Responding to the growing backlash regarding sexual harassment claims

 sexual harassment claims on YouTube

Backlash. The word has a negative connotation, but the phenomenon is almost inevitable--no matter what the topic. But when the topic is sexual harassment, conversations can become so polarizing that "overwhelm" sets in with a vengeance. Lili Loufbourow explains the phenomenon: 

"With every news story there comes a moment of satiety so absolute that the weight of it trumps any story's actual merits. After everyone reads one too many descriptions of the same incident — whether it's allegations about Russian electoral interference or sexual harassment or rape — a reactionary mood sets in. It's the urge everyone gets as a news cycle crests: That's all very well and good, but come on. Time for the takedown, the pushback, the cooler heads that will reason the volume of the tide away."

Here's an example of how it happens:

"We all know what will come next. As in 2006, when the Duke lacrosse case gripped the news; as in 2014, when Rolling Stone published its piece about an alleged rape at UVA, one of the accounts coming out during this wave will be in some way disproved. When that happens, the familiar landslide of public opinion will turn. The incident will become a muted indictment of the hundreds of real victims who have come forward to tell their stories. Much of the public will seize that one false story as an excuse to facilitate the calming of the waters, the burying of a conversation so ugly and difficult that we regress to truisms about 'human nature' and try to explain sexual predations as mere 'awkwardness' or hapless attempts at flirting."

There are also the actualities of what the New York Times terms the "unexamined realities of the male libido." An observer needs to over-ride any knee-jerk responses to situations in order to consider all aspects and all inputs to complicated interpersonal situations. What tools can a person access in a situation where a gut-feel response might be inappropriate?

One choice: "Mindfulness" is meta-awareness about what one is experiencing. In a simple example, one can experience frustration or even road-rage in bad traffic among selfish drivers. Meta-awareness would be noting that one has a strong feeling and that a choice exists as to whether to run with those feelings or just sit and notice that the feeling has arisen. In other words, one can swear or yell at the other driver...OR take a breath and notice how much a part of the experience of delay is shared with other humans.

With respect to the backlash issue, meta-awareness might look like this: if one experiences a thought such as: "They are not being fair to Louis C.K." or "That's not an apology!!"-- it is possible to have two responses (at least). One response is to feel moral indignation and ramp up one's emotional agitation regarding the unfairness. Another response is to have a meta-awareness: "Oh, I am experiencing a sudden thought that might get me riled up. I can choose to let it take over, or I can just sit in this meta-awareness until it subsides." One then has the chance to ask--again and again if necessary: What really happened? 

Source: "The sexual harassment backlash is coming. Here's how to respond," by Lili Loufbourow, The Week, November 3, 2017. 

Follow up:

  • What backlash have you experienced in response to the sexual harassment allegations and the range of responses from those accused? 
  • What backlash have you felt in response to the sexual harassment allegations and the range of responses from those accused? 
  • How can mindfulness around difficult discussions and interactions on this topic be applied in the workplace?