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  • Dr. Ted Klontz

What Harassment?

A while back I attended a gathering of several thousand people and I was clearly in the minority. There may have been a dozen other men there, the rest, all female. From infants in arms to those in their 8th and 9th decade of life. The gathering had a common theme. A theme organized around the experience of being a woman in our white male dominated world.

I was a silent observer. I listened. Deeply. I was moved several times to the edge of tears by what I was witnessing. I had a sense that if women could and would gather in large numbers like this more often, here, and in the other places where they were meeting on that day by the thousands; if they were ever to begin exercising their collective, mostly dormant power that they have to change the world, life as we know it will end. If they ever, collectively, in large numbers, realize just how repressed and suppressed they are, watch out.

I didn’t know if it would ever happen, or if it did, how it might happen. I also thought it would be a good thing, ultimately, for our world. It also seemed clear to me it would have to come from within their own minds and souls and actions and ranks, not something imposed by males from the outside. The one thing I could do was support them in whatever way presented itself. I also walked away committed to learning more about how I might be a part of the problem. Intuitively, I knew I was a part of the problem, I just wasn’t sure of exactly how.

It seems the awakening has begun. Ironically, one man’s egregious behavior has triggered it. It is happening. Women are beginning to speak up. They are beginning to support each other. They are less and less likely to put up with the nonsense of our white patriarchal privileged culture.

Whether what we are currently experiencing is a short-lived contraction before the birth of systemic change, or the witnessing of the actual birth of societal change, something very powerful is happening. History is full of such tipping points.

I could not have predicted the form, but its current manifestation is the “Me Too” movement. I wrote last month of a new awareness of how my attitudes and beliefs (about women and their use of make-up), though closely held and mostly unspoken, represented an example of one of the ways that I am part of the problem. (I'm sure that even in writing about this, I am inadvertently saying something that represents more of the same kinds of attitudes and beliefs.)

The “Me Too” movement, at this point in time, is focused primarily on women’s experiences of sexual harassment/sexual abuse. I believe the issue has deeper roots. That belief was most recently fed by a comment someone made about my last blog post when he cautioned me to not to lose my sense of humor. Sense of humor? Towards women? Their comment suggesting not making fun of women would be a loss of my sense of humor?

I have a strong suspicion that sexual harassment is just one of the ugly products of a more generalized and pervasive harassment of women, immigrants, minorities and all the other human “targets”.

What if we said, “no more” to harassment? In any form? What if we broadened the operational definition of harassment? What if we recognized harassment for what it is, an abuse of power? What if we refrained from telling demeaning jokes about the nature of women which, I believe, sow the very seeds which too often metastasize into full-blown physical, emotional, sexual harassment and other forms of abuse.

What if we stopped making it “ok” to comment in a joking way about the nature of men. Or racial jokes. Or ethnic jokes. Or religious jokes. Old people jokes. Young people jokes. Off-color jokes. Teasing others. Having “fun” at their expense. All based on stereotyping. All derogatory. What if we stopped sowing these seeds of full blown harassment?

One could argue that such things represent a type of bullying. Something we are appalled to see our children do, but seem blind to our own behavior that would fit into that category. I would suggest that they learn it from their adult world. I am guessing they are simply doing their version of what has been done to them or what they have witnessed in the adult world.

What if we considered harassment occurring when others are made fun of? Or mocking them. Or ridiculing them. Demeaning them. Putting them down. Directly or indirectly. Intentionally or unintentionally. Consciously or sub-consciously. I’m of the opinion that my making someone else, individually or by group, the butt or target of my sense of humor is a type of harassment that has a dehumanizing effect. That, then, makes it more likely that other types of harassment will follow.

I know when people have targeted me with their humor, and even though I may have laughed with them at the time, or smiled, it quite often hurts. I feel mocked. I feel made fun of. I feel dehumanized.

At this point in my life I don’t hang around with people who do that to me or others. If they do it to others, they will do it to me. I’m of the opinion that it usually doesn’t cut as deeply because I am a white male and part of the dominant culture, WHEN I am a part of the dominate culture.

I know that in my travels around the world, in those places where I am a minority, the occasional jokes and “kidding” about me as a white male American sting more. Why? Because I am an outsider, and because my position is not secure. Women, minorities, the physically challenged, the aged live that feeling daily right here in our country.

I can imagine some will say, I’m too sensitive. I've been accused of that before. And that is probably true. There is, however, some evidence that the sensitivity that we begin training out of little boys at a very young age ends up manifesting itself in many ways ranging from shortened life spans, increased propensity for violence (or the enjoyment of watching it), addiction, and other mental health issues (including a suggested link to the lone mass shooter situation in our country), AND the dehumanizing of other human beings and all that brings.

One of my teachers told me, “Never make fun of someone about something they cannot change in 10 seconds.” I am wondering if it shouldn’t be, “Never make fun of someone else.” Period.

That’s become my personal goal. “What a glum, sad, depressed world that must be”, someone said to me when I mentioned that. Actually, it isn't. It is actually more rich and more full.

When I look at the mentors and teachers that I look up to, none of them ever make fun of others. They seem to have lived a pretty full life. As I look back to historical figures that I admire, I see the same thing.

Maybe we can stop the sexual and other types of harassment, by redefining "fun". By beginning to address the larger issue of harassment. In any form. I am.

Your thoughts?

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