I recently wrote an article for a large national on-line publication. The topic was working in the #MeToo era. I tried to present a balanced view and consider the perspective of men. (They aren’t all guilty.) While some men readers appreciated that, some women responded with heated criticism on one point I made, saying that I was insensitive to women and was “blaming the victim.” As an advocate for women’s equality, I was shocked.
I have done a lot of thinking. I am sure that I could have made my point better. After talking to many other people, I have further thoughts — about political correctness, personal responsibility, and generational differences. From my limited sample, more younger women (Gen X and Millennials) hold one view on that controversial issue, while senior women (Baby Boomers) tend to have another. I can see both points of view – and want to say more about the view of this Baby Boomer.
I was focused on workplace behavior, not on the ugliest versions of harassment, rape. I am as appalled as anyone when a perpetrator is defended by suggesting the victim “asked for it.” That is never the case. Because men most frequently have greater positional and physical power, there is very little that women have in their sole control to prevent harassment (which is unwanted sexual advances). The article explored practical ways for reducing workplace harassment. I felt I had to ask if there were even small things women can do.
Given that humans are sexual beings, I said, flirting and sexual attraction happen even in the workplace. I suggested that, to prevent unwanted advances, women be sure their demeanor and energy invite professional treatment. What gave rise to the controversy was my asking whether women should consider if revealing attire can be distracting to men – and whether that is “fair” to men.
I didn’t make that perspective up. Men with high standards for their behavior have told me that revealing clothing can be distracting and make them uncomfortable. Wearing such clothing isn’t “asking for it,” but it is something in a woman’s control. Critics of my article assert that women have the right to wear whatever they want. If it distracts a man sexually, that’s his problem. This seems short-sighted to me.
If a woman walks down a dark alley alone and is assaulted, she is not to blame. But there is something she could have done differently (e.g., asked someone to go with her, gone a different way, or carried mace). If a woman accompanies a man to a hotel room and is propositioned, it is not her fault. But it might not have been the smartest move. If a woman is harassed at work, is it fair to ask if there is something she might have done differently? How one holds herself and how one dresses can be mis-read. Is it okay to ask what women can do to reduce the chances of this?
Is it politically incorrect to even ask these questions? I was taught that, when something goes wrong, one can usually learn something by asking what one might have done differently. Personal responsibility is not about guilt or fault. The question is whether women are always powerless victims or whether there are some steps they can take to protect themselves.
I am more attracted to the dress of Elizabeth McCord in the Netflix show, Madam Secretary and less comfortable with the presentations of women listed as the “hottest tv lawyers.” Is that because I am of an older generation? My view is that women are better off relying on their intelligence and talents rather than on revealing clothing. Another view is that women should be able to wear whatever they want and let men deal with it. Which view attributes more power to women? The answer isn’t simple.
I’d like to know what you think. Please give your approximate age with your response. Thanks!