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Workplace Sexual Harassment: Framing the Issues July 25, 2011

Posted by FCM in feminisms, gender roles, PIV, rape, trans.
Tags: , , , ,

i wrote about issue-framing here and i wanted to write about it again.  yes, its that important that feminists get this and understand it at a deep level: men get it and understand it and use it against us all the time.  and its time for us to start doing it too, en masse.  we need to frame the issues to benefit *us* for a change, because issue-framing is at least half the battle, if not more.  if youve never thought about it or cant tell who benefits from the way issues are currently framed, chances are whomever it benefits, its not you.

so.  on the issue of workplace sexual harassment and sex-discrimination: how is this issue currently being framed?  well, undercover punk has cited this paper about a million times and i just had the extreme displeasure of reading the article in its entirety: apparently, if you frame the issue of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination just right, you get to include protections for transgender and transsexual persons “right” to gender-nonconform in the workplace.  thats right!  men are constantly, CONSTANTLY bemoaning the fact that there are any social controls on them at all, and this includes having to wear “appropriate” clothes to work.  and…shaving.  solution: call yourself transgender, and you get to redefine workplace-appropriate, to suit yourself.

you also get to work within the current frame of sexual harassment and discrimination, which is intended to and does benefit men (and not women) and to further frame (and reframe) the issue to benefit men, MOAR.  those special snowflake men who dont feel the way they imagine men should feel (ie. the opposite of what they currently feel, when they imagine they feel like women feel.  got that?  good).  and transmen get a bit of a coattail-ride here, so they arent saying anything, but they absolutely should be.  heres why…

when the question is asked (in the offending–and offensive–article above) “what is the harm of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination” the author answers her own question, as authors are wont to do.  heres what she said to herself:

self?  the problem with it is 1)  the unfair consideration of biological differences between males and females; 2) the resort to archaic notions about the skills, abilities, or desires of men and women; 3) the perpetuation of stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity; and 4) the unwelcome instigation of sexual behavior in inappropriate settings.

lets hope she came to this conclusion after she did her research and not before…but theres probably not much chance that that happened is there?  oh well.  if teh menz can routinely start with a conclusion and work their way backwards, (ie.  how can we make it so we win, no matter what?) instead of actually being honest and examining the issues objectively, so can she.  im just saying.

so anyway, shes framed the issues thusly (the “problems” in her estimation are sexual harassment versus sexual discrimination) and narrowed it down to 4–apparently shared–harms.  but i think it can actually be narrowed down to 2, and she didnt include either one of them.  first, i think the “harm” of workplace sexual harassment is that references to unwanted PIV are a rape-threat.  okay?  everyone, and i mean everyone considers PIV “sexual behavior” (instead of calling it what it is: penis-in-vagina, and female-specific harm) and “unwanted PIV” is fucking rape.  thats what it is.  of course, men have framed this issue to benefit themselves:  they dont know their PIV-references are unwanted until they try it, and are rebuffed!  but guess what dickwads?  from my perspective, its unwanted the first time, and you shouldnt get a second chance to rape-threat me (ie. referencing unwanted PIV) at fucking work.  but they do.  and they get second, third and fourth chances too, being that the standard of illegality of this rape-threatening behavior is apparently “its so egregious that it would tend to repulse a dirty old male attorney.”  DUBIOUS.  STANDARD.  at best.

and the harm of “sexual discrimination” is probably two-fold:  one, if women cant work for a living, or be truly upwardly mobile (aka. gainfully employed) we are going to be financially insecure and threatened with looming homelessness, both of which lead to our vulnerability to mens PIV-centric sexuality and being threatened with male violence and rape.  and two, if you force women to behave “femininely” in the workplace, and forbid them to act “masculinely” you are reserving true success (as defined by men in the male-dominated workplace) for men, and leaving women at the bottom being sweet to everyone and making the coffee.  and…see #1 for why thats a problem.  and, see “sexual harassment” for more context too (see, even differentiating harassment from discrimination is questionable when viewed from womens perspective isnt it?)

these are the harms of all of this, to us.  to women.  its not that we think “sex” and the workplace dont mix, who has time to worry about that?  jesus fucking christ.  i cant even open up my email or buy my lunch without being bombarded with a hundred demeaning and sexually charged images every day, at work. no, thats not the problem at all (well it is, but we arent talking about the complete eradication of pornified images from the entire world, or im not in this post).

and i dont give a fuck, as it were, whether i am allowed or forbidden to “express” my real, true heartfelt gender at work: whether i even have a “heartfelt gender” is highly questionable.  again, who has the time for such namby pamby idiotic bitching about trite bullshit that doesnt even matter?  what i do care about is that pretty much however i *behave* at work, whether its stereotypically feminine or not, i am at extreme risk of failure, or failure to thrive, because i was born female and for no other reason but that. women-born-women literally cannot do anything right, where feminine behaviors are not correlative with male-defined success, and masculine behaviors are reserved for men. thats the harm of enforcing stereotypical behaviors at work, for women.  its not oh boo-hoo, you arent honoring the trueness of my preferred favorite gender.  its not oh poor me, everyone gets to act out their gender except me.  okay?

and this is how the transactivists are framing the issues of workplace sexual harassment and sex-discrimination–issues that women and feminists have been working very hard on to gain any ground at all mind you.  we gained an inch or two, and they took the wheel and laid on the gas and are off into poor-teh-menz territory quicker than shit.  what about teh menz!  which is ironic, considering that the way it was before demonstrably and intentionally benefited men too.  they win, no matter what.  this is what happens, when they are allowed to frame the issues, including the alleged harms and the “solutions” too.

we cannot let them do this.  or at least, it behooves all of us to see what they have done, and what they are doing and to name it.  quite alot depends on it.  women-centered reality is the only one thats going to save any of us from mens tyranny: we have seen the world through mens eyes, including our own destruction, and its all very…sexy, actually.  which is fucking hideous, and a huge red flag that something is very, very wrong.



1. FCM - July 25, 2011

spell-checker function is currently down. i mightve missed something. sorry! 🙂

2. Undercover Punk - July 25, 2011

Male persons referencing “sex” to female persons in the workplace is very obviously a PIV threat. A rape threat, as you say in the post. By virtue of the context, it is inherently unwanted and should be assumed as such. Again, as you clearly state in the post. Sexual harassment is not a reference to the “cultural genital,” as I believe Franke, insists. Misogyny and sex-based harassment, *especially* when it is sexual in nature, is fundamentally inseparable from pregnancy as harm. These behaviors are not ONLY about social supremacy and “power.” That’s what makes *this* kind of feminist analysis so different from what people are used to reading: biology matters from the female POV. 4th wave!!!!!! Thanks for writing this, FCM. We have a daunting amount of re-framing to do. We must be vigilant and we must continuously highlight the link between male predation, sex-based harm, and how this all affects FEMALE reality.

FCM - July 25, 2011

Hey UP

that article was truly terrible, thanks for sharing it! But seriously, it bothers me immensely that WOMEN are framing issues that primarily OR ONLY affect *us* in a way that benefits men! And this is so bleeding obvious wrt trans discourse specifically, and sex-pozzie too. It’s literally painful to see them straining to fit their own experience as female bodied persons under the P into a male-centric perspective. It literally hurts, because they aren’t going to the ends of their thoughts, or even the middle really. Why are they all taking fucking hormonal birth control if female sex is irrelevant? This is a serious question.

3. yttik - July 26, 2011

Interesting, FCM. It makes me mad that something women have fought against for so long is being trivialized by trans.

The sex discrimination part at work that impacts me the most at this point in my life, is the expectation that I am a woman and should therefore do all the work. The men are always either “too young” and haven’t learned how to work properly or else they’re “too old” and don’t know how to use computers, copy machines, telephones. Whatever the excuse of the day is, the bottom line is always this unfair double standard. The expectation on women is so much higher. The men have done a good job if they show up on time and look presentable. I’m not sure I can ever do a “good job,” my list of tasks is never really finished at the end of the day.

I’ve been watching sexual harassment and sex discrimination become trivialized more and more. It really is being reduced to nothing but your right to wear sexy clothes to work, your right to perform femininity properly. The problem of course, is that over the years we’ve learned that it’s not possible to ever perform femininity right.

4. BruisedbyBastards - July 26, 2011

“if women cant work for a living, or be truly upwardly mobile (aka. gainfully employed) we are going to be financially insecure and threatened with looming homeless”

One of the things I love about reading here is that you really do think of woman-as-class. Always. And assess the class-specific harms of any institution and action. I think we all have to try to do this, all the time.

This is seen in something as simple as your framing of those risked with unemployment and poverty as “us”. It really does involve us, women-born-women. All of us. That’s why reading here is whole different thing from reading over at IBTK where the blog host is a fucking gourmet heiress horse-owner with no understanding of the way economic class intersects with femaleness. (Not having a go at rich women; just thinking aloud about how different it feels to read a blogger who actually gets that exceptionalism is just that and that most women – aka “us” – are threatened en masse by patriarchal privilege.)

FCM - July 26, 2011

thanks B3. it does affect women as a class, and its not just “unemployment and poverty” but the fact that this makes us vulnerable to mens PIV-centric sexuality (bartering sex for shelter at mens insistence and all the forms this takes, up to and including prostitution and marriage) as well as male violence and rape. *thats* the part that differentiates womens experience from mens; many people are vulnerable to homelessness, unemployment and poverty. but its not the same. its not the same for transwomen who might be “discriminated against” in the workplace because they are trans. who gives a shit about them? not me. i dont care about them any more (or less) than i care about any other man i dont even know. they need to stop changing everything to benefit them, or at least we should probably stop helping them frame all the issues to benefit themselves, or agreeing with men that female-specific ANYTHING doesnt matter, especially female-specific harms perpetrated on women by men. its does matter. its matters to US and it matters to THEM because they benefit from it, whether they care to admit this or not. in fact, they have a vested interest in allowing all of this to continue unabated. fun fems refuse to see the conflicts of interest here among men, when it comes to feminism and womens liberation from men. but there is a conflict of interest, and it doesnt get more obvious than that.

FCM - July 26, 2011

and yes, i have given up on “those other blogs” too. theres so much good stuff out there right now, especially in the last year or so. theres really no need to read liberal or fun fem takes on anything (you could just read msnbc for that anyway) anymore which is great. 🙂

5. FCM - July 31, 2011

dont mind me…the previous theme made me feel bloated!

6. Margaret Sanger - September 30, 2011


I don’t know if this comment will go to spam or anything since I’ve never commented you before, I’m not sure if you publish guest comments and I am basically anonymous (I’m scared to put my real email even if it’s not published for legal reasons), though I did list my name here as someone I consider a hero in hopes of showing I’m not a troll, but I found your blog around December 2010 and have been following you and others in the radical feminist sphere ever since. I’ve been a feminist for a long time but always felt an uneasy tension with many funfem ideas but radical feminism has truly opened my eyes.

I had recently entered the post-college workforce and was prepared to accept , that I would have to deal with hearing comments and jokes I didn’t want to hear but I became a target of a much older man in an management position to whom I reported as an indirect supervisor within my first days of being there. When I finally asked him about the “flirting” in a private conversation not during work hours, he flipped out, yelled at me, humiliated me and basically called me pathetic. Of course, I just wanted to keep my job and went to work the next day knowing I would get over the embarrassment in time and could maintain professionalism. Instead, I was terminated, presumably by this man, for this conversation. At first I did not even understand that what had happened to me was illegal, but I felt disgusted that men in their 30s could prey on young women and push them out of the workforce before they even get a chance to get started, especially now that I have a deeper understanding of the terrible cycle of women being pushed out of work, pushed into poverty, pushed into financially controlling and potentially abusive relationships with men out of need for monetary support, etc, etc, etc.

Originally I was just going to roll over and accept it, just as I rolled over when I was raped years ago. However, I have now learned that what happened to me was illegal, I have retained legal counsel, and my attorney thinks it’s 100% winnable based on the fact that they straight up told me I was fired for an illegal reason and that they have no HR department and essentially zero sexual harassment policy. I honestly could care very little about money, except maybe to put some into healthcare for my ill mother, but even in a world where I know I’m automatically disempowered by nature of being female, it makes me feel a little better knowing that I finally felt like I could stand up for myself.

I know from reading your blog that you are not sentimental at all (an attitude I must say I LOVE), but I know that had I never found this blog as well as those of other incredible women like UCP and CBL there is no way I would have even considered doing something about this situation. Your workplace sexual harassment posts especially helped me (and though I know you’ve said that you sometimes feel like people only read the “major” posts about things like tranz (and again, thank you so much for helping me understand this issue and why, though I cared so much for the issues of women and other minorities I just had an odd feeling about trans issues that there just wasn’t something right) I do read pretty much everything you post).

Anyway, sorry for the super long comment, but I really hope you do get to see this, if only to know that even though it sometimes feels like we are losing the fight, the work that you women do through your blogs really does make a difference, and I am happy to say that since becoming a radical feminist I have brought several of my female friends closer and closer to my beliefs, and have even had one gay male friend (who is truly a bizarre gem of a man who I have never heard utter an even vaguely misogynistic comment and who is always quick to back me up in discussions of men behaving badly) come to see the many troubling issues that many parts of the trans movement pose for both women and homosexuals of both sexes. And they say you can’t change people’s minds 🙂

Anyway, once again sorry for this super long comment, but I have been following the world of radfem blogging for almost a year but have been too shy to comment, but given my current circumstances I just had to say something. Thank you so much for your work and for helping me KNOW that I am not just chattel for men but that I really am a true human being and that even when it seems bad women must keep fighting.

FCM - September 30, 2011

Wow, thanks! And good luck with your lawsuit etc. Although I would never believe or trust an attorney who promises a sure thing.

7. SheilaG - October 1, 2011

Margaret, thanks for your heartfelt comments. Women wake up one by one, and there is nothing like the typical behavior of men in power to create new radical feminists every day!

And go for as much money as you can get! Money IS important, and money is the only thing that keeps men in line. They’ll think twice about ever doing anything bad to a woman again if they lose a lot of money because of the behavior!

8. Margaret Sanger - October 3, 2011

Thank you so much to both of you! And yes, I have always been a little suspicious of lawyers since I know they want that contingency, but I do feel that I trust my attorney as much as I probably could any lawyer, especially since he made some comments about how he’s learned from deposing psychologists that there isn’t any one or “right” way for a woman to act after being raped that were so astute that I was shocked that I male could grasp something like this at all.

I’m only in my early 20s and not familiar with the legal system, so I am hyper-aware of being taken advantage of or becoming a pawn in a lawyer vs. lawyer battle for cash, so I’m definitely aiming to settle out of court and I’ve been doing as much independent research as possible rather than just blindly following, since I know that at the end of the day, even a man who seems capable of some degree of sympathy and concern for victimized women is still a man, and we only have to look to the truly repulsive Hugo Schwyzer to see the true motives of men who want to “help” women (seriously, even with everything I know about men for some reason he upsets me more than anyone or anything else, I don’t understand how he blogs about having intercourse with his students and keeps his job, or how any school would hire a male “women’s studies” professor, I hope he is so self obsessed he has google alerts on himself and sees this comment and it hurts his feelings).

Also, Sheila, thank you so much for your comment. When I first started thinking about it I was so concerned with seeming like a money grubber to even really think about the money, but now I think that’s that female conditioning to be selfless talking. I no longer have a job, the situation has brought back every negative feeling from being raped and therapy is not cheap, and frankly I think he + the company deserve to lose some serious money. I’m hoping he loses his job, and since he’s only ever worked for this company I don’t think he’ll have much to leverage against the question “Why did you leave your last job?” I’m have a strong suspicion he’s been disciplined within the company for harassment before, so hopefully actual legal action will finally teach him to just leave women alone.

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