Sexual harassment is less prevalent among men than women, but it still happens. And according to a recent study, men struggle to deal with it.
Researchers at Michigan State University surveyed more than 6,000 men and women serving in the five branches of the U.S. military. The surveys touched on 16 different types of physical and verbal harassment—seemingly covering everything.
For women, sexual harassment was threatening, but only when they saw it as frightening—not when they saw it as bothersome. For men, sexual harassment was threatening whether it was frightening or bothersome.
Isis Settles, the study’s lead investigator, told EurekAlert:
People tend to underestimate the impact of sexual harassment on men. [Men] typically haven’t had a lifetime of experiences dealing with sexual harassment and may not know how to deal with it when it happens to them.
The study also says that sexual harassment is no less distressing for women than it is for men.
Settles noted that women experience sexual harassment so frequently—60 percent according to the survey—that they’re sort of developing something similar to “immunity to infection following exposure to a virus.”
Margaret Hartmann of Jezebel wrote:
Instead, the study suggests that women are experiencing so much harassment that they’ve learned to differentiate between annoying and threatening behavior. While harassment may be surprising for men, it’s so common for women that they’ve been forced to develop a way to keep functioning in a hostile environment.
The results are an unsettling reminder of the harmful effects of male privilege. Men are so accustomed to not being vigilant and on guard against harassment, assault, and rape that we’re often blind to the ceaseless precautions women take. Our reaction to harassment is often one of indignation, as though men, by nature, are supposed to be exempt.
The status quo is so deeply ingrained that when men feel violated by unwelcome advances or even—yes, it happens, and more frequently than we think—assault or rape, we won’t speak up out of fear of shame and humiliation. We fear that by being male victims, we’re not real men.
Sexual harassment is pervasive and ubiquitous and happens to people of all genders. Even if the statistics are disproportionate—and my guess is, if you factor in undocumented male abuse in the prison system, it might not be—our support of victims needs to be gender-blind. Fighting rape culture means refusing to diminish victims’ experiences because of their frequency or their perceived abnormality. The impact of abuse is the same.
We’ve just got to start listening.