January 27, 2018

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Men Exposing Themselves

Exposed DarkroomAmidst the recent flood of disturbing stories of sexual misconduct, we've heard report after report of some of these men exposing themselves to women. These reports are too common to ignore, and that leads me to think that this happens far more often than I ever realized. I have to wonder what these men are thinking. Does exposing oneself to someone like this ever work? Does the unfortunate woman on the receiving end of it ever respond positively? I'd think not. And unless the men who do this are impaired in some major way, I'd have to think that they probably don't anticipate a positive response either. Thus, I suspect that those who do it are doing it for reasons other than because they think it will be appealing to the woman.

Outside of settings providing mental health treatment, I've only encountered a few men who exposed themselves and none who would have done so in the workplace. Sex did not have anything to do with it for any of them. What seemed to drive the behavior in most cases was a desire to shock. This was sometimes combined with negative attitudes toward women, but this was not present in all cases. I remember one guy who preferred exposing himself to other men because he thought they would find it funny.

I find some forms of sexual misconduct easier to understand than others. I can imagine, for example, how a man with poor social skills could be a bit too persistent in pursuing a relationship with a co-worker. Maybe she says she's busy the first couple times, and he doesn't realize that she's only saying that to be nice. He persists, and she begins to feel uncomfortable. I have seen this scenario play out enough times that I'm not surprised by it.

On the other hand, I have real trouble understanding the whole exposing oneself scenario. If it is about wanting sex, it seems like an incredibly ineffective and dangerous way to go about it. And if it is more about the desire to shock, it seems like a stupid gamble to take when there would have to be plenty of alternatives that could accomplish the same goal. Wouldn't almost all employers immediately fire someone for doing this? And wouldn't many people report this sort of thing to law enforcement?

Of course, most of the men we have been hearing about are wealthy, powerful, and occupy positions of influence. Perhaps exposing oneself means something different for them. Maybe it is about the exercise of power and intended to communicate something to the women along the lines of, "Social norms don't apply to me, and there's nothing you can do about it." 

I suppose I may just have to put this one in the category of things I'll probably never understand. And to be honest, I'm not entirely sure this one is something I really want to understand.