Harassment or Humor –––The thin line
Jokes at the workplace sometimes symbolize camaraderie and a feeling of joy spread with the people who make the joke and the people who laugh. However, not all jokes are just “jokes”. Often, a joke hides a negative assumption and deep prejudice with it.
Such jokes sometimes form the basis of sexual harassment in the workplace. Therefore, harassment or humor has a thin line. But, there are things that one must be aware of before making a joke or perhaps, even thinking them.
Where is the line?
We currently live in a patriarchal world, where mansplaining is more common and often understated as a problem at all. Women are treated differently, and even when men do not ‘intend’ on insulting or hurting them. The intentions are so deeply rooted within our psyche that we do not realize what we are saying or doing is wrong. The idea of chauvinism has been internalized to an extent that even women think it is alright in some cases, which are definitely not alright. However, understanding the line between humor and harassment is important.
Humor shapes human interactions. Often times, sexual harassment is understood as something that is absolutely outright—such as openly making mean comments or blackmail. However, harassment is far subtler than that and is the primary cause of making a woman or anyone in the workplace uncomfortable.
As a matter of fact, the legal definition of sexual harassment consists of any sexual innuendo, joke, threat or other behavior that annoys, upsets or creates fear in anyone else present in the workplace. This is a very wide range of behaviors and many different actions can fall under the category of sexual harassment and law.
Harmless flirting or harassment
One of the things that one has to keep in mind is whether it is harmless flirting or harassment. Making romantic advances toward another individual at your workplace might make them uncomfortable and is most definitely considered harassment. Some advances may be considered acceptable, however, if the person who is receiving the comments is uncomfortable or has made it clear that they do not want to be treated in such a manner, they are liable to file a complaint about harassment.
Another thing to keep in mind is calling them names. A lot of people might not consider this behavior sexual harassment. However, name calling is not just a nuisance. If the person feels hurt or harassed by this continuous name calling or names that demean the other person sexually, they are a basis for sexual harassment.
Any nickname that is slightly suggestive even is offensive and rude, suggestive as well. Therefore, this can lead to several emotional and physical problems, driving the person to suicide as well. It is not for anyone to judge how much a person can ‘handle’. Workplaces must maintain a certain decorum and name calling is a big no.
Along with name calling or whistling or making sexual advances, jokes are also a basis for sexual harassment at the workplace. These jokes can be of several types and can include a lot of things. Because there is no clear cut boundary on what one can joke about and what one cannot. It is a subtler aspect that a lot of us fail to keep up with. However, what is important is the awareness and an attempt to change.
When one is capable of offending
Sometimes, the personal is political. Making a joke, which may be harmless to you, can insult or offend another. When one is capable of not offending, finding such a joke funny can link to your internalized bias of what the joke stands on. Some jokes that can be viable for sexual harassment are:
- Crude remarks or sexually suggestive jokes about co-workers or a particular gender
- Displaying pornographic images or content, cartoons or drawings
- Any sort of demeaning or suggestive gesture
- Any sort of touching that the person feels is inappropriate such as tickling, rubbing, grabbing and the like
- Insults that are sexual in nature
- Threats or coercion, blackmail
Any joke that is suggestive or sexual in nature can make a person feel very uncomfortable. This bevahior is not alright, and one must report this immediately. Whether you report it anonymously or not is up to you, however, do not ignore this if this is happening to you.