“As I watch many of the senators speak and vote on the floor of the Senate I feel like I’m right back at Yale where half the room is laughing and looking the other way. Only this time, instead of drunk college kids, it is U.S. senators who are deliberately ignoring his behavior.” –Deborah Ramirez
We’ve recently been inundated with news coverage about sexual assaults and other sexually motivated offenses occurring in several professional industries. From the music industry to Hollywood to Washington DC to Silicon Valley to Wall Street and beyond, it seems that no field is immune to the recent explosion of scandals. Various hashtag movements have poured into social media feeds, celebrities and other industry representatives are using their platforms to take a stance, and social justice demonstrations are popping up throughout city streets and school campuses nationwide. Many women are finding themselves feeling inexplicably physically exhausted and/or psychologically drained. This may be in part due to emotional residue after having repeated exposure to the details in recent stories. This is called vicarious trauma and it happens as a result of being exposed to trauma stories and bearing witness to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured. Additionally, too many women are also becoming painfully cognizant of their own trauma histories of sexual harassment or assault and are being triggered.
There is a lot of pressure to prove your skill and capability as a woman in the Boys’ Club, also known as Corporate America. Walking into a workspace daily and noticing the limited number of others that look like you tend to send a message to the brain that you are unwelcome in that space. Womxn of Color in Corporate America too often struggle with psychological burdens that result from being different from colleagues due to race and/or gender expression. They tend to struggle to feel heard and valued by their male counterparts in an environment where they eagerly seek validation in their work identity and regard their work product as a reflection of their worth or value in the world. This creates the potential to feel overextended in work duties while determined to build a professional reputation. Battling imposter syndrome daily and struggling to stay focused on the next challenge can be distracting. Furthermore, there are very capable and exceptionally talented women that are unable to succeed on skill or merit, but instead by sexual attractiveness, which can result in limited opportunities.
Abuse of power is an atrocious abuse. Too many women have experienced the uncomfortable, icky feeling of denying an unwanted advance from someone in a position of authority over them, like in the workplace. When a superior crosses a line or makes an advance in the workplace, it creates a hostile work environment due to the hierarchal imbalance in the dynamic. What may begin as perceived harmless flirting, can soon intensify to sexual comments and later escalate into other unwanted sexual behaviors or threats. If or when a woman is not willing to acquiesce to these unwanted advances, a woman’s career and life may be ruined. There is often an underlying threat of being fired, psychological torture, or maybe even feeling trapped in a work position. Empathic male colleagues can similarly be afraid or feel paralyzed with fear over consequences of speaking out. Some of the offending individuals may not be able to tolerate the rejection, making it more challenging for a woman to deny the advance or to come forward to speak her truth about how she was approached. Male bullies feel threatened by powerfully ambitious women. Workplace sexual assault happens too often and is one of the least reported crimes. Women feel afraid of not being believed and/or losing their job. It seems easier to be neutral and act like nothing happened. Depression, anxiety, trouble eating, trouble thinking, and suicide can be consequences of this abuse of power. Judgment, public scrutiny, and victim-blaming are common responses, and these negative responses reinforce their fears whenever a survivor witnesses another woman’s bravery being met with contempt and even worse, apathy. Survivors are left to feel floods of sadness, devaluation, anger, helplessness, powerlessness, and resentment that can lower their motivation to work in these environments. We are all entitled to respect and emotional safety in the workplace.
Everyone holds biases for varying reasons in these situations. These unfortunate experiences are complicated by levels of subjectivity on both sides. Intentional care needs to be taken to avoid telling a story that is not yours to tell. If you were not one of the two or more individuals present, then it is impossible to know for sure. It demeans and insults courageous survivors and wrongly accused individuals. Their voices deserve to be heard. If you or someone that you know has experienced anything like this type of abuse of power, you are not alone. Therapy and support groups can be helpful towards healing traumatic wounds. Encourage your loved ones to seek support. There is no force more powerful than a woman determined to rise!
Tags: Sexual Assault, Sexual Abuse, Sexual Harassment, Workplace Abuse, Hostile Work Environments, Sexual Trauma, Survivors, Survivor Advocates, Believers, Me Too, Times Up, Depression, Self-esteem, Anxiety, Deborah Ramirez
Fellana Randall, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist & Relationship Expert that focuses on the challenges that WOC encounter in work & dating relationships. Fellana will be facilitating the Self-Healing & Empowerment (SHE) Group beginning Thursday, March 28th at 7-8:30pm. Please call 510-420-4555, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up before it is too late.