Sexual Harassment — Page 2 of 2


The sad truth is that two out of every three women admit to having been sexually harassed, but only 14% have reported any incident to a supervisor. A large part of this very real sense of oppression in the workplace may be attributed to the relative lack of authority held by women in the workplace. Today fewer than 5% of Fortune 1000 directorships are held by women, according to Business Horizons’ March/April 1993 issue. In 1986 only 2.6% of top managerial posts were held by women, according to Fortune. By 1992 the figure increased to 4.8%, but that’s still less than one in 20 such positions.

There has been markedly more balance in the professions. In 1990 50.8% of accountants, 18.4% of lawyers and judges, and 19.3% of all physicians were women. The overall number of women working full time doubled between 1970 and 1990. Women remain a minority in most professions, but we can expect a reversal in the long term: women now earn 53% of bachelor’s degrees awarded, compared with 43% in 1971.

The growing influx of women into entry-level professional ranks have contributed to the potential for abuse at the hands of their more senior male colleagues. The typical abuse situation involves just such a scenario—an older man in a superior position seeking to take advantage of a relatively powerless subordinate.

Many Asian women are convinced that their minority status puts them in a worse position than white women in comparable positions. “Oh, hell, yeah!” blurts one attractive woman professional. “There’s no question! Because Asian women have the stigma that we are sexy, elusive, that there is something special. A lot of guys, if they aren’t used to being around Asian women, they don’t know how to read us. They say, Isn’t she cute? What a China doll, kind of stuff. The don’t know what to do. I think they’re more comfortable with white women because they’re married to them and their daughters are white. When it comes to Asian women, it’s like their brain goes on the frits.”

“Men try to pick on Asian women because we are perceived as easy,” says a senior accountant at a large New York firm. “This one guy went up to [an Asian female subordinate], Are you single, are you dating anyone? [That kind of thing] is awkward, awful! It’s really hard to stop. If you are a total bitch about it, they say, ‘What are you upset about, I was just joking.’ One way is to be very firm and say, ‘You are making me feel uncomfortable. I don’t think this behavior is appropriate.’ That is very hard. If you cross the line too much, you might get fired.”

Most women who face that kind of harassment are at a loss as to what to do, yet torment themselves for not taking forceful action to stop it. They are typically shocked to find themselves in such situations and only occasionally confide in friends. Having studied and worked years to build careers, they worry about doing anything that might make themselves look weak, overly sensitive or difficult to work with—any one of which could derail their careers. As with other women who find themselves in similar circumstances, the biggest problem seems to be the lack of wide reportage of such cases which might create a more sympathetic climate for women who do choose to come forward with stories.

“What we need is an Anita Hillesque case to bring the media attention to this problem,” says an Asian architect.

As with the Anita Hill case in which the alleged harasser was a man of the same race as his accuser, not all complaints by Asian females are limited to the acts of white males. As is the case with several women who have accused powerful Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a few women complain that Asian men are at least as insensitive.

“I heard that Asian men can be worse,” says K M Park, a nurse. “If you go to social gatherings of Asian professionals, women flock around the Asian men and are subservient to them. Some Asian men take advantage by making very inappropriate sexual overtures.”

“One of the worse I’ve seen was an Asian man,” agrees L Chen an account executive. “He was trying to hit on me, saying, ‘You are sexy, intelligent, beautiful. I’d love to have a relationship with you.’ And he’s married. I told him, ‘You’re a nice guy but you’re married. He just didn’t hear me and continued. You end up having to distance yourself.”

“Women have to get tough and say something,” says an Asian woman partner at a San Francisco law firm. “You can’t be too intimidated, then wait and try to get up the nerve. Talk to the person and give him the benefit of the doubt, ‘It made me feel really uncomfortable, don’t do it.’ If he does it again,” she says firmly, “You have to report him.”

That’s sound advice, though not always easy to follow. What may make the act of confronting the harasser easier is the possibility that all that may be needed is education. If the man was merely thoughtless, he will certainly respect you for calling him on it. He will think twice about committing a similar act. If he is a hardcore offender, it’s highly unlikely that you are the only one he’s harassed. Your courage in coming forward may inspire other victims to do the same.

Obviously, the best course is to avoid being a victim in the first place. This requires a woman to be conscious of any tendency on her own part that may encourage men to make unwanted advances, including flirtatious gestures, provocative clothing, a vulnerable little-girl coquettishness or engaging in sexual banter. As in other areas of life, sexual politics takes two to play. Prev

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