I appreciate the perspective that I have on sexual harassment, not because I understand it, but because I am making progress in understanding it.
Back when I was working at the banks, we had a training program that they would send us out to Toronto for. By the third trip, our cohort had gotten to know each other and one night we were on the hotel rooftop having drinks. A bunch of us were standing in a circle and one of the ladies decided she would show some interest. She walked over to me, started whispering things in my ear, then started rubbing my chest, then her hand went in the shirt, then down the pants.. all while I kept up a conversation with the others in that circle. I was obviously getting a lot of looks, but I kept pulling her hand out my clothes, politely told her to settle down, and laughed it off. It took about 20 minutes, but she eventually moved on and took someone else back to her room.
This was 5 years ago and I want to share what I’ve learned. It was only recently that my experience occurred to me as an example of sexual assault because it didn’t feel like it.. and I think I know why.
Part of it is that I’m quicker to compassion than I am to fear or hurt. She had a husband and kids at home, but she was on a work trip, drunk, tying to bed a guy half her age in front of a small crowd of coworkers.. I knew she was probably going through a rough patch so I tried to handle the situation with dignity. I wanted her to be better off than when we met.
I genuinely think we could all use a little more compassion in our lives, but it’s important to understand that it was easy for me to arrive at compassion because I never lost power or control of that situation. I was twice her size. Even if she were twice my size, I wouldn’t be concerned that she could force herself on me. In my mind, I was safe from what she was trying to do, and it let me act with compassion.
Most women aren’t twice the size of the men in question. All that safety that I felt likely wouldn’t exist for a woman in that same situation. For many, I’d wager that safety becomes fear. As we continue to discover/understand what gender equality really means… physical stature and the physical safety that comes with it is still a very real inequality.
That doesn’t mean that we should feel bad for being men, but it is a reminder that as men, we need to step up. If you have the power to harm, you probably also have the power to protect. Imagine if instead of hearing about a high profile sexual harassment case once a week, we heard about how the men around that person stepped up and shut it down? That’s a future I’m willing to help create.