Donald Trump's advice for sexually harassed women is as victim-blaming as it gets
Like approximately 33% of the population, according to one estimate, I am a woman who has experienced workplace sexual harassment.
The nature of the harassment has ranged in severity, from the irritating-yet-mundane (a colleague asking me to give him advice on getting his girlfriend to have sex with him) to the more insidious (being accidentally cc'ed on an email, as a young media intern, labeling me a "skintern," a hilarious pun but an offensive one nonetheless) to the more egregious (a coworker snapping me at 1 a.m., saying "I want to fuck you on the kitchen table.").
Like most of the women who have been sexually harassed in the workplace, I never reported these incidents, either because I didn't think they were a huge deal or because I thought doing so would make me vulnerable to criticism at work or because a small, stupid part of me, if I'm being perfectly honest, found them flattering. I handled these incidents on my own, either by laughing them off or ignoring them altogether.
Apparently this gives me far less moral fortitude than Donald Trump, who has some thoughts about how his daughter Ivanka would hypothetically respond to workplace harassment.
"I would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case," Trump said, when asked by a USA Today columnist what he thought of the recent sexual harassment charges against former Fox News head Roger Ailes, who was accused of inappropriate behavior by more than a dozen women.
Eric Trump doubled down on his father's comments, adding: "Ivanka is a strong, powerful woman, she wouldn't allow herself to be objected to it. And by the way, you should take it up with human resources, and I think she would as a strong person, at the same time, I don't think she would allow herself to be subjected to that. I think that's a point he was making, and I think he did so well."
For a woman of privilege like Ivanka Trump, this might be fantastic advice; better to abandon ship then to deal with the psychological and professional consequences of having your ass swatted by a leering colleague during a company meeting, or to be extorted for a blowjob by your supervisor during performance reviews.
But for women who have faced sexual harassment in the workplace, it is decidedly bad advice. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to leave a job after experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace — and telling them to do so in the first place is a form of victim blaming akin to telling a woman she shouldn't wear a short skirt at a bar or walk alone on a dark street.
"That is one of the most absurd comments I have ever heard coming from anyone, let alone a candidate for president of the United States," Derek Smith, a sexual harassment lawyer based in New York, said in a phone interview. "When I hear anybody saying that women who are sexually harassed in the workplace should not come forward with their concerns, that is demeaning and degrading and treating women like second-class citizens and condoning sexual harassment in the workplace."
"By not encouraging women to [file a complaint]," Smith said, Trump was effectively "facilitating a cycle that will only embolden someone who will sexually harass, someone who will discriminate." It's a way of telling women they are responsible for the actions of the men who abuse them — and that they alone should suffer the consequences as a result.
"He knew where I lived": According to a 2008 survey by the Association of Women for Action and Research, which surveyed 500 women and 92 companies, 54% of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, with 27% saying they'd been harassed by a colleague and 17% by a supervisor. These instances of harassment range widely in severity, from receiving a lascivious or uncomfortable compliment, to hearing a sexist joke, to being threatened with termination should they not comply with their harasser's request to have sex with them.
Although sexual harassment is incredibly common, only 29% of women actually decide to report these incidents, largely out of fear that their attacker will bear no consequences or, worse, that they will be punished for reporting them. And because that is, unfortunately, so often the case in practice, it's easy to see why so many view staying silent as women's best option.
Samantha*, 24, learned this firsthand when she went on a business trip with her former boss. After he insisted on booking conjoining rooms for the two of them — adding that he'd "just leave this closed. It'll be up to you to use it at all" — he arrived shirtless at her door to offer her a beer.
After she politely refused his offer, Samantha complained to a male supervisor about his behavior at the conference. "This person, a man, completely brushed aside my concern, saying that 'he's a nice guy!' And 'he's like your creepy grandpa,'" she said in an email. "Then he looked at me long and hard and said '...right?'" Ultimately, Samantha's boss was not even approached about his inappropriate behavior at the conference.
"The entire process just made me feel more victimized."
Fiona*, 38, had an even more frustrating experience when she reported being sexually harassed by an older male coworker who carpooled to work with her. For weeks, the man would touch Fiona's thigh while she drove and tell her how unhappy he was with his wife and kids. "I did not respond to these statements or encourage them," she said.
Fiona eventually decided to report the man to HR after he'd started telling their coworkers that he would leave his wife for her; she was appalled by how her report was handled.
"The entire process just made me feel more victimized," she said. "It was as if I was a difficult child creating a situation that no one wanted to deal with ... They literally said to me 'what do you want us to do?' like I was the person who should make the decision for them."
In the end, they put Fiona's coworker on a week's leave with pay. "If I had it to do over again? I would probably have told them to fire him," she said. "But then what would have happened? He knew where I lived and could have easily retaliated."
"Women go to work, to work": In a world where women are concerned about the prospect of facing physical violence upon reporting a male coworker for inappropriate behavior, it makes sense why they would be loath to retaliate. Yet that doesn't change the fact that legally speaking, the onus is on the victim to report inappropriate behavior to HR — not on men to stop behaving like their office is a veritable vulva buffet.
The current mentality is: "If you don't like being sexually harassed, then you should be the one to remove yourself from the situation," Fiona said. "As opposed to thinking — 'men need to stop this behavior because it is wrong and inappropriate.'"
Even in an era of EEOC-mandated workplace behavior trainings and finger-wagging news headlines about the behavior of skeezeballs like Ailes, the truth is that women are still strongly discouraged from speaking out about harassment in the workplace, just as they are discouraged from reporting sexual abuse in general. To speak openly about a coworker who regularly makes sexist comments or stares at your breasts or snaps you his dick is to risk being labeled a troublemaker, or worse, assumed to have been "asking for it" — thus rendering an already vulnerable segment of the workforce even more so.
Donald and Eric Trump's comments on workplace harassment were stupid for a few reasons, chief among them that they place the onus on women to change their behavior or else risk inviting harassment from coworkers, as opposed to teaching men to, you know, not sexually harass their colleagues to begin with.
"Women go to work, to work. We deserve to feel safe there."
"Women cannot just change careers — I already spent four years and thousands of dollars in school for this one," Kara*, 27, who experienced workplace harassment from an older male colleague said in an email. "Will the man who harassed me pay for the career change he is responsible for?"
But ultimately, the takeaway from the Trumps' comments isn't that they don't understand the current political climate of the workforce, or that women less privileged and "strong" than Ivanka don't necessarily have the means to hop from job to job and office to office like a workplace-themed game of Frogger. It is that they understand the political climate of the workforce all too well.
It is one that encourages women to stay "strong" against workplace abusers because what do they have to lose, while simultaneously telling women to stay silent — or else risk losing everything. It's one that places the onus on women to dress the right way and talk the right way — or else risk inviting the wrong kind of response from men who just can't manage to keep their dicks in their work-appropriate khakis. It's one that the Trumps feel comfortable in, because that is the world they want to continue building. And it's one that Trump's daughter, Ivanka, an ostensible advocate for women in the workplace who has assured voters her father will serve as president on behalf of working women, desperately needs to condemn, or else risk perpetuating decades of silence.
If nothing else, it's Ivanka Trump, not the hundreds of thousands of women who have been threatened or harassed or extorted by men in the workplace, who needs to speak up against decades of institutionalized workplace misogyny. It's Ivanka Trump who needs to use her privilege as a platform to stand up and disavow her father's comments, and say exactly what Kara* told us:
"Women go to work, to work. We deserve to feel safe there. We deserve to be respected, and treated professionally."