The recent tragic shootings at the University of California, Santa Barbara have ignited an online conversation about the treatment of women. Hundreds of thousands of women have used the hashtag #yesallwomen to discuss the topic, and then on Saturday another group started a response under the hashtag #notallmen.
According to an article in the New York Times, "many women interviewed on this sun-splashed campus and commenting online said they believed that some of the attitudes toward women expressed by the gunman, Elliot O. Rodger, in his perverse manifesto of rage and frustration reflect some views that are echoed in the mainstream culture."
Since I blog about employment law and sexual harassment in the workplace every day, I started to peruse the twitter postings, and found some that discussed the issue in the context of the workplace. One that caught my attention stated "Not ALL men harass women. But ALL women have, at some point, been harassed by men. Food for thought."
No doubt much of this harassment occurs in the workplace, and not just on college campuses. Although Elliot Rodger was only a 22 year old student, the misogynistic sentiments expressed in his YouTube video relating to his failure to attract women are probably not that unusual among older men working with women in the office every day. They express their feelings in less violent ways, of course, but still manage to cause severe harm to their female co-workers, most of whom bury their fears and discomfort because they need their jobs and careers.
As employment lawyers, we know that only a tiny proportion of those who experience sexual harassment in the workplace ever contact us, and an even smaller proportion of those actually start a lawsuit to enforce their rights under the law. Being involved in a lawsuit is never a pleasant experience, and money damages alone are rarely enough to heal the wounds caused at work. But those who do sue and win damages against companies that have unlawfully tolerated sexual harassment are sending a message that is slowly, but surely, forcing employers to deal with the problem, rather than ignore it.It is nearly impossible to stop a determined lone gunman from doing what Elliot Rodger did last Friday. But we can make college campuses and workplaces less hospitable to the ideas that can enter in the minds of disturbed individuals by holding college administrators and employers responsible for tolerating them, and by enforcing the laws that currently exist one case at a time. If you have been sexually harassed at work, call an employment lawyer. You can help change the world.