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Sexual Harassment At Work: Are Men Safe From It?

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When people think and talk of sexual harassment in the workplace, their minds immediately jump to an image of a woman being harassed or propositioned by a male coworker, supervisor or boss.

This is made concrete by a mere fact that most cases of sexual harassment involve female victims.

This line of thinking is not sexual harassment in its totality, men too can be subjected to sexual harassment and suffer in silence. This indeed can happen men to men and women to men. The difference is that cases reported by men locally and even globally are a sliver ratio compared to those by women. Even in research, most of it focuses on women with relatively few studies dealing with men who are sexually harassed in the work place.

The Zimbabwean Labour Act defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexually-determined behaviour towards any employee, whether verbal or otherwise, such as making physical contact or advances, sexually-coloured remarks or displaying pornographic materials in the workplace.

Basically sexual harassment at work is not homogenous, it manifests in different forms which are punishable at law.

There is sexual coercion which involves job-related threats or bribes to force unwilling workers to enter into a sexual relationship with the harasser. The second is unwanted sexual attention involving unwelcome and offensive sexual advances towards someone else in the workplace. Thirdly there is gender harassment which involves undermining hostile behaviour due to an individual’s gender. This includes denigrating comments, off-colour jokes that are intended to be offensive, mocking, and even violent threats.

The greatest question is how can men be sexually harassed? Men just like women are not resistant to maneuvers that are sexually offensive and they too feel the effects of sexual harassment that ranges from repeatedly told sexual stories or jokes that are offensive and body touching in an uncomfortable way. Sarcastic criticism of body parts, gestures and verbal utterances, derogatory words about the body anatomy, sexual innuendo and inappropriate remarks make up sexual harassment that men can be subjected to.

The main difficulty when it comes to male sexual harassment is that some victims are vulnerable to the accusation they could have lured such advances towards themselves. In a recent case reported, a male estate agent was offered moments of intimacy by his female boss if he hit sales targets. After a report to the HR department the boss was asked if she had made the comment and she said, ‘absolutely not, do you really think I would ever say that? He might have wanted me too’. Though the male estate agent won the harassment case, it was after refuting strong counter accusations from the female boss.

This is the precariousness and complexity of sexual harassment. Had it been that the gender roles had been reversed in this case, it could have been a crystal clear case of sexual harassment.
Reports made by males are still somewhat of an anomaly and the assumption is that men should harden up, be able to deal with sexual harassment and soldier on. This assumption completely makes cases of male sexual harassment an abnormality.

Men as compared to women, may feel uncomfortable to report sexual harassment to relevant authorities for fear of being ridiculed. There is social stigma attached to men complaining about sexual advances. They may fear being embarrassed if details of the harassment were leaked, particularly if they believe that they should be able to handle the issue themselves.

In as much as women who become targets of harassing, demeaning, or disrespectful workplace behavior often endure a range of negative psychological, health, and undesirable job-related outcomes, men too are susceptible to the same. The problem with male sexual harassment is that it is normalized and generalized while it unfortunately makes organizations experience indirect costs in the form diminished morale and high levels of stress.

Ignoring sexual harassment in the work place is a script for failure, sexual motivated attitudes should be identified in different ways they may occur and organisations must develop gender-fair policies to protect employees and curb sexual harassment. Above all the law should not discriminate on the basis of gender even the attention of activists should not be blind to the plight of men in the workplace.

Freemen Pasurai writes in his personal capacity. He is passionate about people management and customer services. freemenpasurai01@gmail.com

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