Sexual Harassment? Or Professional Harassment?

First, some definitions.

Sexual suggests instincts and activities associated with physical attraction and, or, intimate physical contact.

Professional pertains to a profession and, or, to an occupation for which payment is received.

Harassment refers to insults, indignities, and intimidations that are prolonged and, or, repeated.

Second, some clarifications. Not all harassment perpetrated by men on women is sexual. Some instances of harassment, in fact most instances of harassment, are professional. They do not involve physical attraction, on either side, or intimate physical contact.

Professional harassment involves insults, indignities, and intimidations  that relate to work for which payment is received. Professional harassment is, I should add, not confined to men who inflict harm on women. Gender plays a role in harassment – but it is by no means the only determinant. Fact is that countless women are treated badly in the workplace not by men, but by other women.

The Financial Times recently featured several articles on women at work. For example, on December 18 the paper had a piece titled, “Third of Female Asset Managers Suffer Sexual Harassment.” The term “sexual harassment” was used repeatedly, throughout the article. But, at some point another term was used, synonymously, which was “sexist behavior.” But, of course, though “sexual harassment” and “sexist behavior” can be the same thing, they are not necessarily. Which is why sexual harassment can be subsumed under both sexist behavior and professional harassment, but sexist behavior and professional harassment can subsume many other sorts of insults, indignities, and intimidations as well.

For example, women in the workplace often report being somehow made to feel inadequate. They often report being excluded from, or diminished, during collective conversations. They often report being “mocked” or “stonewalled” at meetings. They often report being shut out of activities set up mainly with men in mind, such as partying or golfing. They often report being taken less than seriously if they are mothers than men who are fathers. And they often report endemic misogyny tantamount to a hostile workplace environment.

Would that the problems that beleaguer women in the workplace were limited to sexual harassment! Which is, of course, not to diminish the pain inflicted by sexual harassment. Rather it is to point out that it, sexual harassment, is but a single manifestation of a much larger problem – pervasive, insidious professional harassment. It’s a problem from which few women have been exempt – most assuredly not me.

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