Fighting back – literally – against harassment
I have tried to stay away from heated topics in this blog, but since I was asked the question above in my assertiveness class last week, I decided it was time to comment publicly.
I told the participants in my class that what we talk about in the seminar can be helpful – to a degree. Assertiveness means not presenting yourself as a victim – using your posture to stand tall, your words to speak out, and your voice to speak up loudly. But, ultimately, eliminating harassment in our workplaces requires numerous actions.
After her co-host Charlie Rose was accused of harassment recently, television journalist Norah O’Donnell said on her show, CBS This Morning: "This is a moment that demands a frank and honest assessment about where we stand and more generally the safety of women. Let me be very clear: There is no excuse for this alleged behavior. It is systematic and pervasive. ... This I know is true: women cannot achieve equality in the workplace or in society until there is a reckoning and a taking of responsibility.”
Many things can be done to help women – and men – feel safe. Having a sexual harassment policy in the workplace and providing training to employees about sexual harassment are two important actions. I also believe that teaching women (and girls) to fight – encouraging them to learn how to defend themselves physically – can be a key component of empowering women and decreasing harassment, in the workplace and elsewhere.
I was sexually assaulted when I was 10 years old.
During a camp trip to an amusement park, while I was walking through one of the attractions, a man came up behind me and grabbed both my breasts. I fought back, and then I ran away. But to this day, my loving husband cannot affectionately surprise me from behind without risking getting hit by me. The scars of assault aren’t forgotten, and I still react reflexively.
I believe I fought back against my attacker because I was used to fighting. My two sisters and I would fight like dogs and cats all the time. Physically fight. (Don’t worry, we are best friends today.)
I suggest that women (and girls) should take self-defense classes and/or practice martial arts. They need to know that they can defend themselves from harm. They need to know what fighting back feels like. I took Judo in college, and the Model Mugging self-defense class as an adult. And I made sure my only child learned self-defense, too – my son has his black belt in karate.
I am not advocating for violence – I am advocating for self-defense. I am suggesting that through these classes, women will gain confidence in their physical presence, and in their ability to defend themselves. They can gain a sense of their own power, which may help them not to be seen as potential victims, in the street or in the office.
Also, I am not saying that taking a self-defense class or teaching young girls that it’s okay to fight back will solve everything. It won’t. It is simply one possible response for some difficult situations. Many women who are harassed in the workplace are fearful that they will lose their jobs or careers. Make no mistake, this is a horrible position to be in, and a horrible choice to have to make. The current rash of allegations about harassment at work makes it clear that employers have much to do to make our workplaces safe for everyone.
But, knowing that you can defend yourself provides an option for you, if your boundaries are crossed.
As Nicole Sundine, a speaker and trainer in the field of personal safety, has said: “Feeling confident in your ability to protect yourself empowers you to live with less fear and more freedom.”
I post regularly on communication and etiquette. We can connect via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and my website: www.pachter.com
About: Barbara Pachter is an internationally-renowned business etiquette and communications speaker, coach and author of 11 business books. She helps individuals communicate more effectively and enhance their professional presence. Pachter is also adjunct faculty in the School of Business at Rutgers University.