If you’ve been in the workplace more than 10 years, you’ve received a compliment from the opposite sex. Whether that compliment was harmless, or a source of pain is largely left up to who receives the compliment and who is giving the compliment and your moral compass at the time.
Harvey Weinstein, one of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters, was brought down by numerous accounts of inappropriate sexual behavior, including blatant sexual harassment and since then social media has been flooded with videos of Matt Lauer making suggestive comments about a woman’s sweater and even our meditating yoga enthusiast Russell Simmons has been accused of making unwanted advances on women over the last three decades. With the many cases popping up in the news everyday, there is a lot of confusion about the current landscape of sexual harassment, coercion and indecency. I don’t want to insinuate that there is not a problematic structure of male dominance in the workplace, but I do believe that there is another side to this story that no one is addressing currently.
I can remember serving as membership coordinator for a Big 12 University years ago not long after graduation. I was one of the youngest on staff and there was an older gentleman that worked in an adjoining department. This gentleman happened to be a superior, but he also happened to resemble the actor Phillip Michael Thomas. One day while walking to drop off some papers, this gentleman made a point to whistle as I walked by in my pencil skirt, suggesting I reminded him of Diahann Carroll. As opposed to being insulted by his words and actions, I was flattered. Although I was young at the time, I realized that because of the source of the compliment I welcomed it. If that compliment came from a less attractive, older gentleman I’m sure I wouldn’t have been as excited about the remark and may have even considered it creepy. Yes this man was a superior at my job and the fact that he voiced an attraction to me may have helped me in some ways, but the reality of the situation is I wasn’t concerned with the aftermath because it came from him. If I’d taken the Phillip Michael Thomas look-alike up on his offer to rendezvous and received a promotion, would it be fair for me to come out now fifteen years later and call him a monster? I think not.
Working as an entrepreneur in the entertainment industry over the last ten years, I’ve seen and heard many things that would qualify as workplace harassment. Men make suggestive comments about women at every turn. Women are given advantages on a wide range of variables from being called “pretty” or “fine”, all the way to engaging in intimate relationships in hopes of moving up the corporate ladder; it’s an age old practice that has been around as long as women and men have worked together.
At the moment, if a women is propositioned, she has three choices. She can let the man know that his advances are not welcome and that if he continues she will take action to make sure his inappropriate behavior is exposed, or she can ignore the situation hoping the man will get the hint and leave her alone, or lastly she can go along with the advances in hopes of moving her career forward. Different women in the same situations make different choices.
Again, I don’t mean to insinuate this behavior is not a problem; however, women have to accept some of the responsibility depending on their response to the advance. “I get hit on all the time,” Amy, 26, an up-and-coming A&R says. “I don’t take them seriously and I make sure the guys I work with know I have a boyfriend.”
Like Amy, many women turn down or ignore the advances, so the women that choose to respond with intimacy have made a conscious decision to put their career over their character. Shouldn’t their choice be taken into consideration when we are berating the men on the other side of the coin? “I guess I don’t take it as a sign of aggression when men make comments about taking me out or even sexual advances,” Tippi, a 35-year-old marketing executive says. “I do realize if I took some of them up on an offer, I’d probably be much further in my career.”
To Tippi’s point, the women who succumb to the advances often benefit from their choices, so is it fair for them to villainize the men that have made their lives or careers more successful? To suggest someone has been inappropriate after reaping the benefits of the their indiscretion would suggest some level of hypocrisy or at the bare minimum less harsh repercussions for the accused. We know that there is still a double standard when it comes to men and women in the workplace. If we are going to demand the resignation and termination of men who practice this form of aggression and manipulation, we must hold the women who benefit from their offers to some level of accountability. For the women who have dealt with the advances and made the difficult choice to turn them down at the expense of possibly losing their job or a promotion, etc. it isn’t fair to lump them into the same category with women who have been able to use their inappropriate advances to move up the corporate ladder before crying foul.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the writer.