Reports of male-on-male sexual harassment on the rise

Via a Newsweek article that uses the word “surprisingly” and a scary illustrative photo somewhat insensitively:

The EEOC tracks the number of men and women who file claims with the agency, but doesn’t always keep track of the gender of the harasser. However, Grinberg confirms that the EEOC has recognized a growing trend in the number of men alleging same-sex sexual harassment.

“The classic image of sexual harassment is Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill; it’s not two men or even two women,” says Dr. Liza H. Gold, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University who serves as an expert in sexual-harassment suits. And yet the experience of men harassed by men may help to illustrate the realities of all such cases. When women are the victims, they may face assumptions that the abuse is the result of an affair gone wrong, hurt feelings, or mixed signals. In truth, sexual harassment of both genders has more to do with issues of control and abuses of power for the purpose of humiliation than with sexual attraction.

By exposing the men to taunts about their genitalia, sexually suggestive simulations, and lewd comments, the men perpetrating the harassment are seeking to embarrass and target the male victims—not sexually stimulate or “flirt” with them. “Sexual harassment is about using power in a way to hurt somebody,” says Marcia McCormick, associate professor at Saint Louis University School of Law, who specializes in employment law and gender issues. In the Cheesecake Factory suit there were no allegations that supervisors were attracted to the other men—the sexual harassment was a form of intimidation, McCormick says.

While I think it is somewhat hasty to say there is no element of oppressive eroticism in male-on-female sexual harassment, the concrete examples of male-on-male abuse given (“sexual fondling, simulated rape, and even being physically dragged into the restaurant’s refrigerator”) I can imagine being carried out by straight men as easily as homosexuals. Verbal sexual taunts, sexual gestures, and manhandling are staples of hazing and rank-assertion in all-male environments like the lockerroom, and, at least occassionally, military barracks.


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