to mention all the squealing tires in front of my apartment or at my job, or all the hang up phone calls and asking other employees after work if they knew which way I went, etc.

I do not believe most men can live without sexually harassing women. I am beginning to see signs of it in my daughter’s third grade class. A few of the little boys are already sexist pricks.

7 Comments
  1. Rent Party permalink
    October 11, 2007 10:14 pm

    Great post!

    “technically, a marriage or a relationship where one depends disproportionately on the other for survival and there is sex involved could constitute sexual harassment”

    Yes – and I think this is why it is so difficult to figure out – there is so much in officially acceptable behavior and setups which in fact has the same structure (gender inequality) as harassment…

  2. Chris permalink
    October 14, 2007 1:31 am

    To me, anytime sex is used as a bargaining chip or negotiating tool (I’m speaking specifically inside of a relationship), both people end up marginalized.

    When I see a “couple” giving each other the cold shoulder (either withholding communication or affection), it kills me. What good does it do you to deny it to your mate? What good does it do you to demand or force it? Either way, in my book, you lose. For example, in your case, what good did that dickwipe think was going to come out of doing what he did? Did he expect you to change your mind and say “Ooooooohhhh, damn, you are so hot when you’re all caveman like!”?

    I guess I just don’t understand why some people do the things they do.

  3. gingermiss permalink
    October 14, 2007 5:17 pm

    After he informed me of his pseudo-part, he suggested we get together and celebrate over drinks. I did nothing but looked at him appalled and walked away.

    How disgustingly vile. How dare he defile your accomplishment like that, regardless of the reasons it was bequeathed. Whether or not he played a role doesn’t matter anyway, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he played no role in the process and thought he could capitalize on the secrecy of it by flat out lying to you.

    I do not believe most men can live without sexually harassing women. I am beginning to see signs of it in my daughter’s third grade class. A few of the little boys are already sexist pricks.

    Sadly I believe this as well. Just seeing the way that many boys believe they are “flirting” is peculiar and reeks more of abuse than affection.

  4. Rent Party permalink
    October 15, 2007 12:52 am

    ‘Just seeing the way that many boys believe they are “flirting” is peculiar and reeks more of abuse than affection.’

    An important point. And we knew it as children, and our mothers told her it was not abuse, it was nice … I did not believe this at the time but it gave me some pause and I guess that is why when grownup men do the same I sometimes wonder.

  5. Verging Writer permalink
    October 16, 2007 8:01 pm

    Oh my – what a post! And your final salvo about little boys. They grow into bigger boys & when they hit puberty – look out – brings back some annoying – harassing – memories.

  6. Kitty Glendower permalink
    October 16, 2007 11:55 pm

    Verging writer Yes and how horrible of me because I know it is a generalization, I know that you and Chris have boys, it is awful. But I really must have blinked, sneezed or something. What a year between second and third grade made (and the fact that my daughter is in a 3 and 4 grade combo class). Just the other day a boy told my daughter, “the girls are not our future, and that means you girlglendower.” Where? Where in gawd’s name did that child learn such a malicious buzz phrase? It makes his third nasty remark targeted at her specifically. What does it mean? Does he like her? Does he hate her? She is the quietest child in the class. At least that is what I am told at the parent conferences. So if this is the case, what is this boy’s problem? Another boy told her jump roping was for girls so he could not hang out with her at recess if she was to jump rope. The two of them were peas and carrots last year. Then on picture day when the photographer offered free combs and she took one and carried it around with her, he blamed everything on the comb, because only girls use combs. For example, they were counted on for the swings something that supposedly never happens until the day she was carrying around a “girl” comb.

  7. Verging Writer permalink
    October 20, 2007 8:39 pm

    Geez, Kitty. That’s disturbing. That boy is toooooo young for such nonsense (actually, there should NEVER be an age for such nonsense).

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