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Sexual Harassment and Seeing Women As They Are

Why is it so hard to understand that harassment is fundamentally wrong?

In light of recent reports detailing Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein's alleged acts of sexual harassment and assault, a Medium article was released advising male readers that if they are ever unsure of how to appropriately treat a female colleague, imagine her as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

The article poses three scenarios for its reader. One: grabbing coffee with a female colleague. This is not an opportunity to flirt. No. Instead, visualise her as the super tough, overtly masculine Dwayne Johnson. Would you flirt with “The Rock”? The answer is likely no, and as such you should limit conversation with your colleague to the beverage itself and the day ahead. Two: the meeting. Your female colleague asks you for help. Is she coming onto you? You're not sure. Would “The Rock” be coming onto you? The answer to this question is "no" again, and as such you should simply answer her question and provide the required assistance. Three: the outing. You attend a professional event together. Do not use it as an excuse to masturbate in front of her. Why? Because you wouldn't masturbate in front of “The Rock.” Instead, realise you have drunk too much and take yourself home.

The message is clear and easy to understand: what you wouldn't do to “The Rock,” don't do to a female colleague. The article was clearly effective in delivering this message since it went viral a day after its release. However, I struggle to understand why the limits of appropriate and inappropriate behaviour towards women can only be understood in the context of a man, and an overtly masculine man at that. In other words, why are we unable to say, “Don’t treat women this way because it’s wrong,” and have to instead say, “Don’t treat women this way because you wouldn’t do this to 'The Rock'"?

It is unclear to me whether such a comparison empowers or further marginalises women. By visualising women as “The Rock,” are you saying that their strength and power shouldn’t be doubted and tested? Or are you saying that the female experience is so far beyond the realm of male understanding and empathy that it can only be understood when embodied by one of their own? In the case of the latter, it is worth considering whether “The Rock” and women experience life in the same way. I’m inclined to believe that they don’t, not least because “The Rock” is not a woman.

I understand what the Medium article sought to achieve, and to a certain degree I believe it was effective. But in asking, “Would you do this to ‘The Rock’?”, one of the most physically impressive men in the public eye, you provide the possibility of, “Oh but maybe I would do it to (the comparably slighter) Russel Howard, or (the sweet and somewhat camp) Stanley Tucci.”

The main failure of the Medium article, in my opinion, is encouraging men to see women as men. Women are not men, they never will be men, and, in fact, they are proud of being women. Indeed, women don’t want to be men. They want to be women, they like being women, but they want the respect that their gender deserves. Women are the world’s mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters, as well as its leaders, teachers, mentors, and entrepreneurs. It does no good encouraging men to see women as what they are not, in this case Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Rather, women should be understood as they are. It is only then that they can be lifted up.

And so: it is universally wrong to sexually harass and assault women. It doesn’t matter what age or status they are, what background they come from, and what outfit they happen to be wearing. In my mind, “The Rock” is irrelevant. End of.

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