As we engage with clients around the current public dialogue about sexual harassment, we continue to be struck by how people want to polarize it. This widespread harassment that is bubbling to the surface has many layers and many meanings and we do ourselves a disservice when we try to blame rather than understand. Someone said to me, that sexual harassment is about power and NOT sex. I responded, why can’t it be about both?
What is so scary about saying, “This is about our problematic views of sex and the poor ways we deal with sex?” The ideas that sexual assault is always about violence and that sexual harassment is always about power limits us and prevent forward movement.
This approach took root in second wave feminism when many feminists believed they had to extricate themselves and their feminism from sex in order to make progress. That didn’t work.
It implicates sex as the problem child we don’t talk about.
If we care about equity in all areas of our lives, sex and sexuality needs to be at the core of our analysis. And why wouldn’t it be? Sex and gender are deeply interconnected and we continue to parse out the many ways they are related. The jury’s still out, it’s a complex case. The gender imbalances of power that patriarchy supports bleed into our bedrooms all the time, making it ever difficult to have a healthy sexual life.
If we lived in a culture with healthy approaches to sexuality, where sexuality and sex were both normalized and even celebrated, and where accurate, non-judgmental information about sexuality was readily available to all, we would not have this problem of power being abused through sexual means because we would have more respect for sex.
If we had more healthy ideas and expressions of sexuality, we would not deform it into something shameful, negative and problematic. Sex isn’t problematic but our expression and treatment of it often are.
If both men and women learned about healthy sexual expression and respect for people of all genders, if they learned about boundaries and consent and how to respect and express those things, they would relate to their own sexuality in a more healthy way, rather than suppress it or repress it. When sex is repressed, it comes out sideways or in ways we do not expect because sexuality needs to be expressed. It’s a huge energy and a huge part of who we are and it will come out one way or another.
We can learn to hold our sexual energy powerfully and to use it respectfully and appropriately, or we can be unconscious about how to utilize this power inside of us and then it will spill and splatter all over other people in potentially harmful and non-deliberate ways.
If women learned to embody their sexuality without feeling like they have to put it away to protect themselves, and if they trusted themselves to set appropriate boundaries and to express their needs and wants without shame, they would also have a very different experience.
And, of course, even if women have all of that, and yet, they still exist in a totally toxic environment where their boundaries can be used against them and they face potential retribution for upholding them, they will still have a very hard time and will face consequences for their perceived outspokenness or for simply standing up for themselves.
Women are the gatekeepers of sex because they own the gate to be entered AND because men are very poor protectors of the gate. All because neither HONOR the gate. The dignity and sanctity of sex itself has been lost to shame. Women are perpetually on guard, and it’s exhausting to be the gatekeeper all the time. Men waste so much energy trying to get in the gate with little idea why and with little to offer.
In observing the clear magnitude of the problem, we can begin to see how much energy women expend just to protect themselves. If women are constantly forced to focus on their own safety, it takes energy away from their creative projects, from the things they really want to focus it on.
Men waste tremendous energy in unconscious pursuit of a thing for which they do not honor, therefore are never satisfied.
Imagine worldwide how much energy this saps from humanity. It is mind-boggling and it has to stop.
So yes, sexual harassment is about our distorted ideas about power and how to leverage it over others with less power, like women or people lower in the workplace hierarchy. And sexual harassment is also about sex, that abusers and predators are seeking outlets for sex because they haven’t learned enough about healthy ways to do that, or because they are unfulfilled in some way in their personal sexual lives. Sex has been used to control nations and people—in particular, women—for centuries.
From childhood, to school to the workplace if the dignity and sanctity of sexuality were to be understood and honored, imagine how much more productive and secure we could all be.
In Love & Service,
Jeff & Rose