Last week, Post Opinions asked 16 leaders for the one best idea to end sexual harassment in our culture. Below are some ideas from readers.
Transparency in firing
Don’t be coy about the reasons for dismissing a perpetrator. As a community relations professional who was looped in to these situations, I stood by seething with frustration as the organization I worked for let people go for failing to uphold institutional policies against sexual harassment and committing other serious offenses without letting the rest of the employees know why. “It’s an HR issue,” I was told, as if it were a gag order direct from Mount Sinai.
Nothing would send a chill down a potential perpetrator’s spine like hearing that the guy who worked next to him was fired for hitting on other employees. Nothing would signal the organization’s seriousness about this issue better than a brief email saying, “X was asked to leave after repeated complaints about violations of Policy Y.”
We tell the world when someone is fired for embezzlement. Why not sexual harassment? —Claudia Wheatley, 59, Ithaca, N.Y.
Across the country, young girls and boys are regularly presented with the conclusion that men are better, stronger and more accomplished and respected; the accomplishments of men are recognized and honored in our monuments, parks, street names, buildings and other public spaces.
If we are serious about ending sexual harassment, we should start by honoring women equally by recognizing them as we name visible symbols such as monuments, streets and public spaces. According to the American Art Museum’s Art Inventories Catalog, only 8 percent of public outdoor sculptures across the United States are of women. Further, only nine of the 411 National Park Service sites honor women’s history, and only two of those are specific to women.
Recognizing accomplishment and contribution equally is the first step to addressing the gender vulnerability being unmasked today. — Raya Kenney, 15, Washington
Conditional severance pay
With regard to sexual harassment by those in leadership roles: Take away the golden parachute. Write employment contracts with notice that termination due to issues of harassment or sexual misconduct means no severance. Roger Ailes left Fox News in disgrace, but with $40 million to console him — twice the settlement Gretchen Carlson received. Knowing that they’ll lose their bonus might make some abusers think twice, and it sends a clear message that the organization takes harassment seriously. —Rebecca Gregory, 40, Fairfax
We have classes for students that cover sex ed. One of the units of that class should be a section on how to determine consent — everything from asking whether someone wants a hug to asking whether it’s okay to kiss to checking in to see whether someone is still having fun midway, and slowing down if not.
Students should also practice saying no, literally going up to each other and having such exchanges as “Would you like to come up to my room?” answered by a “No, thanks,” and then a “Thank you for being honest” from the first person.
This should be included in high school sex ed for sure and maybe even middle school, as kids are dating younger and younger. —Geri Weitzman, 46, Mountain View, Calif.
A more nuanced justice
Rethink the crime-and-punishment frame that has been so fundamental to our treatment of sexual assault and harassment. Instead, use restorative-justice approaches that address individual and societal factors. When I was sexually assaulted by a friend in my teens, the “best-case” scenario was to get him kicked out of school and labeled a sexual predator. Somehow this eye for an eye was supposed to create justice for me. Instead, I suffered privately.
I think of this experience every time I see a high-profile harassment or assault case in which those inevitable all-or-nothing, good-or-evil dilemmas arise. The criminalization that runs so deep in our society creates cognitive dissonance. We think good guys can’t do bad things, and we rationalize not punishing offenders by saying, “But he’s a good person, and he’s done so much good otherwise. Should this really cost him everything?”
As a result, more victims suffer quietly and wink-and-nod approaches tell “good” men that boundaries are meant to be broken. —Robin Aura Kanegis, 43, Washington
Revisit a long-stalled law
Pass the Equal Rights Amendment to put the law and the Constitution behind women who face discrimination, including sexual harassment. Women’s rights under the law need to be explicit and enforceable at home, in public and in the workplace. —Briggs Nisbet, 68, California
Bring back the hatpin. —Esther Murphy, 69, Lexington, Ky.
Recast men’s role
Revise sexual-harassment education and awareness programs so as not to make all men feel accused, but to remind them of their own responsibility: The men who don’t abuse need to be the ones to shut down the culture in which it happens and the behavior that leads to it across the board, and they must forge new standards of respect for women among their male peers. We need them to step up and champion women by seeing this as their issue, too.
Too many men see sexual harassment as “none of their business.” But it’s these men who can once and for all change the male “locker room” culture within corporate America and other organizations. If every workplace had a handful of “Champions of Women” who would shut down the coarse talk and jokes that foster the harasser culture even when in the company of other men exclusively, the world of work would be a very different place. —Lisa Riley, 48, Noble, Okla.
Change the legal standard
As an employment attorney, I think Congress must legislate away the Supreme Court’s 1986 creation (in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson) of the requirement that sexual harassment be “sufficiently severe or pervasive” to be actionable under the federal anti-discrimination statute. Few claims can survive such a standard. Congress never intended such a high standard when it passed the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed sexual harassment in the workplace. —Peter Whelan, 45, Alexandria
Think about the next generation
What if TV ads stopping implying that every product sold to men will make women want to crawl all over them? Not five minutes ago, I was watching some guy showing off different shoes (Shoes? Really?), and the ad ended with a woman grabbing his tie and dragging him off-screen.
You are raising kids to think that as long as you buy all the right stuff, women will want you (maybe not consciously, but the message is constantly pounded in). When you get all the stuff and a woman still doesn’t want you, it is obviously her fault and you need to show her the error of her ways.
Or, to put it more simply: This problem ain’t gonna get fixed. —Thomas Horsley, 63, Delray Beach, Fla.
Use technology for protection
Technology is your friend. If you are in a jurisdiction that allows you to record conversations in which you are a party, use this right to protect yourself. Carry your recording device to any situation in which you believe something untoward may happen and turn on the device at the beginning of the meeting. If you are in a jurisdiction that allows one-party recording of a conversation, there is usually no requirement that you inform the other party that you are recording the conversation.
Reject and express amazement over any inappropriate suggestions or physical overtures, and leave immediately. Take evidence first to an attorney and make a claim to the person or agency responsible for taking action at the institutional level. Follow your attorney’s guidance on when and how to make the institution aware of the recording.
If the institution requests a meeting to discuss the matter, do not agree to go to the meeting without your attorney present. The company, university or agency involved needs to know that you are serious. If you know of others who have had a problem with the same individual, do not badger them, but encourage them to report the event. —Linda Magee, 64, Bellingham, Wash.
The literary responsibility
Perhaps the pen is mightier than the sword. I’d love to read novels and watch movies that realistically portray the experiences of sexually harassed women. Change the names to protect the innocent and the guilty, and lay bare the essence of sexual harassment. Write realistic and relatable characters: the harassers, the targets, the enablers and the bystanders. Write realistic plots: exciting early career opportunities, the small slights that make a woman’s gut freeze in meetings and in one-on-one interactions, the growing tensions, the escalation that crosses the line of decency, the futility of staying silent, the futility of formal reporting. Personify the mid-career crisis, the emotional isolation, the fear of losing a job, the grief after losing a job, the target’s doubt that she did enough to protect other women at work, the powerlessness of witnessing his professional sphere influence grow. —Kristin Dion, 37, Reston
This piece has been updated with more responses.