How to Respond to Catcallers, Victim Blamers, and Demeaning Coworkers
Over the past year, accusations against men like film producer Harvey Weinstein and the horrifying behavior of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar have had an eye-opening effect on how we perceive sexual assault and harassment. Inspiring things started to happen, too—like the explosion of the #metoo movement. Hearing women share their stories solidified how important it is to speak up.
So the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) has launched a campaign, “Embrace Your Voice,” that underscores the importance of speaking up. “We often see that the experiences people are having—where something clearly inappropriate is happening—are accepted in our culture, and that women have been socialized to be passive and stay quiet,” explains Laura Palumbo, communications director at NSVRC. But more than ever, you need to be vocal about things that make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe—such as the following situations.
The obnoxious catcaller
“Hey, give me a smile, sweetheart.” You may hear this kind of remark while walking down the street, and whatever the intent, it is not okay. “Demanding a woman’s attention is street harassment,” says Holly Kearl, founder and executive director of the organization Stop Street Harassment.
How to respond: If you feel safe enough, be direct, recommends Kearl. “Say, ‘Don’t harass me,’ and keep going.” This identifies what happened as harassment, and then you’re removing yourself from the situation.
The demeaning coworker
Hearing things like “This budget might be too advanced for you” from colleagues can be crushing. Women often stew over these comments but don’t speak up for fear of being labeled “difficult.”
How to respond: Outline what you prefer to have happen. Say, “I’ve noticed you keep doing X, and I don’t like it. I’d prefer if you did Y.” Too nervous? Ask HR or a trusted superior for guidance.
The victim blamer
Picture this: You’re involved in water-cooler chat about an assault case in the news, and someone blames the victim. Because it’s not a situation that directly involves you, it’s tempting to stay silent. Don’t. The goal is to get people to recognize how comments like this contribute to victims’ feeling that they won’t be believed.
How to respond: Avoid getting into the nitty-gritty. What’s important to enforce is that victims deserve to be believed. Your response can be as simple as, “It’s never the victim’s fault.”