Is culture the reason for sexual harassment?

NOTE: This is the UNEDITED version of the article submitted to the Shenzhen Daily and published in December 2017.

I read the article “Another storm: sexual harassment allegations”, 2017-12-04, and found myself disagreeing with the author.

He has made numerous errors in the article and skipped over the historical elements of the acts that were performed in the Oval Office. Where is the acknowledgement of President Warren G Harding’s erotic love notes? Stepping outside of the White House, why not acknowledge the actions of Tony Blair in No. 10, the first night he became British Prime Minister? 

He focuses on a consensual act between two people, that has been happening for thousands of years before the Egyptians had built the pyramids. He speaks of extramarital affairs by previous presidents, yet ignores the fact that the current US president is on his 3rd marriage and has bragged about his extra-marital affairs in the past. The current US president has bragged about making unwanted sexual advances on married women, yet the author blames the former US President JFK.

Now, some may say that I am condoning sexual assault and abuse. Of course, I am not. Those that abuse others deserve the punishment that they receive. The author questions why women are speaking now and suggest that the reason is culture.

Clearly, it is not “culture”. The issue is power. The author glosses over the issue of power, when it is, in fact, the central issue.

For hundreds, if not thousands, of years, men have been the holders of power in almost all cultures. If women did not keep quiet about anything that happened to them, they were shut out from potential improvements in their lot. 

The lack of opportunities without “benefits” is not unique to women. It is also the case for minorities and the LGBTIQ community. Anyone who is vulnerable is suspect to abuse. How often have we heard the term that women need to speak up, but as soon as they do speak up, they are told that they are “shrill”?

As a result, the questions about “unacceptable behavior” being viewed as acceptable because of culture is incorrect. It became culture because no-one was prepared to correct it. As soon as women started to speak out in numbers against such abuse, women felt emboldened by it. You only need to look at the recent Glamor Awards, where almost every woman stood when asked if they had been on the receiving end of some form of sexual abuse. It is not a matter of culture – this is a matter of power because, without the power to decide who to hire and fire, the men in positions of power would never have been able to get away with it.

There is one thing that the author does get right. Why is President Trump allowed to get away with it? From what I understand, the nearly 20 women are still pushing their cases through the courts, and hopefully, the time will come. Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the Senate seat in Alabama, may well struggle to be elected this week because of the allegations against him. Both are and were in positions of power, hence their ability to get away with their actions, and for the women that suffered as a result.

Instead of arguing that culture is the problem, look around at the power that those people had. People are not rational economic beings; we are not homo economicus – while people are narrowly self-interested, people will not behave in the most optimal behavior. We have all heard stories about people who have “slept their way to the top” – such power is not without its flaws. It was Francois-Marie Arouet who said, “With great power, comes great responsibility”, and many men have forgotten the second half of that quote.


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