Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Sexualized Workplace

You haven't seen me endorsing American Apparel as I searched for non-sweat shop clothes. That wasn't an oversight. They're anti-union for one thing. But, equally important in terms of human rights, they are a classic example of a sexualized workplace in the United States.

Dov Charney, founder and CEO, intentionally creates the highly sexualized atmosphere at American Apparel:

It doesn't help Charney's case that his stores are papered with Penthouse and Oui magazine snapshots and that he happily admits to having sex with his employees. Nor does it help that he brags about his penchant for masturbating in front of women. So much so, that he masturbated in front of reporter Claudine Ko while she interviewed him for Jane magazine.

Yes, you read that right. He masturbates in front of people. At work. The CEO of American Apparel masturbates in front of reporters. And also employees. Talk about an abuse of power.

But you don't need to masturbate in front of your employees to create a sexualized workplace. You just need an atmosphere in which any of the following are common: obscenities, sexual jokes, sexually explicit graffiti, pornography, and sexually degrading posters.

Why is a sexualized workplace not good for work? There is, after all, a sexual charge to it. And you might enjoy that at first. But research suggests that a sexualized workplace makes sexual harassment much more likely. When obscenities or sexual jokes are commonly used at work, women are 3 to 7 times more likely to be harassed. Where do I recall sexual jokes as a tool of discrimination? Oh, that's right---Straight jobs, Gay Lives also described how sexual jokes are often used to create a hostile work environment.

What can you do if you work in a sexualized workplace?

If you have a management position, you may be able to change workplace culture. If you are an employee at low or mid level, for your own sake, prepare your resume, so that you can leave. I wish I could give practical tips for surviving a sexualized workplace, but I honestly think it is better to find a way to leave than a way to survive.