Opinion

I witnessed workplace harassment. What can I do?

Michen Dewey | The PHOENIX
Michen Dewey | The PHOENIXChicago participated in the Women’s March on Jan. 21, drawing an estimated attendance of 250,000. This came the day after worldwide protests of the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump.

I first heard about him when I started working there last August. It began with a story, whispered just after he left the room. “Dude, you’ll never believe what he did to this girl at a party. So creepy.” I heard more stories about him, stories of harassment and chauvinism and boasting about dates he’d never had. Like many men similar to him – he’s developed a reputation. “Everyone who’s met him has a bad story about him,” we joke. When a new woman joins our staff, someone usually tells her to keep him at a distance.

I know other men like him. We all do. Men who, for whatever reason, ignore the barrier between healthy expressions of romantic interest and boorishness. Men who always seem to go too far.

But things are changing, aren’t they? All these powerful men are finally being rebuked for their violations of women’s rights to live without fear. And for every Harvey Weinstein, every Bill O’Reilly — and if you believe his own recorded words, every Donald Trump — there are surely many more.

As far as I know, none of the women he’s affected have come forward. But my male coworkers and I have heard enough first-hand stories that we feel, particularly as men who want to see this kind of behavior end, to do nothing is to be complicit. So what do we do?

We could talk to him, tell him we think his behavior is inappropriate. In fact, we tried. After he expressed a troubling opinion on certain unwelcome, even illegal, sexual acts I tried to explain to him why I thought he was wrong. He didn’t listen.

We could report his conduct to someone with the authority to address it. But should we? None of these women have given me permission to act on their behalf. Why would they? I want to be an ally, but how?

I worry by not doing something, we’re part of the problem. But I also worry about what could go wrong if we do. The last thing I want is for him to retaliate against any of the women or for one of them to relive an uncomfortable or painful experience. But if my male coworkers and I remain silent, aren’t we allowing more women to be hurt?

Is this even my fight? Is there anything I or anyone can do to make him change? And, what if we’re wrong? He could just be awkward, trying a little too hard to make women like him. Would I be ruining this man’s career for his being clueless? I don’t think so, but I can’t know for sure.

I know what I’ll do for now: seek the guidance of trusted advisers and consult the friends I know he’s impacted. I’ll do my best to push for this long-overdue societal awakening where I can, and listen to those who feel this culture shift far more than I. It’s all any of us can do.

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Assistant News Editor

Christopher Hacker is an assistant news editor at The PHOENIX, where he previously worked as a news writer. Chris grew up in central Indiana, and in his spare time is an avid photographer and musician.

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