This a time not only a time of #metoo revelation but of revolution by those whose power has been held hostage for too long. This includes women, men, those persons who identify as queer, people of color and anyone who has feared for their jobs, their sexual safety and their lives.
The headcount in the past few weeks of men who are resigning due to sexual harassment allegations includes Mario Batali, John Hockenberry of WNPR, James Levine (NY Philharmonic) and politicians Trent Franks (R), John Conyers (D), and Al Franken (D). In this veritable avalanche of allegations of sexual boundary crossings in the workplace seemingly Teflon-protected male titans of industry have been fired, suspended, and pressured to resign all in keeping with a new principle. No behavior whether lewd, inappropriate or assaultive will be allowed in America’s workplace. People in power need to be held responsible for alleged events that are both decades old and recent in nature. What was once thought impossible has now become a daily reckoning by entertainment, media, political and business organizations.
And as in most revolutions there is tremendous anger that can rip those in power down from their pedestals without trials, inquiries or ethics investigation because the resentment and rage has been held down for too, too long. But what has to follow are educational curriculums that are much more detailed and nuanced around what the harassment entails and how employees can report their complaints without fear. At this time the male and female clients in my group practice Center for Love and Sex are coming into sessions reviewing their personal and professional histories asking themselves: “Did this happen to me?” “Why was I spared?”, “This thing happened to me” or “Was this inappropriate?”, wanting to examine what they may have repressed and/or denied.
Most of our clients initially come in for help with their romantic and sexual relationships. As part of my CLS model of assessment our therapists take what’s called a “sexual history”, a detailed account of the messages and actions revolving around intimacy and sexuality a child experienced in their family of origin, school, extra-curricular activities, college and afterwards. We ask very nuanced questions in order to uncover sexual boundary crossing that may have been hidden and/or ignored for years.
What is disturbing to some of my heterosexual female clients is the hypocrisy evident in Al Franken being forced out for alleged boundary crossings that while are unacceptable, are not as egregious as those incidents allegedly ascribed to Roy Moore running for senator of Alabama or President Trump.
My view is that these revelations and penalties are just the beginning in terms of what will be coming down the pike.
What it shows us is that employers will clearly have to change their implicit and explicit rules for everyone who works at a company. They will have to double down on creating human resources departments that are as much about protecting their employees as they are about protecting the company from lawsuits, bad press and a decrease in stock value. And our government which has to answer to its citizens will need to provide guideline and consequences that are equitable for all politicians who serve, because they serve us.
What the next stage of revelation/revolution will require is that most humans, male and female, need a better education regarding the difference between friendliness and flirtation, camaraderie and intrusion, persistence and coercion. People will need training on mindful physicality that adheres to a consent model that has begun to be used in some colleges. Both men and women both need to learn how to ask before touching “Would you like a hug?” and respond clearly “No thanks I’m not comfortable with that” in order to make a practice out of the request, acceptance or decline with honor. In this way people can support the invitation, decision and response without coercion, shaming or bullying.
As a sex therapist I hear women discussing the binds they find themselves at work when their male boss or colleagues are blind to the discomfort or worse, harassment they create either unknowingly, due to reasons of entitlement and lack of education or in some cases due to longstanding resentments towards women. One client described her boss inquiring about the dating app she’s been using and what kinds of men she’s been swiping right on. While it made her uncomfortable she didn’t label it as harassment. Instead of reporting it to HR she decided to navigate her way out of the department to work with another boss. When I asked her why she preferred this route, she replied: “It’s just not worth the problems it will create and he’s been a good mentor to me”.
I have also heard from men who are grappling with grave concern that they might be looked upon as a harasser if they say something they consider friendly to a colleague but is taken as a flirtatiously tinged comment.
Many men in my practice talk about feeling like they respect their female colleagues but are worried they may make someone feel uncomfortable without any sexual intention and that the punishment could be drastic. One man reflected on a past job in which he told a female friend (who he didn’t work with nor who he supervised) that he thought the way she dealt with a mutual friend’s recent loss of a spouse was so caring. The woman then went to HR and filed a report saying that she felt uncomfortable. He let me know that he was disappointed by
Men are trained at an early age to repress any feelings that could be viewed as weak like hurt, sadness, disappointment or rejection. They are also trained that if they are seeking a heterosexual relationship they are expected to be the initiators because that is what our culture deems as “manly”. While I’m not defending the power and entitlement that men (especially white men) are also taught is their right while growing up, the fact remains that there are so few ways in which men are prepared to communicate the nuanced feelings that any human feels when it comes to their desire for intimacy. They are also expected to not ask for directions (whether it’s on a road trip, assembling a table from Ikea or in which sexual activities (if any) another person wants to engage? So this is the time in which the fear prompted by this revolution of losing their careers, reputation and potentially their partners is the time for men to listen and learn. It is a moment rife with potential.
Where Do We Go From Here
What we teach our CLS clients is what I also teach in my Sex Esteem® Workshops for men and workshops for women who want a safe space to discuss their needs, challenges and desires in order to better communicate to potential romantic partners and to better learn what verbal and non-verbal messages need to be kept out to make everyone more comfortable in the workplace.
What is also part of men’s education are the statistics published by the Center for Disease Control that 1 in 5 women report having been raped at some point in their lifetime and 1 in 20 women have experienced some other form of sexual violence other than rape in our society including sexual coercion, unwanted sexual touch, or other forms of boundary crossings.
I explain that without asking first, one may unwittingly be triggering a PTSD response from a woman (or man) who has been a victim of assault.
We also review all the myths in cultures regarding what true masculinity is and how these shutdown of human emotion emotions causes men to confuse loneliness for horniness, anxiety for aggressiveness, rejection for power grabbing. Teaching them how to identify what feeling they are looking to communicate to their romantic partner that is outside the realm of culture’s narrow range of emotions in a way they can hear you without non-consensual touch. Exercises involving what is and isn’t acceptable regarding statements and touch at work even if they’re meant as friendly are also reviewed through experiential exercises.
Part of this revolution is to rally for all humans to begin a conversation on how to understand one’s experiences and those of others with compassion and respect, to express oneself in one way at work with the care required to make all people feel comfortable no matter their position and to learn how to address one’s emotions in safe places with one’s mate, a spiritual guide or a professional therapist. And while this is a hopeful wish, I am also aware that some people behave in sociopathic ways that are resistant to seeking out help and/or believe their delusions. This is just the beginning though. More revelations and lessons to come.