Sexual Harassment and the Culture of Masculinity at Fox News, Uber, and in Society
Why is sexual harassment so widespread? Recent headlines reveal sexual harassment scandals at Fox News—against Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly—and a long list of technology and financial organizations including Uber and Tesla. Additional offenders play on sports teams at multiple universities. Frank Bruni of the New York Times writes that we need to take a close look at the culture of masculinity in the United States to understand the source and the pervasiveness of sexual harassment.
Bruni explains that the US culture of masculinity teaches that a man must be “a force of nature with untamable appetites” for conquering women, bullying opponents, and avoiding domestic chores such as changing diapers. He notes that Donald J. Trump won millions of votes by projecting a classic masculine persona, indicating that a large segment of Americans find this notion of manhood familiar and acceptable.
Bruni cites a new study by Promundo, a nonprofit organization promoting gender equity, showing that the messages young men receive today about how to be a man have not changed. For example, in a sample of thirteen hundred American men between the ages of eighteen and thirty, 75 percent said they are supposed to act strong even when they are scared or nervous, 63 percent said that they’re exhorted to seize sex whenever available, and 46 percent said that they’re waved away from household chores. Bruni notes that the results of this study reflect “a constricted concept of manhood that includes aggression, hypersexuality, supreme authority, and utter self-sufficiency,” described by some sociologists as the “man box.”
Bruni reflects that the cost to men of living in the “man box” is that these men are “more likely to act out in self-destructive ways such as substance abuse and online bullying.” Condoning a hypermasculine concept of manhood actively damages our society. President Trump currently
- Surrounds himself with generals
- Increases the military budget
- Cuts funding for arts, science, healthcare, and the social safety net
Let’s not forget the message he is sending to men and boys when he defends Bill O’Reilly as “doing nothing wrong” by sexually harassing women.
Fox News provides an example of a company culture that affirms hypermasculinity and condones sexual harassment. Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt write that the company stood behind O’Reilly for two decades while legally silencing multiple women and quietly paying millions of dollars to settle sexual harassment claims against him—even after dismissing Roger Ailes last summer and vowing “not (to) tolerate behavior that disrespects women.” Fox News continued to tolerate O’Reilly. Two of O’Reilly’s settlements occurred after the dismissal of Ailes, yet Fox didn’t punish O’Reilly.
I wrote in a previous article about the ways that organizations like Fox News perpetuate cultures that condone sexual harassment. As long as organizations silence women and allow women’s careers to be ruined while protecting powerful men, sexual harassment will continue unabated.
Uber is another example of a masculine culture negatively impacting women, but a glimmer of hope for change appears possible. Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times reports that revelations about the culture of sexism and sexual harassment at Uber were no surprise to women in other Silicon Valley organizations because
- Sexual harassment is rampant in technology companies
- The men responsible for sexual harassment are rarely punished
- Nothing changes because of a deeply entrenched “bro culture,” described by Sam Polk in the New York Times
Manjoo says that Uber’s competition provides a glimmer of hope. He cites Karen Catlin, an advocate for women in the tech industry, who explained that there is a “heightened awareness of the issues women face due to misogynistic men” since the Women’s March in January 2017. The March marshalled grassroots social media energy to pressure Uber to change (#deleteUber). Uber lost many customers to competitors because of this pressure. Certain key investors have declared their intention to hold Uber accountable for change.
Manjoo writes, “It could take years of careful and publicly embarrassing actions for Uber and other companies to become more hospitable to women.” Note the key concept here: publicly embarrassing actions. Transparency and accountability are essential. We must eliminate nondisclosure forms that silence women and prevent accountability. Maybe Uber will lead the way in creating a corporate culture more hospitable to women. Unfortunately, this is not likely to happen at Fox News.