It may just be a coincidence, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the psychological impact of sexual harassment and assault.
OK. I’m joking. It’s not just a coincidence.
These days it’s impossible to look at the paper or turn on the radio or open a website without hearing yet another story of some creep harassing or flashing or assaulting someone younger or less powerful or (usually) more female than they are.
All of this disturbing news takes a toll on our collective sense of safety and trust. For many women who’ve worked alongside men, it also inspires an eye roll and a snarky “what else is new?” sort of huff.
There are miles-high piles of stories and other media accounts of these incidents, the accusers and the accused: Since I write for a web-based publication, I wondered, “Is anything substantive being published online about the toll that all this coverage is taking on our collective mental health? Do we as a culture appreciate how hard it can be for those who have felt victimized or traumatized by the bad behavior of others?”
So I got online and did a little digging. In no time at all, I turned up several good articles on the subject that I want to pass on to you, Dear Reader. I picked a few pieces that took the most original spin on the topic — and, since it seems that at last our time has come to speak out, I favored the voices of women.
We are living in interesting times, to say the least: Here are some articles guaranteed to get you thinking:
- First up is an article from the online daily Bustle that goes into detail about a Danish study that investigated the damaging mental health consequences of workplace harassment. Another online pub, Time Inc.’s Hello Giggles (its tagline is “A Positive Community for Women”) ran a similar story that also took a deeper look at the study — and at harassment’s larger psychological impact on its victims.
- What is the psychological community saying about sexual harassment? In her Psychology Today “Presence of Mind” column, psychologist Shawn M. Burn took up the issue twice last year. First, in a column titled “What Do Psychologists Say About Sexual Harassment?” she addressed the issue with firm conviction. Then, In November, she took on the “cognitive dissonance” many people struggled with after several women accused former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken of sexual misconduct.
- The workplace harassment conversations have expanded to conversations about street harassers and what to do about them. Some women (and men) have taken matters into their own hands, confronting harassers and even, like Dutch student Noa Jansma, taking selfies with them. And it’s not just women in their 20s who get catcalled. The other day, I was walking into my gym when a man standing on the street corner tried to get my attention. With a sly smile, he said something like, “Hello, Beautiful. How you doin’? Come talk to me.” I was wearing sweaty gym clothes covered by one of those long down parkas favored by many Minnesota women. Sexy, huh? Urgh. Maybe things are looking up: In The Guardian, Phoebe-Jane Boyd posits that, thanks to #MeToo, change could be on the horizon. Creating change requires direct action. Stop Street Harassment has been actively working to reframe street harassment as a form of gender violence and a human rights violation for several years. Their website is chock full of resources, stories, advice and ways to take action.
- Should fear of sexual harassment or assault impact the way young women dress or move through the world? I am a mother of two amazing teenage daughters, and they both firmly believe that how they dress is their own business and no one else’s. My daughters and many of their peers see school dress codes banning leggings, spaghetti straps or crop tops on girls as an example of sexism in action and a symptom of a larger problem with the way society views young women’s bodies. This great article from the awesome Everyday Feminism pretty much sums it up.
- Lately there has been much written and discussed about one woman’s claim in the website Babe that she was sexually assaulted by comedian and actor Aziz Ansari while they were on a date. Some have said that the original story, which detailed the experience of the woman, identified as “Grace,” was “revenge porn,” an illustration that the tide of accusations has gone too far, and that famous men’s careers are being ruined by the avalanche of #MeToo-inspired stories. In her Atlantic essay, “The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari,” Caitlin Flanagan argues in part that many of today’s young women feel powerless, and some are using the temporary power granted by this movement recklessly. Other writers disagree, including Karen Fratti in Hello Giggles and Kaitlyn Tiffany in The Verge, who say that even though Babe may have handled the Ansari story awkwardly, it still revealed important truths about sexual morality. For those who need more context, this article from Vox by Caroline Framke does a great job at taking an in-depth look at the issue.
- One last thing: I wouldn’t blame you if reading all of these stories has you feeling riled up. If that’s the case, maybe you should stop by some of the Women’s March anniversary events happening around Minnesota (and the world) this weekend. A little solidarity can do wonders for your mental health.