Degrees of Suffering

I know a woman who was sexually harassed by her boss. She was a single mother of three and really struggling. He said if she didn’t sleep with him, he’d get her fired. When he failed to get her fired, he said he’d turn the workplace into hell for her. And he did. She still didn’t sleep with him and fought like a lioness for her job. It was either staying employed or going back on food stamps to feed the kids. This went on for years. The boss’s buddies joined the hounding, and it got even worse. The story has a good ending but she suffered a lot in the process.

If the women who sleep with their bosses or professors to get promoted, published, funded, noticed, etc are harassed, then what was my friend? There is a fundamental difference between women who whored themselves out unsuccessfully or uncomfortably and women who didn’t. There’s got to be a recognition that there’s a very different degree of suffering here.

There’s also an obvious class difference between women like my friend and the spoiled drama queens who are now telling us that the sex acts they willingly engaged in seem wrong 20 years later because they are becoming aware of “the power differential.” Women who have to feed 3 kids on an almost-minimum-wage job don’t have the luxury of slowly figuring out the power differential. It’s kind of always there for them.

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6 thoughts on “Degrees of Suffering”

  1. \ There is a fundamental difference between women who whored themselves out unsuccessfully or uncomfortably and women who didn’t.

    In my eyes the difference lies not only in the (non) existence of sexual acts but also in the context.

    I view a woman who sleeps with her boss as a result of being in a position similar to your former friend’s very differently from “women who sleep with their bosses or professors to get promoted, published, funded, noticed, etc.”

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    1. Of course,it’s a completely different situation if one was threatened with the loss of one’s livelihood. But it’s a class issue. Nobody cares about the harassment experienced by women living in poverty. All the attention goes to the spoiled drama queens who can’t get over an imperfect date.

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  2. I dated a professor in another department. We were both tenured. I did not realize there was a power differential until:
    1/ I wanted to break up, but had become aware of this professor’s friendship with my dean and realized trouble would be made for me if/when I did it;
    2/ I finally got up the courage to break up and in fact had trouble made for me.
    So yes, it is possible not to be aware of the power differential at the beginning. Of course, I wouldn’t even start if there were a power differential I could identify.

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  3. Honestly there are things you only become aware of with age. Like saying “I’m 16″online is basically like saying “I swallow” to a room of men.

    Also I’ve read a lot of autobiographies and if you do not grow up with parents who model healthy boundaries for you, it’s difficult to know when lines are being crossed.

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