Debate over the Sexual Misconduct “Spectrum”

Posted in Sexual Harassment,Sexual Harassment by Industry on January 17, 2018

The recent news involving claims of sexual misconduct and harassment seems to have to hit the entertainment industry the hardest as new allegations emerge on a weekly basis against well-known actors, directors, producers and other powerful people in the industry. Award-winning comedian and actor Aziz Ansari is the latest celebrity to respond to sexual misconduct allegations leveled against him. A 23-year-old woman recently shared her experiences in an article about an unwanted sexual encounter with Ansari several months ago. She texted Ansari the next day about how uncomfortable he made her feel. The woman says she chose to come forward publicly after seeing Ansari wear a “Time’s Up” pin when he accepted an award for his Netflix series Master of None earlier this month.

Ansari’s public response is similar to many of the alleged perpetrators who say that they didn’t mean to offend anyone or that they didn’t know that what they were doing was considered sexual harassment. He wrote: “It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned.” Ansari’s statement continued: “I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said.
I continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture. It is necessary and long overdue.”

Back in the past, it was normal to see men degrade women in real life and on TV shows and movies. Now, it’s a different generation. It’s said that we shouldn’t put down women or treat them differently, but that still occurs both in reality and in entertainment. Men make jokes about women in a degrading and sexual matter. Many people are quick to point out and say that some behaviors shouldn’t be considered sexual harassment. This is because many don’t know about the spectrum of sexual harassment. It’s time for some clarity on what is on the spectrum and how people are affected.

Dr. Kathleen Reardon, a Professor of Management and Organization at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, developed a spectrum of offensive behavior that sets out six categories ranging from “non-offensive” to “egregious sexual misconduct.” Dr. Reardon says that comments like “You look nice today” would be considered “Non-Offensive.” Remarks about gender differences, such as, “You would say that as a woman” land in the “awkward/mildly offensive” zone. “Offensive” behavior, according to the spectrum, could be holding a woman’s arm while talking to her or giving an uninvited hug. In the “Seriously Offensive” zone are comments about physical attributes that are used to insult or demean a woman and jokes about a woman’s limited intellect or skills due to her gender. Dr. Reardon states that looking a woman up and down in a sexually suggestive manner would fall under “Evident Sexual Misconduct.” Exposing genitals to others, pressing against someone, and forcing someone to have sex would be labeled as “Egregious Sexual Misconduct.”

Actor Matt Damon recently apologized for his remarks to USA Today about the sexual violence spectrum. The interview received backlash after the actor minimized certain kinds of harassment. In one instance, he stated, “I do believe that there’s a spectrum of behavior, and we’re going to have to figure, you know, there’s a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right?” Continuing with the interview, he stated that rape and child molestation is “criminal behavior and it needs to be dealt with that way but the other stuff is just shameful and gross.” We’re talking about confronting and eradicating the spectrum of sexual harassment and abuse, which Damon says he agrees with, so why did the actor feel the need to clarify a “pat on the butt” isn’t the same as rape? The answer is unclear. The point is that all of this behavior is rooted in a culture of entitlement and abuse of power, that all of it is wrong and harmful, and that it happens on a large scale.

Perpetrators have been getting away with both “big” and “small” wrongdoings. Most of them are repeat offenders, and in certain cases people knew but did not speak up. What is the point of, in this context, pointing out harassment isn’t the same as rape? In order to eradicate this abuse, all of it needs to be taken seriously, condemned, called out, and seen as pieces of the larger puzzle of systemic sexual misconduct by people in positions of power. There is no reason to say “But these things are not the same” about that.

Sexual assault and sexual harassment exist on a spectrum of experience, no doubt. But it’s all still wrong, and everyone who perpetrates it needs to be held accountable.