What is the proper response to sexual harassment?
I just finished my university’s annual training about sexual harassment and assault. I have noticed the amount of information as well as different scenarios have grown in levels of complexity. There are so many more ways we need to understand how we transgress against one another daily in the workplace. Consider there is increased awareness the word “micro aggressions” – the offhand remarks we make out of lack of sensitivity or due to our own cultural biases. We all do this.
In light of the recent attention to Harvey Weinstein and others who have been accused of sexual harassment, as well as to the upswell of stories from people who have been sexually harassed speaking using the #metoo hashtag, I am sharing my challenges with this form of abuse.
Sexual harassment has been an ongoing challenge throughout my life – as a student in high school, in college, in medical school and in training to become a psychiatrist. I recall not feeling supported in these scenarios and never really knew who to speak to about the language of sexual harassment from men in positions of power in each of these arenas.
One college professor in my chosen field of study, simply stated,” I should have f***ed you when I had the chance,” when I announced that I was to be a grad student in his department. I was shocked. I had enjoyed his classes as an undergrad. I did not know that the option was fully his. Neither one would have been a choice for me!
From then on, I avoided him as much as I could. I ruminated on what I could have said or done that would cause him to say such a derogatory remark. I never went to the chair of the department. I never thought of reporting him and actually, I did not know to whom to talk about it. He never said anything else like that to me while I was there but I did remain on guard and made sure I never was alone with him again.
One resident in surgery made a point of making sexually inappropriate remarks on rounds and was clear about wanting to limit women in surgery as a specialty. The experience of being his first assistant was very degrading and humiliating because he would constantly make remarks about the quality of my work.
As a resident in psychiatry, male patients would want to have a date with me or be overly friendly. One male waited for me until I finished for the day and “wanted to talk.” I did seek supervision over this situation, and I moved this person to see a male resident.
Years later, this pattern continued beyond my resident training. One patient even sought me out at the local mall when I was with my daughter and again, insisted on a date. I said no to this more than once.
With each instance, I have been very clear about my boundaries and able to speak up about what needs to be said. Yet, it has taken years for me to feel the confidence to say what my right or my position is in a given situation. There is a time and place in being “nice and polite” as I was raised to be. I hope as more and more of us speak up, there will be an increased respect for all people, regardless of sex, race or religion.