Shot: Republican nominee for president and former reality television personality Donald Trump told USA Today that should his daughter Ivanka Trump — an entrepreneur in her own right as well as an executive at her father’s real estate company — be sexually harassed at work, he would “like to think that she would find another career or find another company.”
Chaser: Eric Trump, son of Donald and brother of Ivanka, clarified his father’s comment about sexual harassment to PBS’ Charlie Rose, explaining, “I think what he is saying is Ivanka is a strong, powerful woman. She wouldn’t allow herself to be subjected to it.”
Clearly, Donald and Eric skipped the mandatory workplace seminar on sexual harassment because they obviously have no idea what they’re talking about.
First, let’s back up for a second and define workplace sexual harassment.
As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explains, workplace sexual harassment is a violation of Title XII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (This edict applies to businesses with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments, as well as applications with employment agencies, labor organizations, and the federal government). And what does this kind of harassment look like? Any kind of unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that explicitly affects a person’s employment, interferes with a person’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
And some additional points of clarification: Victims and harassers can both be of any sex and the victim does not have to be of the opposite sex of their harasser. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, an agent of the employer, or a non-employee. The victim does not have to be the person harassed but can in fact be anyone affected by the offensive conduct. And unlawful sexual harassment may occur without any economic injury to the victim.
Last but not least, the harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome. In other words, a consensual relationship that occurs outside the workplace between two co-workers? Kosher. If your boss, say, walks around the office saying that, “A woman who is flat-chested is very hard to be a 10, OK?” and you are offended by this? Workplace sexual harassment. And this unwelcome qualification is particularly essential, as it forms the double-edged sword of both victims’ experiences and the casual denial of their allegations by men who insist that women are “asking for it.”
Because isn’t that what both Trump men are inherently saying? When Donald Trump says that his daughter would just find work elsewhere is she were to be sexually harassed, he places the onus on her — and all victims — for not just their own livelihood, but whatever might happen to them in pursuit of that livelihood. That is, did you boss harass you? Well then that’s your fault and you ought to have either chosen a better employer, need to now choose a better employer, and the time and effort you’ll need to expend to protect yourself is all your own doing. After all, as Eric Trump says, a woman who didn’t want to be harassed surely wouldn’t allow herself to be.
Remarks like this are not only utterly tone-deaf, but downright damaging to the continued plight of women to be treated equitably in the labor market. If the men doing the hiring think a woman is to blame for her own harassment and that it’s up to her to not only prevent it from happening to begin with, but to find a safer work environment should she unduly experience something of this nature, doubly penalizes the women who are already fighting systemic cultural stereotypes that make it harder to not only get a foot in the door for employment, but to be compensated fairly for the work they do.
When men like Donald and Eric Trump — a man who seeks to hold the highest office in the land and his son, who holds and executive position at his father’s company — essentially choose to engage in victim blaming, they not only further penalize those victims who have already lost the ability to feel safe in their own place of employment, they seek to solidify the exemption from any responsibility when employees face workplace environments that have the potential to cause emotional, psychological, and economic harm. The buck clearly stops with anyone but them.
Furthermore, some experts theorize that victim blaming also serve as a defense mechanism of those who cannot reconcile their desire for control with their fear of the world being an imperfect place where bad things happen and where control can never be absolutely held. Victim blaming, then, suggests an active choice to deny the very complexity of life.