Katharine Gregg: If you believe you don’t need anti-harassment training, prove it

  • A young marcher carries a sign during a Women’s March on Jan. 20 in Seattle. On the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, people participating in rallies and marches in the U.S. and around the world denounced his views on immigration, abortion, LGBT rights, women’s rights and more. AP

  • A marcher carries a sign that reads “I am like, a very stable feminist,” in reference to comments made by President Donald Trump regarding his intelligence, during a Women’s March on Jan. 20 in Seattle. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 2/7/2018 12:14:59 AM

A few days ago, my local paper reported a story that dumbfounded me. The House chief of staff in the New Hampshire Legislature organized an event to bring state legislators up to date on State House anti-harassment policies. In the 500-seat Representatives Hall, the reporter counted between 30 and 40 attendees. As he noted, “the empty seats said more than the PowerPoint slides.”

Okay, as the writer also reported, everyone is super busy and many have had the anti-harassment training before,
but . . .

In the face of the courage so many women have shown in risking disclosure of their harassment experiences this feels like more than just a slap. Chief of Staff Terry Pfaff said the training is conducted during orientation at the beginning of each biennium, but, he continued, the House has lapsed on training in recent years. The message clearly is that anti-harassment training is not a high priority.

What are we to do? How are we to proceed? The way the New Hampshire state Legislature acts isn’t going to change the world, but the way it acts does sadly reflect the world. The media, across the board, covered #MeToo thoroughly. In fact, it felt like a kind of salacious feeding frenzy at times. Yes, the stories needed to be shared, brought to the public’s attention fully and powerfully, but that’s the easy part. Words are easy but in themselves don’t constitute change. What we need is a groundswell of energy to create strategies for seriously confronting deep-seated habits and attitudes.

On Jan. 21, I attended the Women’s March on the Cambridge Common. It was understandably (I guess) a smaller gathering than last year – an estimated 10,000 as opposed to last year’s 175,000 on the Boston Common. The keynote speakers were stuck in Washington trying to fix the government shutdown, but the focus wasn’t primarily on the harassment and devaluing of women. It seemed more a grab bag of issues – all important, but too diffuse to make a commanding statement. The signs were clever, but there was no energy high. I left depressed and oppressed by the magnitude of what we’re facing.

The speakers’ topics were all important, but let’s focus on the impetus for these women’s marches, the continued low status and abuse of women in our culture manifested by #MeToo. Yes, since the Women’s Movement of the 1970s we’ve made some progress in the police and judicial response to rape. No longer are women automatically viewed as the cause of the crime. We have some protections, though often tragically inadequate, for dealing with spousal abuse. But date rape and drugged or intoxicated rape are alarmingly high. Horrible as rape and spousal abuse are they are just the tip of the iceberg in the problem of the status of women throughout the world. Beneath the surface are centuries of viewing women as inferior – less intelligent, less able to think analytically, physically and emotionally weak, and so on.

All these negative evaluations, however, merely suggest the belief that women are a threat – not less intelligent, analytical, physically and emotionally strong – and women have shown, wherever they can (read “permitted”), that this is true. We all know that our culture doesn’t encourage or empower girls to go into technical fields, that women are paid less than men and that it’s far more difficult for women to move into leadership positions than men. It’s so ingrained in our culture, re-enforced by entertainment and media, that we don’t notice it.

Take language, for instance. A lot of attention was paid in the 1970s and ’80s to de-sexing language – getting rid of the generic use of “man” and the pronoun “he,” etc. We made an effort to broaden worker designations – mail carrier, firefighter, member of Congress – but all that seems to have evaporated even with speakers and writers who surely intend to be gender neutral.

Words are the easy part, however. They perhaps raised some consciousness for a time, but it was so easy to slip back. Other issues were more important until brave women and men brought to our attention that the changes were at best skin deep. This is a huge challenge. How do we get beneath the surface, to the muscle and heart of our cultural bias? We know about the importance of role models in early childhood education, of encouraging girls to pursue technical careers and for both boys and girls, men and women to believe that smart, educated women are worthy of full “citizenship.” Their talent and expertise shouldn’t be attacked by men in power. They should have powerful recourse if they are threatened.

We know what to do. We just have to do it every, single day. And if you feel you don’t need anti-harassment training, just make sure you behave that way.

(Katharine Gregg is a poet and essayist living in Mason. She can be reached by email at kggregg@myfairpoint.net.)

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