Male sexual harassment is sure having a moment. Earlier this month, after a male aide's allegation that he was groped by ex-Congressman Eric Massa, the Associated Press reported that a growing number of men are filing such claims, and today the Wall Street Journal tries to make sense of the recent increase against the backdrop of the recession. Even "Family Guy" jumped into the conversation this week, making a few easy jokes about the apparent hilarity of a man being sexually harassed by a woman.
So, what gives? Why has this become a hot topic now?
It's hard to say whether sexual harassment against men has actually increased or whether more men are simply going public with it. The Journal argues that it's that latter, fueled by current economic straits -- and, as we all know, far more men than women have lost their jobs as a result of the recession. Men might have once just quit a job that came along with a hostile work environment and found another gig, but many will find that there aren't any other jobs. A similar predicament awaits those who are laid off or fired. It's these pressures that just might convince a man to fight against the strong cultural undercurrents working against him reporting it.
The idea of a lady boss making sexual passes at a male underling is considered the stuff of masculine fantasy. (See: "Family Guy," above.) Much like sex abuse cases involving a female teacher and a male student tend to elicit rhetorical high-fives for the supposed Casanova Jr., a man is expected to report his boss's advances to his buddies over a congratulatory beer, not to a civil rights lawyer. Maybe even more challenging is the prospect of reporting sexual harassment by another man. Men are expected to be their own defenders -- if a guy grabs your crotch, you deck him, right? Problem solved. As Ron Chapman, an attorney with an employment law firm, tells the Journal, most people respond to stories of guy-on-guy sexual harassment along the lines of "Why didn't the guy just hit him upside the head?"
The truth, say experts, is that most of the cases brought forward by men in recent years involve same-sex harassment, and they increasingly involve "'locker room' type behavior like vulgar talk and horseplay with sexual connotations," according to the Journal. It can encompass anything from a man's boss trying to have sex with him to coworkers subjecting him to a "sexualized form of hazing," as the AP put it. It's possible that the financial crisis has men feeling more open to seeing themselves as victims; and, if the popularity of the term "mancession" is any indication, maybe both men and women are increasingly open to the idea of guys being victimized.
It's worth mentioning that employment lawsuits generally increase during tough economic times, and that women still file the vast majority of sexual harassment claims. But it's reasonable to assume that just as the economic devastation, which has generally hit men harder, has led some to re-evaluate gender roles at home, it might do some of the same in the workplace.