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Why have there been dozens and dozens of men accused of sexual harassment? Why has sexual misconduct continued for decades, despite corporate sexual harassment training and law suits? Why aren’t more men held accountable for their actions?
The answer comes down to how boys and men are socialized, and the masculine culture of the U.S.
First, what is socialization? It’s a process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society—and it’s the most powerful force in shaping how we behave as men and women.
Second, did you know that the U.S. scores relatively high—ranked 15 out of 53 countries—on masculinity with most people emphasizing traditional gender roles?
Socialization of girls and boys starts the minute we come into this world wrapped in pink or blue blankets. However, our gender identity really takes hold around age 4 or 5. We learn what’s acceptable in society and what’s not. We learn that girls and boys are supposed to line up separately in grade school. We learn that boys and girls should have separate clubs. And, we learn that that playing with opposite gender toys is frowned upon. In essence, we are taught how to behave in ways consistent with male or female culture, according to societal norms.
We tell boys (both in direct and indirect messages) that they must be tough, independent, take risks, not to show feelings, not to ask for help, and to have power over women. These messages are strongly and consistently reinforced through books, TV, movies, religion, politics, and in our corporate cultures. And, given the value placed on male roles in the U.S. (and in most other countries), the environment for sexual misconduct is ripe.
Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist, has studied national culture since the 1970s. He identified 6 value dimensions, one of them being masculinity. This is the degree that the culture favors traditional masculine roles such as achievement, power, and control, as opposed to viewing men and women as equals. This value system starts in childhood and continues throughout one’s life—both in work and in our personal lives.
What this means is that relative to most global nations, the American culture with its high ranking in masculinity, values male roles more than female roles. It is no wonder then, that such a large gap in leadership gender roles persist, and that sexual misconduct continues.
What Can We Do?
First, we must start valuing women and their roles in society and in our workplaces. Period. All roles are worthy of respect and valued contribution—whether CEO, manager, administrative assistant, actor, or mom. This means listening to women’s needs, treating them with respect, and offering them equal opportunities as men.
Second, the entertainment industry must stop systemically devaluing women. Stop portraying them only as sex objects, victims, supporters, nurturers, or in positions with little power. It’s a fact that women have made significant contributions to our world (past and present), and this needs to be represented accurately. The other side of this coin is to stop creating male characters that casually display (both subtle and blatant) harassment and sexism as if there’s nothing wrong with it.
Third, we must stop the hyper-masculinity of our young men. We must stop teaching them to be warriors and win at all costs. We must stop telling them that they can’t have feelings. We must stop teaching them to gain power, superiority and hierarchy over girls. And, most importantly, we must START teaching them to value and respect all women.
Fourth, we need to start holding men who sexually harass or abuse women accountable. We must stop looking the other way and speak up. We must do what’s right. What’s ethical. The #MeToo movement has made significant strides in this direction, and we need to continue the effort. It’s not okay for men to treat women like this, whether they are in powerful leadership roles or not. We need to teach men that real leadership and strength is about equality and fairness.
Dr. Shawn Andrews is a keynote speaker, organizational consultant, and the founder and CEO of Andrews Research International. She serves as adjunct professor at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, where she teaches courses on Organizational Behavior, Women in Leadership, Diversity in Organizations, and Leadership and Ethics. She was the 2017 Diversity & Inclusion columnist for Training Industry Magazine, and is the author of the book, The Power of Perception: Leadership, Emotional Intelligence, and the Gender Divide. To learn more about Dr. Andrews, visit www.drshawnandrews.com
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