This article was the first nationally syndicated article on sexual harassment appearing in over a dozen newspapers around the country, including the Philadelphia Bulletin and the Chicago Tribune.62 According to Sauvigné, "Nemy's story put sexual harassment on the map."63 The story even though it appeared in the family and style section, provided a serious, well-researehed, and thorough treatment of the issue of sexual harassment.
Women Begin to Speak Out Against Sexual Harassment at Work
By ENID NEMY
For years, many women accepted it as a job hazard. Now, with raised consciousness and increased self-assurance, they are speaking out against the indignities of work-related sexual advances and intimidation, both verbal and physical.
"Sexual harassment of women in their place of employment is extremely widespread. It is literally epidemic." said Lin Farley, director of the women's section of the Human Affairs Program at Cornell University.
She listed the forms such harassment could take:
Constant leering and ogling of a woman's body.
Continually brushing against a woman's body.
Forcing a woman to submit to squeezing or pinching.
Catching a woman alone for forced sexual intimacies.
Outright sexual propositions, backed by threat of losing a job.
Forced sexual relations.
Miss Farley, in testimony given before the Commission on Human Rights of New York City, noted that, in the past, women discussed the situation infrequently. They were, she said, humiliated or intimidated, and had watched "the ridicule and condeseension" heaped upon women who did complain.
Treated as a Joke
"Most male superiors treat it as joke. At best, it's 'not serious,"' she said. Even more frightening, the woman who speaks out against her tormentors runs the risk of suddenly being seen as a crazy, a weirdo or, even worse, a loose woman."
The Cornell Human Affairs Program recently distributed a questionnaire on sexual harassment to women attending a Speak Out on the subject, and to women members of the Civil Service Employes Association in Binghamton, N.Y., who were unfamiliar with sexual harassment as an issue.
The results indicated that more than 70 per cent of the 185 respondents had experienced some form of sexual harassment and that 92 per cent of the group believed it was a serious problem. About 33 per cent of the women said they ignored the behavior, or tried to pretend it didn't happen and, when this course of action was followed, 75 per cent of the cases continued or got worse. More than 50 per cent of the women who did complain, through channels, found that nothing was done.
The women of Tompkins County, N.Y., who have banded together to form Working Women United, agree that sexual harassment is humiliating. They do not believe it is trivial. They have now launched a campaign to expose the problems of sexual exploitation of women on the job.
"When I think about it, I get really worked up…men thinking they have a right to touch me, or proposition me because I'm a waitress," said Janet Oestreich, who has supported her studies in sociology at Cornell with long periods of working in restaurant-bars:
"This sort of harassment is crucial when it's job related," added the 24-year-old Miss Oestreich. "Why do women have to put up with this sort of thing anyway? You aren't in any position to say 'get your crummy hands off me' because you need the tips, that's what a waitress job is all about. Women are the ones who are punished. They have to leave a job because of a man's behavior and the man is left there, sitting pretty. It's totally ridiculous."
Miss Oestreich, the daughter of a dairy farmer in Canadaigua, N.Y. worked part time as a clerk during her early years at Cornell.
"The man I was working for thought he could pinch me," she recalled. "When I told him to stop, he just continued but when I gave notice, he stopped. Then he propositioned me and I gave notice again. He finally understood, but it was six months of pure hell. I was a wreck but I needed the money. He said I was taking it too seriously, and it was all a joke. What made him think he had the right to do it?"
Connie Korbel, who has worked as a cashier, saleswoman, waitress, and is now in the personnel department of Ithaca College, said she had had some kind of problem in every job she's held, other than her present one.
"When I was in college [Brockport State College near Rochester]. I couldn't even baby sit because the husbands taking me home would make passes at me, she said.
"Within my first month as a waitress, it was made very clear to me that if you are friendly enough, you could have a better station, better hours, better everything." she continued. "If you're tricky enough, you just dangle everybody but it reaches a point where it's too much of a hassle and you quit and take something else. But when you have children, and no support payments, you can't keep quitting."
Cathy Edmondson, a nurse at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington, termed sexual harassment "a working condition between doctors and nurses."
"It happens so frequently, and so much, that you accept it as an everyday thing and learn to work with it," she said.
"I was overwhelmed at first," said Miss Edmondson, who is 27 years and has been a nurse for five years. "It's not the kind of think you are told you are going to be confronted with. You have to have some kind of rapport between doctors and nurses, and I'd hate to see the friendliness disappear, but there's a point where you draw the line."
She recalled an occasion where a surgeon, who had just come from the operating room, "grabbed me from behind, and around the neck, and dragged me playfully around the room. Patients were there, and doctors and nurses. It was his playful way of relaxing. I couldn't make a scene."
Jan Crawford of New York, a former media director in advertising, said she had discovered that she could take two attitudes.
"One was sexy, and the other cute. I chose to be cute, their little girl kind of thing. It shielded me from more serious harassment, but why was it necessary?"
Miss Crawford, who is 32, said she had encountered her most clear case of sexual harassment eight years ago in San Francisco. She had been in the training program of a commercial real estate firm, and her immediate superior had made it clear he didn't approve of women working outside the home.
"The man who was second in command to my boss asked me out and I fielded it. I was charming but I said no. He said that I'd be sorry," she related. "Later on, my boss said he had evidence of my inefficiency on which he could fire me and when I said it wasn't possible, he said he would make evidence. He was supported by the man who had asked me out. That man there said to me, "I told you you'd be sorry."
* * *
A Subtle Threat
To Susan Madar, sexual harassment directed against "not being attractive enough" was "more subtle, but the same thing."
"I know it's a real thing, it's not my imagination or paranoia." she said, "It doesn't lend itself to proving but it's just as real, and just as financially damaging."
"I applied for a job as a library assistant at Cornell and I needed it," she said. "I was working my way through college. I wasn't given a job until a friend got me in. Another friend of mine, very attractive, who didn't need a job, was given one. It was known that the man in charge wanted girls who looked just right, and wore the right clothes."
Miss Madar noted that "the male standard we are being judged by" results in a divisive situation for women.
"If someone else is being pinched, while you are being ignored, you resent that other woman." she said. "You think she is playing along. You don't realize she resents it, because it isn't discussed.
* * *
"Not being attractive enough does have an economic effect." she said. "You know you can't get really well-paying jobs. If you ever go to the top floor of an office building, you know the women look a certain way."
"Some women can handle sexual harassment but no woman should have to." said Susan Meyer a researcher at Cornell. "It's a central issue because it isn't considered a serious problem. There must be some recourse for the women who have to face this."
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