A social media campaign encouraging anyone who has been sexually harassed or assaulted to type “me too” in their posts brings much-deserved attention to an issue entrenched in our culture. The responders, mostly female, span the socioeconomic spectrum and all walks of life. Female celebrities acknowledging publicly that they were sexually harassed or assaulted inspired ordinary women to speak out about harassment and assault they have survived. That’s a good first step toward extinguishing a pervasive cultural norm: male domination of women.
This domination takes shape in overt and subtle forms: domestic violence, pornography, date rape, sexual harassment in the workplace, politics, movies, video games and magazine swimsuit issues. Slate website reports that nearly 7,000 complaints alleging sexual harassment were reported to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in fiscal year 2016. And that’s probably a fraction of what actually occurs. “The EEOC estimates that three out of four individuals who experience workplace harassment do not report it. An overwhelming majority of harassment victims are women (Slate, Oct. 17, 2017).”
The National Women’s Law Center reports that “Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors or hostile verbal or physical conduct that targets someone based on gender, whether or not sexual overtures are involved.”
Our church acknowledges male domination in a Letter to the Bishops on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Modern World (2004). Pope John Paul II approved the letter submitted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The letter notes that “Man and woman are equal in dignity and called to communion” but “sin has brought a tendency toward domination. In this tragic situation, the equality, respect and love that are required in the relationship of man and woman according to God’s original plan, are lost.”
Pope Francis calls for an end to “unacceptable customs” that make violence an authentic display of masculinity. “I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union,” the Holy Father wrote in “The Joy of Love (no. 54). He urges us to not ignore “the continuing forms of domination, arrogance, abuse, sexual perversion and violence that are the products of a warped understanding of sexuality” (no. 153).
As a church and in the public square, we are called to change the cultural attitudes that have institutionalized male domination. No woman should be afraid to report sexual harassment or assault for fear of losing her job, career promotion or the affection of loved ones and friends.
Here is a list of things to consider:
• Model appropriate behavior in your interactions with others.
• Stop blaming women for their reluctance to report harassment and abuse.
• Provide resources so women know how and where to report, such as the EEOC website (dol.gov/general/topic/discrimination); the National Women’s Law Center (nwlc.org); the National Domestic Violence Hotline (thehotline.org). To report domestic violence, call 800-799-7233 or 800-787-3244 (TTY).
• Ask Congress to strengthen the provision of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) that bars employment discrimination because of sex.
• If you are an employer, avoid skepticism when an employee complains of sexual harassment or assault.
• If you are an employee, document incidents of sexual harassment or assault.
• Avoid movies, TV shows, video games, social media or print materials that promote male domination.
• Organize a program in your parish to raise awareness about male domination and church teaching on this subject.
In his letter for Respect Life Month (October 2017), Cardinal Timothy Dolan writes: “Building a culture of life isn’t something we just do one month of the year, with one event or initiative.… It happens through our daily actions, how we treat one another, and how we live our lives.”