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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Of scarlet letters and sexual harassment

I have a beef to pick with women today: I'm giving up on trying to understand them..
I have a beef to pick with women today: I'm giving up on trying to understand them. I'm not saying this in that cute way like when a man tries to find a common ground with his girlfriend, I'm dead serious: I give up, clearly you're not serious about solving your own problems.

Naturally, you wouldn't think I would come to this conclusion hastily, so let me tell you about the little straw story I heard about that broke my empathetic camel's back.

A friend of mine is being sexually harassed at work. Not by her boss or a superior, but by a colleague who relentlessly asks her out, sends her messages as explicit as "I want you" during work hours, and doesn't pass up a chance to rub up against her every time he approaches her desk. Needless to say, his advances are neither welcome nor charming, especially considering that she has repeatedly told him to stop.

To make things more interesting, my friend is in a long term relationship, a relationship that is known to virtually everyone at the office, including Captain Testosterone who's pumped so full of himself he can't seem to understand why his - so needlessly forward - advances are faced with rejection, time and time again. In a way he can't wrap his head around the fact that my friend doesn't want to dump her boyfriend and "trade up".

Now I wouldn't count on this young fellow to realize the error of his ways anytime soon, I tend to classify egomaniac bastards as lost cases, however his behavior is creating a hostile work environment for my friend, and that is basically the textbook definition of sexual harassment, so when my friend came to me with this, I told her to go to management and report him. Granted, sexual harassment laws in Lebanon are a bit of a joke, but given that they work for an international company that might have a vested interest in promoting common values in all its branches across the world, I figured it was worth a shot. I even suggested she asks about the company's policy when it comes to sexual harassment before she actually reports him in person, to which she replied:

"I'll just ignore him, I don't want to draw attention to myself"

It's this kind of response that makes me lose my mind. Ignoring this guy has clearly not made things better for her, and yet she seems to have reached the conclusion that this is the right thing to do. Crazy right ?

So I go to another friend with this, thinking to myself: "I need the opinion of a girl who's got more balls"..

"I understand her position, I would probably do the same, besides make my rejection of him more resounding"

I wasn't prepared for this, or what followed:

"Because it's like painting a scarlet letter on your chest, you'll be talked about and discussed, you'll be part of the office gossip, and that's a huge headache.. it's easier to slap him in the face or kick him in the balls"

That was the moment I gave up on understanding women. It seems they would rather have sexual harassment in their lives than the headache of office gossip. They'd rather not report hostile behavior at the office - even if there is something that could be done about it - simply on the grounds that the aftermath would be "Inconvenient".

Perhaps I'm generalizing, or taking this too far, but this is genuinely the attitude of two highly educated Lebanese women, and if there's more women out there who would agree with them, then why are we fighting for better laws protecting women in Lebanon, if the women these laws are supposed to protect are not going to use them, for cause of the inconvenience they create ?

Sexual harassment is not a joke, and ignoring it will not make it go away. I say report the abusers, teach them a lesson, even if it gets them fired. They should've known better than to be misogynist pigs. Given the lack of punitive laws in Lebanon, they'd be getting off easy.

In the meantime, while you ladies sit at your desks and quietly take it, I'm giving up on trying to understand women. If you lack the courage and the audacity to tackle your own problems head on, then maybe you don't deserve to have your problems solved for you, and for every other asshole that comes your way with unwelcome sexual advances, congratulations you're a match made in heaven:

An abuser met yet another submissive victim.

Recommended media:
Beirut-based NGO opens sexual harassment support line (Newspaper article)
The Adventures of Salwa: Lebanon's Sexual Harassment hotline

[image credit]


February 2, 2012 at 10:15 AM Anonymous

I agree with you Fadi. But it's not a woman thing only. Obviously in this case it is. But some people would do anything or put up with anything to avoid conflicts, whether it's sexual harassment, or a neighbor being an idiot, a boss bullying you, etc..., because "people will talk".
So I do agree with your feelings in this case, but don't assume it's an XX thing.
Your friend needs to show this guy that he cannot do this and get away with it, otherwise he might do this again to someone else and think it's ok
So, unless she's enjoying the attention, she better make an example of him, and s***w what the people in the office will say.

February 2, 2012 at 10:37 AM Liliane

Don't be too hard Fadi, this is Lebanon. And you know quite well that this person in specific should NOT draw attention to herself, if you know what I mean.

In general, I would believe the girl should be more assertive. I would go to management if the guy REALLY bothers me and I want to break hell loose.. but not always is it worth it to draw this much attention and cause headache to yourself... if it can be "contained", it better be contained. Laws don't back us up. So we have to take c are of things on our own

February 2, 2012 at 3:17 PM Anonymous2

Harsh, Fadi. Important topic. Understandable position. But... "even" as a male victim of sexual harassment in a "first world" country, I can empathize with these women's attitudes. It is neither an XX thing nor a Lebanon thing. Sadly, "even" abroad, internal politics, career calculations, and scarlet letter dynamics play a big role. Even in the existence of not only laws and internal policies and procedures, but entire departments to deal with sexual harassment. My opinion is that your friend should definitely report this macho asshole of course, or at least call the hotline. And in the meantime, definitely keep very good written records and a journal of ALL harassing interactions, especially electronic ones.

I understand your harsh tone may be just a shock tactic. But I don't believe some of the interpretations you are making are warranted, especially the label "submissive victim".

February 2, 2012 at 4:04 PM Joselyn

Fadi, I get your point and I agree with it to an extent. But the world is not as black and white as we'd sometimes like it to be. Just because a problem seems to have a self-evident solution does not mean that this solution is the only appropriate one. We're dealing with people here, and that makes stuff pretty hairy ;) It sounds to me like your friend has weighed her options and, in her mind, is opting for the lesser of two evils. I completely empathize with the frustration and angst you probably feel watching her consciously choose to keep herself in a crappy situation - but it is her choice and you have to respect that she's made it for her own reasons.

I don't want to get into the whole objectivism / subjectivism debate here, but I do believe that everyone has their own interpretation of "reality." [bear with me for a second, I think this is relevant] I repeatedly try to humble myself by remembering that my viewpoint is theoretically no more valid than anyone elses'. Yes, sometimes this is a bitter pill to swallow - especially when engaging in any religious or political discussions. And more often than not, I have to agree to disagree with a lot of people. But rather than throwing up your hands and saying, "I can't reason with CRAZY!," it might be nice to give your friend the benefit of the doubt and see if you can't at least try to approach the problem from her perspective and figure out why she's made the decision she has. I think this option might be better than writing off all women as complete lunatics simply because they're not reacting exactly as you would to a given situation. ;)

February 2, 2012 at 4:06 PM Joselyn

merf, didn't proof read... CAN at least try :)

February 2, 2012 at 9:43 PM anon

Hey this is the girl this is happening to. I'm glad to see that a lot of the people that are commenting agree or at least understand where I'm coming from. And they've realized the most important part, that i NEVER, not for one minute, thought of myself as the victim. It's just that sometimes, in shitty situations, we are forced to make/take shitty decisions. You might not like it, i certainly don't, but i have my reasons as the other people who commented already pointed out. Having said that, thank you for listening to my problem and trying to help in your own way!

February 2, 2012 at 11:21 PM ritakml

My 2 cents:

In my modest experience with people who had to endure sexual harassment at work things goe this way: If she reports him, HR or management will have to investigate. Sometimes confrontation happens and that's where things go wrong: It's hard to prove that was "said" and the guy can say that's she's imagining things or misinterpreting the situation. It's one word against another. It's a sensitive issue. Personally, I fear when the person doesn't get the message and decides to retaliate outside the work space.

I would suggest the following:
-Check company's policy concerning sexual harassment. If there is one: follow procedure. If not: ask about it. Note: Usually, everything that happens in the HR Dpt is highly confidential. Now, if the company has doubtful ethics; that's something else.
-Gather evidence in a way that you cannot forge and submit your case OR BETTER let a manager witness what's going on as it happens and comment in way that means: This need to stop, it's not professional. Manager then can help you with it or seek HR's help and the highlight in that case, is that he has become a witness. (Calling a Manager a liar doesn't go without consequences...)

What this guy needs to be told is that he should communicate professionally with everyone and that his ill way harms employees productivity, the clients and the company as well (as an employee, he represent the company). They could also send him to a communication skills training session with hope he gets the message.

One thing is for sure, it's up to you to chose the kind of "shit" you want to put up with BUT this one is not on the list of "Shit you HAVE to put up with."

PS: Not that I recommend this but if you REALLY think it will make noise and don't need this. (Although, companies prefer to avoid this kind of noise and keep it contained)... Worst case scenario you OR someone (guy or girl) you trust...urgh ANYONE!- treat him the same way he is. Evil, but he will snap out of it and have a taste of how YOU feel about about the same treatment. "Treat people the way you like to be treated"... he asked for it!

February 5, 2012 at 2:29 PM serge

girls love to be the center of attention... she secretly enjoys the harassment ( even tho i dont think its harassment...), she just enjoy the guy following her and giving her attention... girls are attention whores :P ... why do u think they wear slutty :P ...

"long term relationship" = boring, plz something new... the guy with the harassment, is boosting her confidence to still attract guys and shit... she loves it that is why she secretly doesnt want him to stop... i think ^_^

February 5, 2012 at 3:35 PM Liliane

Rita, good comment & tips, but I don't agree with the last bit, cause if that person doesn't know what they're doing exactly, it could backfire...

Serge, are you 16?

February 5, 2012 at 11:58 PM Sarah

Serge, have you heard of a "restraining order"?
You should google it, I have a feeling you're going to be seeing one soon...

February 12, 2012 at 2:24 AM Anonymous

Its so sad to hear this. I know Lebanon has ''weird'' social rules and no one wants to bring attention to themselves in that sort of way. But when it comes to situations like this the only person that can stand up for you is yourself. Taking it for reasons like avoiding gossip is literally dumbfounding. I fear the time this escalates and she blames herself for not doing anything earlier.

February 12, 2012 at 2:28 AM Anonymous

I don't think the situation is black and white, either do something or don't. I know how Lebanese gossip circles work and just calling him out on it publicly, you never know how that can be turned and twisted into some story. Finding out about the policy beforehand is a start and avoiding it is not really a solution. It's about finding a way in between to deal with it in a way that won't make her feel uncomfortable later on as well.

February 15, 2012 at 4:28 PM Rasha

i'm against reporting it, but she should stop it if it's as serious as you say it is. personally i would tell him something like: lek [karl], ma ktir 3am bet7ammal maz7ak ba2a. eza baddak tkaffe ta3mil hek 7araket be7ke [oussama]*.

and then if threatening still doesnt work i would gossip about him to the other girls in the office. then i'd report him. at least that way i would have set grounds for the gossip and gotten my story out first.

*karl assumed to be the creeper, oussama assumed to be higher manager

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