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Sexual harassment not the problem, cultural shift from patriarchy needed

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As allegations of sexual harassment continue to flood into society, let’s be clear that sexual harassment is not the problem but the symptom. The problem is patriarchy in which women are defined as less than men; in which the disease – power imbalance – is what causes the symptoms i.e. domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, infanticide, femicide, prostitution, etc.

Dianne Post

Dianne Post

Nearly every woman I know has been sexually harassed. At my first interview in Arizona for a legal job, the managing attorney took me to lunch. But nearly as soon as we sat down, he put his hand under the table high up on my pants-suited leg. I knocked his hand off me with much force. Neither of us said a word about it. I, however, proceeded to order the most expensive thing on the menu, a drink and dessert!

While waiting to take the bar exam, I tended bar in a neighborhood saloon in east Mesa. I was cooking a hamburger in the kitchen when the boss walked up behind me and put his arms around my shoulders. I picked up a large knife that was lying on the counter, turned around and said, “Take your (expletive deleted) hands off me.”

He backed up. “Oh, you are one of those, are you?”

Still wielding the knife, I said, “I don’t know what one of those is, but if it means keep your hands off me, then yes.” I fully expected a pink slip. I never got it. I suspect he was testing the waters and when he found that the shoals were too dangerous, he stayed out.It’s really simple. If you wouldn’t want your daughter, sister, wife or mother treated that way, don’t treat someone else’s daughter, sister, wife or mother that way. If you wouldn’t like to be treated that way yourself, don’t treat others that way. Most of us learned that in kindergarten. Why is it so hard for men to understand this? It’s the imbalance of power that creates a feeling of entitlement on the part of men, especially those in power.

We won’t stop the pervasive physical, verbal, sexual, emotional and psychological assault that girls and women experience from birth to death until we correct the imbalance of power. A new statute, a change to the criminal law, or a tweak to the EEOC guidelines will not stop sexual harassment. We need a completely new paradigm. Sex is not a commodity. Sex is not a weapon. Sex is not a perk of power. So what can be done? Pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Initiate quotas for all appointed and elected positions. Stop the attack on women’s bodily autonomy. We need a fundamental paradigm shift to end the thousands of years of unrelenting violence toward women and girls.

Dianne Post is an international human rights attorney with 37 years of experience, on the board of State NOW and ERA Task Force Arizona.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

5 comments

  1. Lorraine Patterson

    Well said and thank you … As we watched our mothers subjected to abuse under the color of the law as to do,mrstic violence beung an accident so do our children watch us in a society where white men veiw themselves as superior and the women with them must colude to keep their jobs…. nothing has changed and it is notably worsening due to our current president’s behavior and support of the good old boys’ way of doing things….demeaning women and judges ratifying and approving it.

  2. Ms. Post, please explain how ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment would solve any of the problems you describe. And please explain how quotas for elected officials would work. Are you suggesting that qualifying for election to a particular office would be based on how many women are also vying for that seat?

  3. While I agree sexual harassment is an issue that should be addressed I’m also worried that it might polarize and cause a further divide between the sexes and possibly impede women from advancement. If we knee-jerk react to every accusation of harassment it could potentially lead men to be leery of working with women. Closing some of the doors that we fought so hard to open. Let’s work together to make sure that doesn’t happen. Men and women working together has proven to be most effective in boardrooms and beyond.

    As Ms. Post points out when she faced those situations she took action in words and deeds to get the message across that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. What she also did which I applaud is take action immediately, the person’s perpetrating the harassment knew clearly they had crossed the line. More women need to take this direction and communicate clearly that behavior was unacceptable at the time the behavior occurs. I acknowledge that can be difficult but it is crucial being fair to all parties, not saying anything condones the behavior, even bad behavior.

    I also agree with Michael Gibbs who commented above, ratifying the ERA or instilling quotes on public office is not going to solve the sexual harassment issue, that is preaching from the top down, this issue needs to be dealt with on an individual basis each and every time it occurs by the individuals involved and the companies and organizations where the behavior occurred.

  4. As Ms. Post points out, sexual harassment is a result of the gender power imbalance. Ratifying the ERA won’t “solve” the problem, but it would certainly help improve the power imbalance by guaranteeing women at least a Constitutional and legal basis for equality. It’s a great place to start.

    Quotas would help for the same reason, as has been shown in many other countries: making efforts to guarantee that women have equal access to positions of power and seats at decision-making and law-making tables is how we correct the power imbalance. When women become more than a just a token number of seats in any organization, it becomes more receptive to its female members and changes how it operates. Politics and culture can only be transformed when women, who are 50% of the population, occupy their fair share of powerful positions and correct the imbalance of power that leads to male entitlement.

    The only thing that can “cause a further divide between the sexes and possibly impede women from advancement” is further isolating women and continuing to put off addressing the systemic problems that Ms. Post points out. Having no policies or as Ms. Floyd says “top down policies” in place, letting each individual fight it out for herself, leads us back to square one, with women alone, isolated, and powerless, with no legal basis to support their complaints of mistreatment. If every woman has to fight her own battles on her own, we will get nowhere.

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