Sunday, September 19, 2021

Is sexual harassment about desire or dominance?

In an article “sexual harassment is a crime” Gender Links paints a common scenario of sexual harassment in the workplace: “A male workmate comments on the anatomy of a female colleague. This indeed could come as a compliment, at least at face value. “Hey, Tatenda, your butt is looking very appetising these days. I wouldn’t mind a feel and a squeeze.”

Although a compliment on the outside, what if the women feels embarrassed at the attention drawn to her body parts and is reasonably shocked at the offense and amount of sexual innuendos in this supposed “compliment”? She may not like it, but is she aware of the magnitude of the violation? Worse still, is she even aware of potential recourse to this, let alone the procedure of addressing this?”

Gender Links however does not address the most common question on sexual harassment, “is it about desire or dominance?”

A series of investigative stories carried by The Sunday Standard a while ago on sexual harassment at Botswana’s foreign missions suggest that sexual harassment is more about establishing dominance over junior female colleagues.

The Sunday Standard investigation intercepted email communication between Botswana Ambassadors revealing the dirty tricks the use to intimidate junior diplomats into sleeping with them.

In one revealing correspondence, one ambassador advices another on how to intimidate his junior into sleeping with him: “That woman is there for the taking. She obviously has no morals. The minute the old man leaves, I am sure she will start looking for a replacement. I think the problem with you is you want to treat her like a lady. That was your mistake last time…… I think what you should do is to one day call her in and tell her that you have discovered bothlhabetsi mo Embasing involving a member of the local staff. I am sure she would immediately check with others to find out if they have also been called in. Imagine her trauma when she discovers that nobody else was called in. You can then let her stew for a month or two. I am sure she will then begin to realize that the old man is no longer the boss. All you have to do is to play your cards right.”
Another e-mail message revealed how Botswana Ambassadors abuse their positions to get sexual favours from junior staff.

It was all about power and control. For some Botswana diplomats in positions of authority, sexually harassing their subordinates was almost a job perk — they could get away with it because they know that many employees need their jobs too badly to quit.

This was not an isolated case. Botswana is replete with cases in which male bosses used sexual harassment as a way of reminding those beneath them what their proper “place” or “role” in the workforce actually is. Traditionally, that has always put men in control of women, and some men in authority may have sexually harassed their female workers as a way of proving their dominance in the corporate world and sending the subtle message to them that “you don’t belong here except in the role I choose to allow/give you.

Dr Poloko Ntswarang, senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “Most of the time it is about asserting power but it can definitely be about both. We all know that most of the time victims of sexual harassment are women but we shouldn’t forget that there are also women who make sexual advances to men, they, just like men do it to assert power or to express their desires. We need to remember that power can be defined in many forms, power isn’t just about position or money. We now see sexual harassment cases of people of the same sex so we shouldn’t dismiss that. Other times sexual harassment isn’t reported because it is done by people who hold power. “

Sexual harassment is recognized as a vehicle for dominating women in the same ways that other violent crimes like rape and battering are. Men who exchange employment benefits for sexual favors use sexual harassment as a tool to achieve personal gratification. Men who assault and rape women perpetrate crime to express social status and physical superiority over them. The assumption is simply that because they are females, women lack the basic necessities to effectively work the stereotypical manly jobs. Thus, like other manly dominated occupations, such as law enforcement and corrections, manliness and heterosexuality are implied occupational requirements. Harassment in various forms has been done to exclude those deemed not man enough to do the job, and this would likely include anyone who openly challenged rules on compulsory heterosexuality.

The most common form of sexual harassment is gender harassment, which involves sexual and sexist comments, jokes, and materials that alienate and demean victims based on sex rather than solicit sexual relations. In their article, Gender Links paints another common workplace sexual harassment scenario: “two male colleagues discuss their weekend conquests in detail within hearing range of some female colleagues who feel quite offended, embarrassed and even humiliated at the direction of the conversation. They blush and squirm with unease and discomfort at this.

They may be all too aware of the discomfort and offence they endure, but are they aware of what has truly transpired? That by such behaviour, these male colleagues are sexually harassing them? Do the male colleagues know that such careless banter oozing of misplaced male macho and prowess is actually a violation?”

Kgomotso Jongman of Jo’Speaks “on the surface that might sound like harassment is indeed sexual behavior, but what’s really underneath is that women in the workplace are not confining themselves to their perceived roles, and because that feels threatening. either directly or indirectly, then the way to put them back in their place is by reminding them that they are sex objects and not people. This often takes place in very subtle, non-overt ways that the perpetrator doesn’t even realize are in play.

Despite recent progress, we still have deep seated ideas about the proper roles and behavior for both men and women. One of the main roles for women is to be decorative, which is why it gets included in behavior intended undermine women as authority figures or equals. Most harassment is about reminding women of their place and to put them back in it. men, in particular, routinely demonstrate their fitness for their place in a hierarchy, they are constantly pressured to show dominance over others. Sexual harassment is one of the ways to do that.”

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