Women Bonding with Women to End Sexual Misconduct
A mini-series recently released on Hulu, “Mrs. America,” explores how in the seventies women bonded with women to eventually ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in 2020.
Today women must bond once again to end the very thing that stands in the way of equal rights for women, whether the amendment makes it into the Constitution or not.
The thing is sexual harassment and assault, something 81% of women and 43% of men experience in their lifetime.
With tactics very similar to ones in use by sexual perpetrators today, Phyllis Schlafly (aka Mrs. America) singlehandedly led the way to halt temporarily the ERA in 1982. As the mini-series explains, conservative housewives and Republican leaders, such as Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and those in evangelical churches, enabled Schlafly to tell lies about the women’s movement, much like sexual harassers need enablers for the same reason.
Liars need enablers to spread lies.
For example, a general manager for a Bojangles food chain in South Carolina allegedly wouldn’t stop sexually harassing a Black woman employee. She says he asked for sex and grabbed her butt and breasts. She filed a complaint. He said she was lying. Nothing happened, except that her corporate bosses refused her request to train as a manager. They forced her to switch to another Bojangles’, farther from home. She quit. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decided to file a lawsuit against Bojangles now underway.
Male co-workers at the Rivian Automotive in Illinois allegedly subjected a female employee to pinches, groping, and other unwanted sexual advances. Again, management did nothing to stop it. She filed a lawsuit against Rivian citing the company’s failure to deal with “unlawful harassment and the company culture that enables it.” She quit to escape.
Despite differences in income, status, and race, these two women’s cases are very similar to complaints of women who have worked for powerful politicians, media executives, and movie moguls. And, despite the MeToo movement and tougher laws, sexual misconduct hasn’t stopped. A 2019 report found a cause. The authors called it a network of complicity:
“One thing was clear,” the report said. “The perpetrators could not have persisted in sexual harassment without the support of a network of complicity.”
“(Perpetrators) are great at building myths about themselves,” said Minette Drumwright, a researcher and professor at the University of Texas at Austin, one of the authors. “And the network of complicity members perpetuate that.”
A network includes enablers: people who work with or for perpetrators and supporters outside of the work environment. The report found that enablers help perpetrators “gain power or use their own power” to protect themselves and discredit victims. Enablers also “fix problems…& reward people” who support them and “exclude” colleagues who support victims from work, promotions, and pay raises. Part of a network’s strategy is “discriminating against the most vulnerable and weakest” people surrounding perpetrators.
The report also found that “networks perpetuate myths and misinformation” spread by the harassers, and “metastasize” the behavior because the perpetrators feel “immune to punishment, and their sense of entitlement” grows.
Networks of enablers often believe the claims are false. Yet research finds that the prevalence of false reporting is rare, between only 2 percent and 10 percent. Importantly, the National Sexual Violence Center argues that reports of false claims by most law enforcement do not always reflect various factors of a complaint. For example, if the woman is the only witness to the harassment, law enforcement may define her accusation as false. Such factors do not always mean a victim is lying, yet a network of enablers use such twisted thinking to belittle, demean, and, in effect, discriminate against victims.
Experts say both men and some women find it difficult to believe how prevalent harassment and assault are and, as a result, they look for reasons to disbelieve women.
Disbelieving women, which translates into women who lie, is reason enough for today’s women’s movement to help end pervasive sexual misconduct that damages everything the movement is about for all women, even those who don’t believe women: pay equity, job status, discrimination, women’s health, insurance coverage, childcare, and more.
The only way to end sexual harassment is for women to stand up for women sexually exploited. If women have doubts about the veracity of claims, then they should wait and see how claims play out in a court of law or after an investigation. Degrading women victims will never end the rare false claim.
Women bonded with other women to ratify the ERA in 38 states, as required, and many continue to urge President Biden to put the amendment into the Constitution. The same goes for sexual misconduct. Women must bond with women to stop sexual harassment and assault.
Enabling is aiding and abetting. Enabling someone who you know is harming others is a crime in and of itself.
Karen Hinton is the author of Penis Politics, A Memoir of Women, Men & Power.