“… I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone”

What gender issues matter to you? Where do they happen? Create a map about gender issues, such as local resources, international incidents, historic points of interest, etc. Write a post that provides context for the map.

Last semester I became very interested in this fascinating notion that as a society we are all unconsciously set into this patriarchal way of living. It had never really hit me as hard as it did until last semester, with the help of only a few SCOM classes. Anyways, one thing that really stayed in the back of my head was this idea of a rape culture being our norm (again, unconsciously reinforcing it). I would like to use that as the force of this post, and, from it I would like to explore local resources in the Harrisonburg/Rockingham area concerning the parameters of sexual harassment cases.

When referring to sexual harassment, I will be mostly talking about the act as it is carried out in the workplace or in a school environment, which are only two main places to where it can be experienced. Mostly, I am interested in talking about the gender, of course, as well as the power dynamics that are involved in this act. I will provide some perspectives from the growing generation, a media example, and local resources that will hopefully paint an image for how our society tends to deal with these kinds of issues.

In an article from MSNBC, they mention a study done by Marquette University sociologist Heather Hlavka. She conducted a study done by 100 young people between the ages of 3 and 17, and found some alarming results when it comes to the viewpoint of sexual violence. “One 13-year-old girl interviewed in the study said such harassment was just a fact of life. ‘They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean … I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone’” (Sakuma, 2014). It is actually a bit disturbing to think that someone so young could think that kind of contact is okay. This proves that our next generation is already lining themselves up for a continuous lie. There were many articles about this issue, stating that girls and general young people of the last couple of years believe that sexual harassment is normal. The younger generation will experience firsthand or hear about this act in the school system, and then without any kind of action against this issue, they will most likely continue to be exposed to this when they enter the workplace as adults.

According to Wood (2013), there are several stereotypes of women in the workplace that contributes to the sexual harassment that they may experience. She states that about half the women who have worked outside of the home have experienced some kind of sexual harassment like this (p. 234). This mainly comes from the stereotype of being a sex object, which, for example, can be prevalent in a dominantly male field like the military. This is not to say that men suffer from office stereotypes or even sexual harassment for that matter. I will touch on an example of harassment towards men when I talk about some media examples. However, it is women who have reportedly experienced more instances of sexual harassment in the workplace. The American Association of University Women (AAUW), which is the nation’s leading voice promoting equity and education for women and girls, gives statistics that put women in the forefront of this issue. They say, “In 2011, there were 11,364 complaints of sexual harassment made to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: 84 percent filed by women and 16 percent filed by men”. That is a considerably big difference.

Moving onto sexual harassment experienced in the school system, there is less of a difference with 56% of girls compared with 40% of boys reportedly being harassed (Ramirez, 2011). In both situations of the workplace and the school system, there is the concern of power dynamics; however, it seems a little more prevalent in the schools. There is the considerable age difference between students and teachers, which can be considered as one factor to power dynamics played into this issue. To back that up, in the same lineup of statistics it is stated that nearly 50% of 7th to 12th graders experience sexual harassment (Ramirez, 2011). That seems to be such a high number that most people seem to be ignorant of, thinking that the authority figures, in this case the teachers, will be responsible with their position.

From my personal high school experience, I had a teacher that was arrested about a year ago for acts of harassment that he had performed with students from when I was in attendance there. It was a big deal in the local news and on social media, which is where I heard about it while being here. This is an example where the perpetrator was punished for his actions, but this does not always happen, especially in the school system. Referring to Hlavka’s study again, there is another analysis of it saying, “Lack of reporting may be linked to trust in authority figures. According to Hlavka, the girls seem to have internalized their position in a male-dominated, sexual context and likely assumed authority figures would also view them as ‘bad girls’ who prompted the assault” (McDonough, 2014). This study was specific to the girl’s experience in this issue, which touches on the power that the authority figure has over them. The girls would very much think that they are teachers, they are more powerful in the school system, and therefore no one would believe them over the word of the teacher.

Going from an example of my personal, real-life high school experience, I’d like to transition to a media example that will put this issue into a different perspective. I want to use this not as informative lesson that will help spread awareness of the issue, but as examples of media lessening the blow of the issue, and spinning it not into an issue but instead using it as entertaining and for situational humor. There are countless examples of TV/film in particular that use sexual harassment in this way, however I will only mention the movie Horrible Bosses. I would show a YouTube clip, but it is sort of inappropriate, so I will go ahead and briefly summarize.

In the story there are three men being mistreated and harassed by their bosses. One is named Dale who works as a dental assistant and is sexually harassed by the lead dentist, his boss Julia. At one point in the movie, Dale says he is going to quit, but Julia retaliates by threatening him and showing him pictures she took of them when he was under anesthesia during a procedure on his mouth. She had placed herself in positions and removed their clothes to make it look like they were engaging in sexual activity. However, the pictures are made to be comical, of course, because of the fact that he is unconscious and the look of lifelessness on his face. His reaction to the pictures is, “Rape. Rape, rape — that’s a rape! This is what raping is! You’re a raper and you raped me! That’s a rape! Rape!” To which Julia responds saying, “Okay, just relax there Jodie Foster.”

One could say that technically, he is right. He did not give her consent and she used his body in an extremely sexually charged way. However, the whole situation is downplayed and soon forgotten after a few jokes to literally erase the fact that she actually did rape him. Later, Julia locks Dale and herself in her office, and in this scene she just so happens to be wearing her underwear and her white dental jacket. She is trying to play the role of temptress in order to lure him in, which, in case anyone was wondering is definitely inappropriate in the workplace, ANY workplace! Do not get me wrong, I actually find this movie to be hilarious, which is a testament to the state of our society’s numb minds when viewing any type of entertainment value today.

There is realness in this issue and, with the very current date on Horrible Bosses and on the articles included in this post, it is easy to see that sexual harassment is very prevalent even today. “Huhman said the second time she was a victim of sexual harassment (later in her career, at a different job), she reported the conduct to human-resources officials, who doubted her claims. After that, she stopped getting new assignments and projects, while the person who victimized her continued in his career” (Berman & Swanson, 2013).These are situations that are very real and can happen to anyone, so, there should be more sources that are offering informative lessons that will help spread awareness.

I wanted to explore these sources and see how accessible offices were, especially around this area, so I made a separate page (titled Sexual harassment law firms) that includes some Google maps. These are maps showing the placement of law offices in Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, and Woodstock, all agencies that deal with forms of sexual harassment charges. My choice to include these maps is to reassure that a person would be safe and taken care of if they were to report their experience. To have to go through any of these situations similar to the ones I have briefly mentioned here, and any surrounding this issue, would be so traumatic. It seems almost self-deprecating to have to keep it to yourself. So my hope would be to let people know that there are people out there that want to help, and to shed more light on the harm of harassment in the workplace and the school system.

References:
Berman, J., & Swanson, E. (2013, August 27). Workplace sexual harassment poll finds large share of workers suffer, don’t report. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/27/workplace-sexual-harassment-poll_n_3823671.html

McDonough, K. (2014, April 14). Report: Many girls view sexual assault as normal behavior. SALON. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/2014/04/14/report_many_girls_view_sexual_assault_as_normal_behavior/

Ramirez, X. (2011, November 7). National study reveals striking findings on school sexual harassment. Care2. Retrieved from http://www.care2.com/causes/national-study-reveals-striking-findings-on-school-sexual-harassment.html

Sakuma, A. (2014, April 15). Study: Many young girls view sexual violence as ‘normal stuff’. MSNBC. Retrieved from http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/many-girls-view-sexual-violence-normal

Wood, J. (2013). Gendered lives: Communication, gender, & culture. (10 ed., pp. 23-27). Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

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About davidsvl

As we learn about gender across our communication spectrum and across cultures, I will be posting on certain ideas presented in class and outside readings. Here are my thoughts and reactions to the things that I am learning in SCOM 348 at JMU this semester.
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