In my last Ethical Musings post, Employment and ethics, I argued that inculcating virtue is the best approach to Christian ethics.
Women refusing to accept sexual harassment, especially in the workplace, have spawned the Hashtag Me too movement. Women are denouncing harassers; employers are beginning to take those complaints seriously, appropriately disciplining or firing abusive male employees instead of paying the accuse hush money upon signing a confidentiality agreement.
One explanatory factor for the movement, although in no way a mitigating factor in terms of a harasser’s culpability, is that women historically were not part of the workforce. World War II marked the first widespread entry of women into the labor force. Regrettably, women entering the workforce did not become a catalyst for men treating women with the dignity and respect with which men treated male members of the workforce. Instead, men continued to devalue women. Too often, men regarded women as lesser beings to be exploited as sexual objects rather than human beings equally worthy, along with men, of dignity and respect. This treatment of women as subordinate beings is evident in women typically earning less money for the same work than do men, slower or more limited promotion opportunities for women, categorizing certain tasks (domestic work, teaching, caring for the sick and elderly) as “woman’s work,” and sexual harassment.
In the Book of Common Prayer’s Baptismal vows, Christians promise to respect the dignity of every human being. No distinction is made for gender (or sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, political views, etc.). Sexual harassment – in any context – is immoral and unchristian.
Given human imperfection, sexual harassment will never entirely disappear. But the Hashtag Me too movement is an overdue growing pain as our society moves towards becoming more just, more equitable. Instead of being dismayed by the prevalence of sexual harassment, recognize that the growing refusal of women (and many men) to accept immoral behavior in the workplace and elsewhere is a sign of progress in an otherwise discouraging time.
Critically, cultivate in yourself, your friends and colleagues, and, most importantly, children and young people habits consistent with perceiving and treating all people with equal dignity and respect. These habits include use of appropriate language and touch, avoiding demeaning thoughts or words, and seeking to see God, or at least the good, in each person. Then, when confronted with a situation in which you have the opportunity to ill treat someone for your pleasure or gain, a situational temptation that is generally inevitable if not frequent, have confidence that your habits reinforced by God’s luring, will cause you to act rightly without having to think about what to do.