The Sexual Harassment of Uppity Bitches

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in , , , , , , | Posted on 2:49 PM

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Yesterday, I posted a few of Dr. Berdahl's studies on the correlations between social control and sexual harassment on Jen's discussion on ERV's use of personal insults. The connection has been nagging me since; I don't think very many people understand why sexual harassment is not a function of desire, and not a compliment, in any fashion.

My psuedonym is mouthyb, has been for most of my life, and certainly for some time on the net (I have said some dumb shit over the years). I say most of my life deliberately here. Mouthyb is short, as you likely know, for mouthy bitch. That particular phrase has been one of the most common epithets aimed at me. I took it on at first as a warning, and later as a reclamation because I am most certainly mouthy and bitchy to assholes. I love being able to be a bitch, as well, but that's another post.

When I talk about sexual harassment with people, talk about the fact that I have not had a single job where I have not been sexually harassed in the entire, checkered history of my jobs, I am met with disbelief and scorn. I am told, "You must think you're really hot/special/etc" and/or told that I am not that hot, and therefore must be lying for attention. In my twenties, that would have bothered me. Now, it's just funny, and a little sad.

It's funny because I do all right, in terms of looks (I ain't nothing special, but I've never lacked for company unless I didn't want company), and because I know that being sexually harassed has nothing to do with my looks. I have seen people be sexually harassed who are nowhere near what is considered pretty by society.

The view that sexual harassment is a function of desire is not even wrong; it's an irreparably stupid view of why people get harassed.

It's sad for much the same reasons. Girl-on-girl competition for male attention, the persistent narrative that women are objects for male desire and the situating of personal power as belonging to men motivates the view of sexual harassment as a 'win' for male attention. If it is demeaning (pro-tip: it is), it is only because she needed to be reminded of her proper position, which is where we get into the meat of the studies I linked to in Jen's post.

Dr. Berdahl, in her studies, tests several models for sexual harassment: the first is that sexual harassment is motivated by desire, and will tend to be aimed at women who are conventionally attractive. The second is that sexual harassment is motivated by the desire to punish gender role deviants. Her subjects were college age men and women, and men and women in 5 organizations. She tested three separate thesis about sexual harassment: first what kind of women tended to be most often sexually harassed, whether or not this was a function of over-reporting and whether or not women in organizations with male heads were more likely to be sexually harassed. ("The Sexual Harassment of Uppity Women")

As I am not writing a formal analysis, I'm just going to say that she was really fucking thorough in testing correlations. Her total population tested across all three studies is 547; she sent out over a thousand surveys. A response rate of 30% is pretty typical for these kinds of outreach. I assume, because she's had that training if she's a PhD and because the populations are different sizes, that each population member is unique. You do not share members across these kinds of studies, as it will bias your results.

Her findings were consistent with my own experiences of being sexually harassed: women who are aggressive, dominant, independent and/or have masculine-coded personality traits are more likely to be harassed. Women who had these personality traits were no more likely than women who did not to report sexual harassment (which is to say fairly unlikely). The last finding is also consistent with my experiences, that male-dominated workplaces tend to result in more sexual harassment of women.

Her second paper, "Harassment based on sex: Protecting Social Status in the context of Gender Hierarchy," fleshes out the idea that harassment is based on power and policing gender roles.  She includes an admonition that sexual harassment is not correlated with the following: sexual behaviors, men only as harassers and bad individuals. This has also been my experience.

Viewing sexual harassment as a function of desire has the following effects (not an exhaustive list, by any means): continuing to obscure communication/contribute to misunderstandings between groups, belittling the emotional, mental and physical toll of sexual harassment, making restitution extraordinarily difficult, making any attempt to fix the environment really difficult, reinforcing gender roles and hierarchy, obscuring sexual harassment of men and/or sexual harassment between women, glamorizing sexual harassment and/or making sexual harassment seem as if it is an important part of being female (as a 'badge' of being desirable/having power in society).

And that, as a woman, is finally what makes it painful. You are told to take it as a compliment when someone yells out in your classroom that you've given them a boner, or when someone tries to blackmail you into sex, or when someone you don't know (because women's bodies are public property) grabs your ass or tits as you walk through the room.

It twists like a knife in the gut: the repeated assertion that this is a compliment while you feel violated because all you wanted was to get through the day.

Jebus help you if you, as I have done, file a complaint: because you need a sense of humor, because you must be lying, because you should have known better, because it can all be viewed as one event, no matter how long it persists, and doesn't make the standard for persistent harassment, because you once made a crude joke at a party and that person heard, because you should have known not to be alone with your colleague, because you wore a low cut shirt, because you seem dirty, because you weren't bold enough, because you were too bold.

But it's a compliment, right? It just means people like you.

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