By Joey Konrad
Have you ever encountered a male co-worker or a customer that gives you weird vibes—you know, when it feels like he’s looking at you behind your back, rating your body and how “hot” you look? Do you get these feelings even though you can’t identify who specifically is watching you?
If you identify with that situation, you certainly aren’t alone. Researcher Beth Quinn conducted 43 interviews with working men and women about their experiences in the workplace with “girl watching”: those unwanted or unnoticed sexual gazes towards women in the workplace by men.
Quinn found that most of the people interviewed were aware of girl watching in the workplace, however the men interviewed often understood girl watching as a harmless joke or simple appreciation of women’s appearances, while the women felt it was objectifying and didn’t like the attention.
Quinn further questioned the men’s acceptance of girl watching and found that many responses fell along the lines of “that’s just what men do” and the women feeling objectified was not the reason why men engaged in girl watching. In fact, when forced to imagine themselves in a position of being sexually watched, all the men interviewed understood the harm or discomfort of girl watching—yet were unable to generate that empathy when listening to women’s experiences.
In 1980, the U.S. passed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which outlined sexual harassment as illegal and required employers to provide preventative measures to address sexual harassment, like awareness seminars. However, sexual harassment in the workplace is still rampant, as the National Sexual Violence Resource Center notes that around 40% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment, and that statistic does not account for the women that do not report or share their experiences.
Quinn’s findings reveal some flaws in the way we approach teaching and preventing sexual harassment at work. Who knew those mandatory seminars that showed weird videos from the 90’s were ineffective?
The larger problem here isn’t that men need help understanding what sexual harassment is, rather what men understand to be masculine includes proving their (hetero)sexuality at work through girl watching or other forms of sexual harassment. Men must confirm how manly they are to others at work by asserting their enjoyment of sex and appearance, and also show no emotions of compassion or concern towards women because they can be labeled weak and their masculinity is threatened.
Sexual harassment training and information sessions need to address stereotypes of what it means to be a man and a woman if they want serious gains at eliminating sexual harassment at work. Men specifically can provide positive reinforcement for other men who speak out against sexual harassment and redefine masculinity, as well as speak out against men who don’t.
So whether it’s you or your buddy….dude, stop looking at your coworker like that, alright?