Sexual Harassment. This is a topic on which I have many complex and diverse thoughts. It is particularly tough because it hits close to home for me. I have two young daughters that I don’t want growing up in a world where they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. I hope that by exploring my thoughts on the issue I can ensure the ladies in my life don’t experience the harassment or unwanted advances that seem so prevalent in our world.
As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the men in the recent firestorm of public stories was someone I knew personally. The story hit too close to home for me and made me seriously consider the world in which my children are growing up. Do I want my daughters to ever have the feeling of needing to exchange some form of sex for a job? It’s sad to say, but this is the world we live in, whether you see it first hand or not. I don’t know how to change this personally, but I think at least the conversation and awareness being created will help. The hard part for me is knowing what constitutes harassment, but I think ultimately if a woman (or man for that matter) is put in a situation they don’t feel comfortable in, and they voice that opinion clearly, then the other person needs to respect their opinion and evaluate their own actions. Obviously their are many types of predatory behaviors that clearly cross a line and are even illegal or criminal. In those cases I sincerely hope that the authorities pursue any case they can to bring justice to the victims. Creating strong and clear punishments will ultimately be the biggest deterrent to these types of actions.
What am I personally doing with my kids to protect them? Well the first step is education. We explained to our children that if anyone EVER makes them feel uncomfortable they need to speak up. We have a rule: NO secrets from mommy. So while my wife might never be surprised again with anything fun (sorry babe), we know that any and all information gets told to her. They know to tell her first and also that they should tell me or another grown up they trust. There is no shame in admitting your feelings or expressing them. By hiding these feelings, predators are able to continue their dangerous behavior. Another thing we have chosen to do is to encourage our children to take self defense classes. A friend of one of my daughters was biting her at school. She told the boy to stop and told my wife. My wife reminded her to tell the teacher but that she could defend herself if it happened again. He bit her again and she defended herself by smacking the boy in the face. While we don’t encourage violence, I am glad she followed the steps she had learned. She used her words and when that didn’t work she defended her body. To be fair they are 4 (and good friends), so this type of behavior is somewhat normal, if not expected at that age. When we saw our school offered judo classes we decided to sign our girls up so they could learn to properly defend themselves. They are the only girls in the class. It will give me piece of mind when they are older to know they will be comfortable defending themselves if a boy does something they shouldn’t.
Ultimately, all of this makes me sad. While I am glad I am educating my children to understand the way this world works, it is tough to realize we need to start this young. I didn’t realize how ubiquitous this behavior was until it came out in the news cycle so aggressively. I knew it existed, but I did not realize how prevalent it was, and the degree to which the harassment was happening. In the business world, and in Hollywood in particular, it seems especially bad – people are taking advantage of their power to make life miserable for others. My message to them is: Get over yourself. Find a way to be honest about who you are. If you are doing something wrong, get help – go see someone who can diagnose and treat the problem. I wish that I could do more for this problem, but ultimately it starts with role models and people in power. If they are the ones continuing to use their power and influence in a predatory way, then the cycle won’t stop. We need to hold them accountable for their actions.
To the women and men who have gone public with their stories: I can’t imagine the strength it required or how difficult it is, but I want you to know you are the heroes who are changing the world and I am incredibly grateful.