# metoo – of course. It is simply a life condition for most women – and for some men too. And for me having both career and hobbies in “a man’s world”, it has been part of my education – literally.
The problem is of course not the sexual attraction, but the intention behind the sexual communication. When sexuality is used to humiliate, degrade and silence women – to bring them down to the bottom of the hierarchy. To step on women to look like a “real man”. Even if it happens rarely seen from a man’s perspective, small dozes can poison cultures and women’s lives.
If sexual harassment happens at one incident, there will be thousands of other incident with the sweetest and most supportive men. This is why it is hard to address as a question about gender. Most likely a meeting is just neutral. But those rare incidents can come with a long lasting cost, and that is why we still have to talk about it.
I believe the consequences depend on the different power positions between the parties, and if both are able to walk away from the situation by own choice. Therefore women experience this kind of behaviour in a different perspective than many men, who can also be offended. But still the most common situation is the man having a superior power position, physical or professional – or at least in a position to walk away, even from his own family, for a while.
I had to contemplate some days, before I could structure my own experience into the following scenarios:
A. Equal power relation (both can walk away – without any costs)
The sexual communication is only for the honest intention of sex, and there is no other problem besides deciding for ”yes” or ”no” in an equal power relation.
I might have had a different upbringing than many girls from my generation, since I was taught that my own sexuality is good and natural and never to be ashamed of. So I don’t get easily offended being self confident being as equal a sexual being as any man. Some men likes this physical confidence and other hates it, which can lead to scenario B, or in some cases directly to scenario C:
B. Unequal power relation (you can’t walk away – happens mostly to women/youngsters)
Here it gets complicated, when the offender is a man, because it can be confused with the traditional perception of sexual roles: man hunting and conquering a woman prey. But if a “no” is not accepted, and you still can’t walk away from the situation, there can be at least 2 unequal power positions – sometimes both:
- a physical authority (older or stronger person)
- a structural authority (employer, teacher, family etc.)
This can in worst case lead to either physical violation or to scenario C:
C. Mental manipulation for power (you see too late, that you should have walked away – boiling frogs can be both men and women)
The offender finds a bigger bazouka for his (or hers) purpose – and begins MENTAL harassment, which can hurt on a deeper level. The sexual harassment can be for the intention of ”bringing someone down” – trying to change and control your mind. That kind of poison can be deadly dangerous for life quality, especially if it happens in smaller dozes over a longer period of time, breaking down your self-esteem. Even worse, if the power relation from the beginning was unequal, which again happens more often to women.
Different tools – man or woman getting desperate and having no respect for other living beings.
In all my years in masculine professions and hobbies, I have never ever experienced even the slightest physical harassment. No one ever touched any part of my body against my will. Perhaps because I was always surrounded and protected by my male peers – my equal brothers. But neither when I walked alone anywhere on this planet, and I did many places. Perhaps I have been extra cautious. I am extremely aware of different levels of eye-contact. If I get ”that” look, then I look away – never down, but straight at something else (the door out for example) – or I look them straight in the eyes while starting a high level professional discussion, that can take the lust out of any man…You just observe the light turn out in their eyes. Perhaps I am also signalling physical self-confidence. I know for sure, I would punch somebody in their head before even thinking, if they dared to come close against my will.
But direct or indirect verbal/mental harassment because of my gender or against women in general…yes, many times. It is hard to think back on these episodes, because my survival strategy have been to ignore and forget. And I prefer to remember the million times, it didn’t happen at all – when the men around me was sweet, supportive, helpful best friends or colleagues. And I don’t want to scare them out of my life!
So I am not a heavy example at all, but I paid a price, when I was between 16 to 18 years old, in high school, and I couldn’t walk away from authorities. My teacher in physics tried to look smart in the eyes of the boys by sexually picking on the only girl in physics class – every single day. The boys just thought he was a jerk. But he didn’t get it and just kept going with his sexual jokes about me, until the repetition in it self became a good joke.
I tried to be invisible…tried to stay away, say nothing that could call for his attention. Just hoping one day, he would wake up and realize how unfair he was acting from his position as the teacher. I was brought up to trust and respect authorities and also not to be too sensitive about myself, so I couldn’t really tell what was wrong or how bad it was in the long run. I had barely yet come to understand myself as no longer being a child, but now facing the world as a sexual object was new to me. I just felt so freezing alone.
I was never hurt by his silly words themselves, but I was hurt by all this negative intention. There was no doubt in my mind that he hated me beneath the laughter, and that was the real wound. I never did anything wrong in my short life, so how could he hate me for nothing – an even further wanting to ruin the life of a young girl? I don’t think he ever wanted sex, but he wanted to impress the boys in the classroom. And perhaps he wished to see me loose my usual calm confidence, just for the evil fun of it. He never succeeded and I just stayed cool, while he would make endless dirty jokes about my appearance, my cloth, my body, my words – even things I never said. I turned into a stone, afraid to speak, knowing he would be able to twist any sentence around. If one of the boys tried to defend me, he would just turn to mock them instead. So they kept anxiously silent, and I became unwillingly the centre of his disturbed teaching. By so he even managed to create an awkwardness between me and my male peers that never existed before.
The price I paid was inner confusion, apathy, beginning depression and very low grades in my major topic, later loosing the chance to get into my dream study and hurting my professional confidence for years after. My revenge later was to fight back and instead become an engineer on master level. One of my biggest days later on was sitting at the technical university and this man would walk in and guest lecture in natural science. I would be out of reach for his harassment, sitting in a more civilized environment surrounded by grown up fellow students, where his behaviour would have been far too indecent. He looked so small and average without his usual authority over my life. He saw me in the lecture hall, but only greeted distant and then rushed out, hopefully embarrassed about himself. I remember smiling from inside out, like if someone just told the best joke in the universe.
I won this battle, but somehow lost myself. Maybe I should just thank him for making me tough and never letting anybody get too close. Maybe not. I would have felt like a looser if I had won over him through complaining to the highschool management – then I would have been “sensitive”, just like he wanted me to be. Besides I heard that he had survived other official complaints beforehand, and we are back in early 80’ties when those things were not outspoken.
Later, by the years in man-dominated fields as technical science and surfing, I am afraid that I have just hardened my ears, hearing too many stupid comments. Stupid, sexual comments always makes me feel so embarrassed – never of myself, but embarrassed for that ignorant idiot, not being able to communicate more clever. Or even worse, feeling sorry for that poor boy who obviously was not brought up with strong women, so he would have known better about multiple qualities and mutual interests. Today I still hear and see examples in my surroundings on a daily basis.
I remember at technical university in the early 80’ies being the minority of women, that men would excuse their sexual comments saying they were only rare and occasional when they finally met a girl like me. They forgot that for me, they were daily doze of poison, being the only girl around for everyone’s outlets. Once I was siting in a surf van for 7 hours driving home from a competition with two surfers exchanging hardcore porn jokes over my head. If I dared to speak trying to change the topic, one of them would silence me with extremely rude and personal questions about my own sexual preferences. So I just kept my own dignity together in silence. It can be the price, if you want to join the game…And you can’t change the world, if you don’t participate.
My only weapon was always to shut off and ignore – keeping my own integrity clean and focus my energy the right places with good people. I believe that the strongest strategy is saving your energy for more important matters – and gaining respect as a foundation for better changes. Social evolution is a complex and never ending process.
It is the mental part – the intention behind sexual harassment – that can damage a soul and a culture. The worst thing I regret for our culture is this awkward gap between the genders that never seems to disappear and just takes new forms, as we grow older. You stop existing in mans world as a middle-aged woman, just when your professional skills are peaking. Then you will be labelled “useless” while you walk around invisible in bitter-sweet relief and silence, and man is still moving the world in his direction. Gender stigma is not a private problem, but closely related to power structures in society.
I never felt like a “victim” myself. This is just part of the times we are living in. I believe some problems grow, when you give them attention. This being different from the need of addressing problems, when they occur. So I have neglected all these incidents – restarting every new relation from trust. Also knowing things get easier if you take it easy. I believe in the strategy of combining “easy” and “addressing” problems whenever possible: Laugh at the offenders, make them feel ridiculous, or just ignore! Fight back with more surf and more science!
Only once did an employer overstep my lines, when sharing his dreams of having sex with me during the actual job interview (!) (One of those businesses with not so much filter). I got so surprised, that I just laughed out loud at him from the bottom of my heart, and he looked so confused and a little embarrassed that I did not take him seriously? I got the job…and he never dared to step closer to me than the handshake of our contract.
Laugh them out! Gain their respect – and then take it to a higher level 😉