There is something, and I know it is a complex combination of culture, religion, biology and how all three interplay in the society that makes women first of all sexual objects.
Some men view women as sexual objects before they see they them as smart and intelligent human beings capable of adding value wherever they are.
I remember in one of the offices I worked in some time back. Every time there were new female corpers, there would be excitement in the air. It was as though the word ‘prey’ was written on their foreheads.
Sexual attraction is not a bad thing; I think it is natural. To look at a person and be drawn to them physically happens sometimes without warning. But here is the thing, feeling sexually attracted to a person is one thing, expressing this attraction to the person is another thing entirely.
You cannot walk up to an individual that you do not have any intimate relationship with and express sexual desire. Mba. It is not done.
“I think your lips are so sexy and I want to kiss them every time you speak.” Is not a compliment. It is an invasion of a boundary of sorts. Communicating something this intimate places the person in an awkward position.
It is even worse when you have some sort of power over the person.
Maybe she is your nanny.
Maybe she is your subordinate.
Maybe she is your student.
Or even just a younger relative that has been told to respect you.
It is sexual harassment to suggest sexual activity just because you can.
It is sexual assault when you commit sexual acts that are unsolicited towards another person.
For you to be able to communicate sexual desire to another person, you must have crossed the gate titled consent.
So there is a girl you like, you don’t walk up to her to suggest sex. You don’t impose your advances on a person. You need to figure out if it is wanted.
Some men get confused at this stage. How do we know what is acceptable to a woman and when? Women are portrayed to be complex and always sending mixed signals. Especially on TV. One minute she is hot and angry and the next minute he grabs her and kisses her even though they are not in a relationship and everything is all honky dory from there.
Most women will not welcome a kiss from someone they are not romantically involved with. It is a chance that men must not take.
In a work environment it gets even dicier.
If you are a boss and made advances to a subordinate and she responds positively, you tell yourself that it is not only mutually beneficial, it is also a relationship between two matured people.
Most of the time, you are wrong.
You are in a powerful position and you can easily make life difficult for her if she says no. If you weren’t in that position with that much power over her work life, she wouldn’t give you the time of day.
Some girls chalk it up and date the boss to advance. This is ethically wrong but the first point of blame is the boss. He abused the power he had by crossing the professional line.
Some girls will try to resist the boss but when things in the office become increasingly difficult because the boss hates rejection, they reluctantly give in for some peace.
Some girls will say no and soon enough their appraisals begin to reflect poor performance till they are let go of or transferred elsewhere.
The torture of a woman that is being sexually harassed is awful.
She begins to feel self-conscious. While on a good day she would wear a close fitting skirt suit and walk around in stilettos, she now becomes more careful so that nothing about her appearance says she is open to sexual advances.
I guess this is the story of a woman’s life. Being made to feel guilty for how her physical appearance makes a man feel. I have never understood why men make women feel guilty for being womanly. Why must a woman’s appearance always be about a man?
I went to a girls secondary school with 95% female staff. I tell you that girls woke up every morning, had their baths, dressed up, made up (even though it wasn’t allowed) and used perfumes. Despite the fact that chances were you were not going to see any boy. Women love to bring out the pretty in them. It is not always about men.
Back to office sexual harassment. I am not so judgemental towards the women that give in to the advances. We are strong on different levels. Some people will take the easiest route. Some people have needs and cannot afford to lose their jobs. And so when an irresponsible leader abuses his power, these women fall. And we are quick judge black and white and not look for nuance.
An even worse situation is when you are hired as a marketer and sent out to solicit for business from men, mostly. Sometimes the employers do not look for ways to protect these women from the vulnerable situations sending them into.
You give a beautiful lady a huge target, threaten to sack her every day and require that she dresses in a certain manner and send her deliberately as a bait to men that already feel entitled to a woman’s body because she is a woman and they are men.
You are not Directors or Marketing managers. You are pimps that ask girls to get money/jobs so that you can pay them a salary.
A friend once spoke of a high profile client that asked her for a blowjob in his office. Her target was still far away and so many people depended on her income. She looked at his ashy fingers, mouth with milk at corners and behemoth stomach and wondered if should close her eyes and get the deposit. She could not. She bolted out of the office.
Harassed by employers and harassed by clients.
Men face sexual harassment as well (though my main focus is women because I have been in this situation and I understand it). I tell you that few things are worse than a female boss rejected. Even if he accepts, he is monitored and made miserable. He could land a query not because he has erred but because he was seen looking chummy with another female. It is an uncomfortable and complex situation.
Can genuine relationships spring out of workplaces? Absolutely!! The key word there is relationship. It is something that is built and grows progressively. I married a colleague (though he worked in another branch in another state). People become friendly and eventually date and then a romantic relationship starts. But sexual harassment jumps over the process and imposes itself.
I chose to talk about the office specifically.
Sexual harassment is wide and happens almost everywhere. A woman could be walking down the street and someone would shout
“This your nyash dey set o!”
This is embarrassing and downright scary if it is in a desolate place.
Like I said in the very beginning, women are viewed as sexual objects first of all. It has also created a dysfunction where some women see themselves as primarily sexual objects too. When they are mostly celebrated for their boobs, tiny waists, sexy hip, pointed nose… it is easy to see yourself as only an aggregate of those things.
How do we turn offices into safe spaces?
Laws, consequences and punishment.
Zero tolerance even in a privately owned establishment.
Major fines, settlements and sanctions.
Yeah but this is naija.
Here we have more pressing problems like how to eat.
I feel like Don Music that found it difficult to get his notes and would end up banging his head on the piano (in sesame street… where are my peeps that grew up in the 80s and 90s?).
I feel so helpless and futile in stemming this that I want to bang my head on the keypad. I feel like what I said won’t matter… oh well.
It always turns out well for Don Music… so fingers crossed someone will see this and rethink exerting his/her power on a subordinate for sexual gain.
Next week folk, and I may have some feedback on those clothes I went to sew in Lekki…