Sexual Harassers: The Jackbooted Thugs of the Patriarchy

The headline says: More Men Report Sexual Harassment at Work. When you read it, did you think of:

A) Straight men being harassed by women?
B) Straight men being harassed by gay men?
C) Straight and/or gay men being harassed by straight men?

Most people who read that headline will likely presume it means more men are being sexually harassed by women, and a smaller number will presume it means more straight men are being harassed by gay men. Fewer still will interpret it to mean more men are reporting being harassed by straight men—so if you choose C, you're in a distinct minority, and you're also right.

Increasingly, both gay and straight men are reporting being subjected to sexual harassment perpetrated by straight men, and it's exactly the kind of sex-related abuse used to establish dominance in many examples of ritualistic hazing.

"This kind of harassment has always taken place in the workplace," [Riki Wilchins, executive director of the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C.] says. "But the kind of abrasive, sexualized horseplay that might have been acceptable 10 years ago is actionable today.

"More males realize they don't have to take it -- they can file suit."

While harassment based on sexual orientation is not protected by federal law, it's important to note that in gender-based harassment, the aggressors -- and their victims -- are likely straight.

"We assume that the vast majority of the cases are not individuals who are necessarily gay or transgender, but they're in situations where there are these abrasive codes of masculinity to which men are expected to live up to," Wilchins says.

…In the case of men harassing other men, these unwelcome behaviors could range from the use of feminine pronouns and sexual taunts, to simulated sex acts and threats of a sexually aggressive nature, according to GenderPAC.
Men now comprise about 15% of sexual harassment complainants, and almost none of the charges are filed against women, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Instead, in this minority of cases, like almost all of the 85% brought by women, the harasser is a bully. Against women, he is an alpha male affecting the posture of a compulsively leg-humping alpha dog; against men, a Nelson Muntz on steroids whose ubiquitous taunts are not just aggravating, but aggressive. These men are the patriarchy's enforcers—workplace thugs who marginalize women, gay men, and transpeople, and who insist that straight men adhere to the same norms, lest their metaphorical kneecaps meet with a metaphorical crowbar.

The patriarchy is, more than anything else, a mafia. The patriarchs—rich, white, powerful, straight men with old money and old family names—are the dons, the kingpins. Their corporate buddies, the nouveau riche captains of industry—Ken Lay, Lee Raymond, Donald Rumsfeld—are the capos, who do just enough (a woman CEO here; a black chairman of the board there) to put a mask of progress on the ancient structure. Then there are all the little made men, made by virtue of their birth—the wealthy white boys of endless American suburbs who want to be capos themselves someday, willing to do whatever it takes to get there, who prove themselves early on playgrounds with nasty words and sneering snouts. And then there are all the Henry Hills who so desperately want to be goodfellas—but by virtue of their genes, or meager beginnings, will never quite fit in—that they're willing to make their bones in the ugliest of ways, to earn themselves some begrudging respect from those born to the family. They'll vote against their own best interests—and hurt the people closest to them—to get it, and that desperation, that insatiable yearning for the unfettered access and privilege the dons dangle as a gossamer reward, makes them invaluable. Stupidly, perfectly invaluable.

All the rest of us, including the men who aren't born rich and white and straight and powerful, well, we're expected to buy ourselves some protection by laughing at the misogynist jokes and chuckling at the homophobic epithets and suffering in silence ungodly rape statistics and cheering gay bashing and never, ever raising a goddamned fuss.

But if we should, if we should, then the enforcers are meant to let us know what's what, in no uncertain terms.

This is something uppity women and gay men have known for years—and something straight men who have not the slightest inclination to be a part of the patriarchal mafia are beginning to find out in larger numbers. If you don't get down with the pussy and fag and n-----r jokes, you're gonna get beat down instead, how about them apples, queer?

The Patriarchy: Bad for everyone who ain't a patriarch!

I'm glad to see more men are bringing legal challenges to what is, truly, no more than jackbooted thuggery of behalf of the patriarchy. It happens to be important for anyone who isn't a patriarch; we are all each other's allies more than most of us see or acknowledge. As I've said before, though all of us, sans rigorous philosophical exertion, are hapless conduits for every limiting and oppressive archetype upon which the patriarchy depends, conveying the bars of our own cages, very few of us are its unconstrained beneficiaries. Even the average straight, white, middle class American man exchanges privilege for severe limitations on his personal expression and emotional life—and he is encouraged never to examine that devastating trade-off too closely, lest the veneer on the alleged bargain prove thin enough through which to see.

It's about time all of us started getting a little Eliot Ness on this shit. Except, you know, with booze.

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