Saturday, February 05, 2011

Let's talk about sex

I want to share with you a story that I heard recently from a 23-year-old woman, let's call her Rana, who comes from a well-off middle class family and has just returned to Amman after obtaining her degree from a university abroad. As Rana enthusiastically started work at a well-respected Jordanian firm, she soon found herself face to face with what I believe is one of the biggest issues facing working women today. Rana's 40 something-year-old superior, let's call him Ra'id, turned out to be, to put it mildly, a flirt. Of course this is a problem that can easily be handled, just don't encourage him, and if needed politely push him away.

What made this specific situation more tricky is that (a) Ra'id seemed to be well connected (or at least that was the impression he gave Rana) and (b) most of the other females in the office encouraged his "flirty" behavior. A simple example is the first, and obviously last, time Rana wore a knee-high skirt to work, she was greeted with an excited "Well there you go! Finally we see those legs. They're not so bad, why were you hiding them?" Another time, Ra'id approaches Rana and touches her face. Startled, she stumbles back and says "What are you doing?" And he goes "I'm fixing your hair." Of course a few months later, Rana quit her job and found a more respectable place of employment, leaving Ra'id to have his way with the other women in that office.

Now I don't know how you would define this, but I personally say it's sexual harassment and I'm pretty sure that it's ubiquitous in the work environment in Jordan. The thing is, I asked Rana, as I asked several other women who relayed similar stories to me, "Why didn't you just tell him to go screw himself and reported it to his manager?" After some evasive responses, Rana finally yielded and said "Because I didn't want to be the only woman who complains." And so she preferred to quit.

Of course I can't help but wonder about those who can't quit. Because I'm assuming that the more you need a job, the more aggressive the harassment will be. And I wonder if this is one of the reasons why many women are not part of the workforce in Jordan, or if the main problem is that there is no sexual harassment law in the country. However, the issue of lack of legislation is generally a symptom and not a cause. There is no law because people didn't ask for it, because as Rana said, they don't want to be the only ones to complain about something that is uncomfortable to talk about in the first place. I would be curious to know if the women who encourage such sexual advances do so because they feel that it is expected from them, and would prefer not to be on the receiving end, or if they actually enjoy the attention. I like to believe it's the first. Because then, there could be something we can do about it, instead of quitting our jobs or leaving the country.

And just like the recent demand for change overwhelming us, if there isn't once voice against this problem, it will never be seriously addressed. Any chance we can talk about this?


anis said...

If I were rana, I would have reported this to the manager. And im pretty sure this happens on a daily basis in every office out there. Flirting could lead to sexual harassment. Too bad she decided to quit instead.

Anonymous said...

Of course we can, we should, and I think a few have, however I am not sure about the claim that there is no legislation to protect women and/or men against harassment in the workplace; how can we get official data, that is, if you haven’t already?! One thing I am sure of on the other hand, is that women do play a big part in the job environment in Jordan and nowadays and increasingly so many families depend on these young women’s incomes to uphold the family home! They might not have glamorous jobs however they make up quite a substantial percentage of the employment statistics; be it on the record or, a lot of the time, off! We need an entity to do some real on-the-ground research and tell us! What do you think? I never knew about this blog; will be following you from now on and I am sure you don’t mind my argumentative comments, right??? ;) It’s me byt he way; can’t be bothered with opening an account today! :D Xox

Anonymous said...

wow he actually said that about her legs ???

Rana should've told he brothers & they should've beaten the shit out of him. Not to sound vulgar or anything, but it works with this kind of coward men. Sexual Harrassment ? I don't think the law will protect will harm her 'reputation'

Loulia said...

Women in the West also have trouble reporting this sort of things because they're afraid of the consequences. Circumstances and legal protection may vary according to countries, but the sad fact is that women are pretty much expected to accept/tolerate this type of treatment from men.

I've heard stories of things happening in this country (USA), similar to what happened to "Rana", and reporting the issue to HR did not solve it. It only isolated the women more and made them appear like "trouble makers". What's even sadder is that other women turned against them too in the process.

On the other hand, you also have extremists who'll file a sexual harassment complaint against you if you tell a fictional sex-joke to your coworker and they overhear you. Seems like there's no middle road. How do we get there?

Anonymous said...

I am undergoing the same experience at the moment, My current boss is a flirt, a dedicated one!! and he is not shy about it, I'd walk to his office only to find him talking to my thighs or chest... which is HIGHLY annoying to say the least. Sometimes I feel I don't need to go up the scale because he is obviously tracking it and makes sure that he tells me!!

At first my face used to turn red, and I would lose my concentration, then I decided to use a different approach, I'd look where he is looking and tell him, is there sth wrong?!?! Now this, and according to a guy friend whom I decided to consult and confide in is only a welcome move to this pervert... he advised me to ignore his behavior, and if he makes an attempt to touch, I should grab his hand and move it away, he would never dare to do it again.

Now why have I not complained or quit my job? I haven't complained because this boss is the Manager/owner, nothing would come out of it + I do not have a substantial evidence. Now as for quitting, although this idea occurs to me almost on a daily basis, I decide not to, I don't want to lose my career, therefore I am on the look for another workplace, but I wouldn't let him intimidate me + I wouldn't let him scare me away by his perverted actions, I wont quit because it is not me who needs to quit the behavior it is him!!

Lowfields said...


"Tell her brothers and they should've beaten the shit out of him..."

So, from one form of caveman behaviour to another? What happens if she doesn't have brothers? Maybe she wants to fight her own battles...? Or what happens if she was lying, and some poor guy cops a beating from a bunch of neanderthals...?

A better solution would have been for Rana to state firmly and clearly that she does not find that kind of behaviour appropriate and report it to HR and, if it is repeated, the company's senior managers. His behaviour is then their responsibility.

The more women stand up to it – publicly and vocally – the more chance others will have the courage to do the same.

Anonymous said...

It usually is more complicated than just reporting. You risk a lot, whether it is isolation in the office or social stigmas being attached to you. The response I usually get from Jordanians when discussing sexual harassment is - what was she wearing? it was probably b/c of the way she is dressed or the way she carries herself/mannerism
I was sexual harassed in my first job in Jordan. I had no one to report it to, because the owner was/is the boss. I also quit.
I have been sexually harassed numerous times after that in the workplace, but none of them had been as grave as the first time. So in answer to your question Lama " I would be curious to know if the women who encourage such sexual advances do so because they feel that it is expected from them" - first, I am assuming when you say 'encourage' you mean: by not reporting the incident or taking action, and I would say in my case, I just don’t recognize sexual harassment in the workplace anymore, it’s just part of work life now. I ignore and carry on with my work.

Tarek said...

Thanks Lama! Your blog is getting better and better. With this one, I'm not sure where the source of the problem is. I think it goes beyond sexual harrasssment in the work place. People just don't seem to get when flirting is inappropriate. I bet many of the women you are referring (not the one that quit obviously) didn't know what is ans isn't appropriate. Come to fitness first and see the flirting that takes place between women and their trainers. I've heard two different women tell me how 'strange' it was that their trainers called them up to ask them out. They didn't complain either.

Nis said...

Global problem which damage is often underrated. Jordan no 1998 in Irbid, a guy wanted to beat me up because i throw back an insult when he harassed me in the street, in public. In his mind i was wrong to insult him and obviously he thought his actions were normal! Says a lot.

So we women learn to ignore SH because it has become a fact of everyday life. We don't remember it anymore.

We often assume that we can complain and make things go away. But when it happens to us, we are often surprised that things get more complicated when we we women learn not to complain when those who harass us are in positions of power, over us...our employers, professors, doctors.

I don't want my brother to beat any guy up, i just want to feel safe...but the mechanisms, laws, systems, codes of conduct, HR rules and regulations, blah blah blah have not managed to make me safe yet.

Matt said...

There's nothing wrong with flirting in the office between two, or indeed more, consenting adults. Indeed some people find it a good release of boredom from their 9to5 and in fact can't wait to see their "work wife/husband" for their monday morning flirt/gossip over the first cuppa tea of the week.

But what you describe is not flirting, but plain good old fashioned harrassment ... the answer lies with HR, or a swift kick in the balls!

Annika said...

In my experience, speaking up, demanding to be heard, even if you are the only one, is - in general - not common in Jordan.
Instead of speaking up and encouraging others to do the same, one is afraid of being singled out.
Is my impression wrong?

Anonymous said...

as a female, i'd take a different approach - much thought a swift meeting of fist with face would be fun...

by acting towards Rana in this way - Ra'id has automatically implied that as a women, she will only engage, respond to and react when these types of activities occur.

If he seriously wanted her attention - as a young, intelligent, travelled individual, Rana is not going to fall for this sort of nonsense, he's going to have to do a bit more than that to get her to think seriously about him.

The thinking working arab women of the 21st century is not so much interested in the fact that the man has a ferrari, rather, does the man know how the engine actually works?

Such a woman probably attracts a lot of attention, and, as a busy working woman, the man will have to alter his game plan to get her attention, much like brands do today to get the attention of a customer, where there is too much information and too much clutter and noise.

If i were her, i would acknowledge his efforts and let him know that this is not making her uncomfortable, but rather she is a bit disappointed and almost finds it laughable that as the manager, this is the best game he can come up with.

Women need to assert their capacity as thinkers, pro active custodians of the next generation of business and commerce.

this guy is insulting her intelligence by bringing out a 16 year old game.

Anonymous said...

hi!! i know im too late for this but i think u will read it Lama right?
I think that some women appreciate it when they're given compliments and others dont; im surely not talking here abt sexual harassment, all im saying is that if a guy says that he finds a girl attractive she shouldnt feel bad abt it, and this is why some women feel 'isolated' after reporting that kind of behaviour because other women wont understand why she reported it and might think she's stupid or something.. why dont u imagine this happening to a man?? IT ACTUALLY DOES HAPPEN TO MEN, and it happened to me!! my boss who is a 40 smthg woman, always says out loud in the morning "here comes the handsome guy!" and believe me i feel a little bit ashamed of it in front of the other employees but would i 'report' that? she even once told me that she would present me to her daughter and if her daughter doesnt accept than she would keep me to herself :s
how do u feel abt that?? other men reading this will laugh and say oh he's lucky or smthg!!
the problem is that we differentiate in our minds between what's 'good' for a man and what's 'good' for a woman while in reality good and bad are relative to a person and not to a gender.
P.S: I want to say once again that im just talking here abt things that happen in the office and NOT ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT and touching the girl and asking her to do stuff to get a promotion.. OK???