Hurray! Now women in the workplace can be sexually harassed from above and below!

The so-called ‘paradox of power’ is that, rather than reducing exposure to sexual harassment, power in the workplace seems to put women at greater risk. Fantastic!


Lucie McInerney
Saturday 18 January 2020 14:56 GMT
Anita Hill's testimony of sexual assault in the workplace, October 11, 1991

British-American economist and “happiness guru” David Blanchflower released research this week that showed we are our most miserable at 47.2 years of age. According to Blanchflower’s study, our happiness tracks a u-shaped pattern throughout our lives, peaking in childhood, then again in old age. This makes sense, given that our forties are the time when many of us are hit with coinciding demands of raising children, caring for elderly parents and increasing pressures at work.

This report was closely followed by another, this time detailing a different u-shaped pattern. A survey of working women in Sweden, Japan and the United States discovered that those in low- to mid-level management roles were more likely to suffer sexual harassment than those at the highest levels and lowest levels.

The study called it the “paradox of power: rather than reducing exposure to sexual harassment, power in the workplace seems to put women at greater risk”. Fantastic!

As the study explains, sexual harassment of women in the workplace used to be primarily by men objectifying junior women colleagues. They would make lewd remarks, expect women to make tea and occupy a traditional “Suzy Homemaker” role in the office. Workplaces have since evolved to include more female managers and yet, many of those women are paying the price for their success by being harassed by both their superiors and subordinates. Sexual harassment in stereo, if you will – what progress!

The women’s liberation movement surely didn’t think, when battling for equal rights, that once we finally wielded small amounts of power in the workplace it would be accompanied by a whole new wave of abuse. It’s perhaps unsurprising that there are still some old male fossils in offices up and down the land who simply refuse to change their horrible and outdated behaviour. But how is it that, decades after the foundation of the women’s liberation movement, so many men are still being raised to think it’s ok to harass a woman for having the temerity to be their boss?

So, as if it wasn’t enough that women in their forties have to think about doing the school run, making the packed lunches, filling the dishwasher, emptying the dishwasher, paying the car insurance, calling their mothers, calling their mothers-in-law, lining up that interview, ferrying the children to ballet and swimming and tennis and rugby and drafting that pitch, women are still enduring problems their mothers faced in the workplace a generation ago – all while progressing slowly but surely towards our forty-seventh year, aka Peak Misery.

One reassuring point made by the researchers is that these women supervisors are more likely to define this behaviour from male colleagues as sexual harassment, because they are responsible for workplace policies to put a stop to this kind of treatment. Yes, it’s awful that these women are being subjected to harassment – but at least they are speaking up and not giving up.

So while the attitudes of many men need to change, we women must continue to stick it out. As the saying goes, you have to be in it to win it. Just as the generations before us got women into the workplace, it behoves us to ensure that they thrive there. Even if, all the while, we are marching towards Peak Misery.

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