Any time I suggest there are
things women can do to avoid sexual harassment I come under immediate fire. “You’re blaming the victim!” “Why should women change when men are the perpetrators?” “Why are you shifting the responsibility to women?”
Can we talk?
I mean really talk.
For the record, sexual assault is not permissible under any circumstances. It doesn’t matter if it’s men groping other men, men taking advantage of women, or whether the offender is powerful, a peer, or complete stranger. If it isn’t consensual, it’s off limits.
On the other hand, consider this: You don’t leave your front door wide open and say, “Why do I have to change when it’s the thief’s behavior that’s the problem!” You don’t walk down a dark alley on the bad side of town alone, leave your keys in the ignition, or taunt street gang members. And you don’t go to a hotel room late at night for a business meeting.
I’m not saying that if you do you deserve to be harassed or assaulted. No, far from it. But neither do I accept the outlook that women are dependent on the law and others to protect them. There are precautions women can and should take. And the more we deny women the opportunity to take control before an incident can occur, the less empowered they feel.
Let me explain.
I am a woman. I rose up through the ranks in Silicon Valley during the 1980s and 90s to become one of only 3 women CEOs in technology at that time. Surrounded by male executives, engineers, scientists, and investors, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind as to whether I experienced my share of offensive advances, offers, and suggestions.
But here is where I part company with my sisters who are calling for the heads of Weinstein, Franken, Lauer, Rose, Conyers, Keillor, Moore, and others. I took as many measures as I could to avoid situations where I could be vulnerable. Obviously, I wasn’t successful at eliminating all harassment. But as sure as I run my own business today, I’m confident I avoided many more incidents than I fell victim to.
And while I’m certain to hear from folks who insist I’m making women responsible for the sexual misconduct which is now coming to light, for those interested in taking measures to head off harassment, these are some of the workarounds I found helpful:
1. Avoid dinner meetings when possible. And if you can’t avoid dinner, ask if you can pick the restaurant. Then suggest one you know has valet parking.
When dinner is over, excuse yourself to the restroom, flag down a busboy, waiter, etc., Hand them your valet ticket and a nice tip and tell them you need the valet to have your car running outside the front entrance. In this way, a man cannot offer to “walk you to your car.”
And here’s another thing. Never agree to drive a man to his car. Always have a large empty box you can plunk into the front passenger seat. Just point to the box and say “I would, but. . . “
2. Avoid traveling together on a plane. This way you will not have to sit closely together for long stretches of time and can also avoid sharing ground transportation.
3. Check into different hotels. Claim you reserved your room too late or are collecting rewards points from another chain. While you’re at it, make sure to ask for a room that is not on the ground floor.
4. Never meet in a man’s hotel room (even a suite), or go to their home to conduct business. Suggest a public place.
5. When you meet in an office or conference room leave the door open. And if and when it makes sense, invite other members of your team to the meeting.
6. Working late is often necessary, but these days there is very little that cannot be done at home. If you do need to stay late find a friend who also has some catching up to do. The buddy system works.
7. Avoid discussing personal issues. This can easily be mistake for receptivity. If you are asked about your marriage, children, sexual likes or dislikes, etc., use a segue like, “Oh, that’s not very interesting . . . but you know what IS really interesting?" and then insert a business, sports, or other neutral topic.
8. Company celebrations, holiday parties and other social gatherings (especially those involving alcohol) are land mines. Participate and be sociable, but leave early before the fun gets out of hand.
9. If a man is getting suggestive, excuse yourself to go to the restroom. Often a long break in the momentum will bring a perpetrator to his senses. If this doesn’t work then make an excuse to leave the room immediately.
10. Do not accept gifts. When I received flowers, I was quick to say thank you and tell the sender they were so beautiful I wanted everyone to enjoy them and placed them in the front lobby. If a man brings you coffee, lunch, etc., thank him and make sure to pay for it. This sends a clear message.
There are of course dozens and dozens of ways to quash the opportunity for sexual harassment, but you get the picture. I found the best way to deal with unwanted advances is to do everything in my power to avoid confrontation, danger, embarrassment, and worse. The fact is, by thinking and acting ahead of time, I felt empowered. And empowerment is the opposite of victimization.
Yet, even taking as many precautions as I did, I could not sidestep all of the unsolicited attention my gender garnered.
If I had known then, what I know now, I would have done what Gretchen Carlson suggests in her book "Be Fierce." I would have told others what happened. I would have put the details down in writing. I would have skipped going to Human Resources who put the interest of the company first and foremost. I would have hired an experienced lawyer to help me navigate a touchy situation. By taking these steps, Carlson was not only able to protect her career from injury, she stopped Fox News' Roger Ailes.
And though Carlson is to be praised and admired for her courage, I see the problem of sexual harassment differently. I want to empower women before-the-fact. I don’t want women to think there is nothing they can do until harassment, or worse yet, an assault, has already occurred. I don’t want women to think the only way to advance in their careers is to look the other way, or sue. And I don’t want women to hold out false hope that men will suddenly behave and obey laws that have been put into place to protect the vulnerable.
There are things women can and should do.
Rebecca D. Costa is an American sociobiologist, author, and host of the syndicated radio program "The Costa Report." She is an expert in the field of "fast adaptation." Costa’s first book, "The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse," was an international bestseller. Her follow-on book, titled "On the Verge," was released in 2017. Costa’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, SF Chronicle, The Guardian, etc. For more information, visit www.RebeccaCosta.com. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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