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Strength in numbers: Having more males open up about sexual harassment

Sexual harassment isn't as straight-forward a topic as we'd like. There are numerous avenues to explore – we unveiled that its very definition changed depending on gender as well as age – such as the situation not always involving a man abusing a woman.
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The Harvey Weinstein case opened the floodgates for sexual harassment claims, with more women than ever sharing their experiences. Those in high positions are toppling down, with industries verifying that even “the elite” will face the consequences of their actions.

And while the intent is to highlight that women face such situations too often, we should remember there’s strength in numbers – men are also privy to sexual harassment, and having their voices heard will further push for change.

Sexual harassment is often a term that conjures to mind a female at the mercy of a man, whether in a physical or verbal format. Perhaps that’s why we tend to skim over male victims, often unitedly asking them to take action and help their counterparts. One Vox article is even entitled, “Want to stop sexual harassment? Start helping women”.

But the cultural shift we seek won’t happen if we only push women to the fore – and men need to become more candid with their experiences.

Actors have already started the ball rolling. Take Anthony Rapp, for example, who told BuzzFeed that in 1986, while aged 14, a drunk Kevin Spacey had tried to get him into bed. It’s a moment Rapp still thinks of today, with it inspiring fear and anxiety. “My stomach churns,” he said. “I still can’t wrap my head around so many aspects of it. It’s just deeply confusing to me.”

Dawson Creek’s James Van Der Beek similarly made his voice heard.

It shows that while women make up the majority of sexual harassment victims, we shouldn’t slip into the belief that the male victim is rare. A recent Drinkaware survey highlighted that one in four 18-24 year old men had been inappropriately touched during a night out. Another case saw one Scottish bar remove the kilt as part of staff uniforms as female patrons kept lifting them up.

Men are also less inclined to tell anyone about their experiences. Brooklyn Nine-Nine actor Terry Crews suggested it was because of the belief that it would end their careers. Crews himself had allegedly been groped at a Hollywood function right before his wife’s eyes.

Echoing his sentiments, Chatelaine’s Rachel Giesse exclaimed: “Men and boys don’t report sexual harassment or abuse for many of the same reasons women and girls don’t: intimidation, shame, fear that they won’t be believed. But for men and boys, there are also the barriers of cultural attitudes about manliness, gender, sexuality and power.

“After all, they are supposed be physically strong as well as sexually aggressive. If they are made to do something they don’t want, then the conclusion is that they weren’t tough or masculine enough to resist.

“Men and boys are also assumed to be highly sexed and always turned on – a belief that makes it easier to dismiss complaints, particularly if they are abused by women, which is more common than is publicly acknowledged. Men are already less likely than women to seek help for mental health concerns – presenting an act of inappropriate or abusive sex as a punchline or as something to high-five only adds to the stigma.”

The concept that a man shouldn’t “show vulnerability and weakness,” she said, is harmful. Classing all men predators against women is just as bad and could have wider-reaching consequences – it could end up impacting women in the recruitment process, with men more anxious about how to best behave in the workplace.

Females got a much-needed conversation started and raised shocking awareness around abuse, but now it’s time to discuss the ways in which sexual harassment can be tackled for all.

Have you ever been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace? Perhaps your company has had to deal with the matter? Please contact editors@realbusiness.co.uk to share what happened, and we will treat all matters disclosed treated with confidentiality.

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About Author

Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is the deputy editor of Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

Real Business