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Challenging "boys will be boys" in the workplace

With all of the sexual harassment scandals among politicians and celebrities, including Herman Cain and David Letterman, it is no longer surprising that we have come to accept some of the bad behavior as the age-old "boys will be boys" mentality.

While most Americans agree that sexual harassment is serious matter, there is nothing surprising the media uncovering a new incident. A new commentary suggests that the association of powerful men with sexual harassment cases makes it seem acceptable, or at least something to be swept under the rug. Herman Cain actually gained support and an increase in ratings after the exposure of his affairs.

This resigned attitude towards politicians, CEOs, athletes and celebrities who find themselves in a workplace sex-scandal spotlight is problematic. Observers find it harder and harder to generate outrage about these types of incidences and the public no longer seems to care. The widespread notion is that our leaders, including our celebrities are "only human."

The idea that this is "just the way men are" makes sexual harassment purely about men's sexual desires, without regarding the cultural attitudes that perpetuate the behavior. Sexual harassment is more than just sexual desires, but contributes to gender inequality. According to statistics one in five women has experienced unwelcome attentions. While what we have termed "sexual harassment" has always been experienced by women in the workplace, this does not mean that it is simply biologically "programmed" into men. It points both to cultural understandings of masculinity and has complicated work relationships for women who have been forced to deal with the advances.

The actual relationships between men and women in the workplace are culturally created and any acceptance only further encourages these kinds of dynamics. How we view sexual harassment in the workplace is critical to forming a productive and equal workplace.

The Huffington Post, "The 'Nature' of Sexual Harassment," Julie Berebitsky, April 17, 2012.

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