Gender and Equality

#MeToo

2018.03

Gender Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Against Women in the Workplace
Gender and Equality
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I. The serious problem of workplace gender discrimination

Although the problem of gender discrimination against women in the workplace is said to be gradually improving over decades of legal battles and grassroots activism, it remains one of the most serious social issues around the world.

  • Recruitment gap: Corporate recruitment culture in South Korea has been historically male-dominated, with men accounting for 80% of all new recruits. But more recently, women’s employment opportunities appear to be improving, as women accounted for over 40% of new recruits.
  • Wage gap: A wage gap between men and women still exists according to multiple reports. In OECD Member countries, the wage gap between men and women performing the same jobs was found to be 15-30%.
  • Role gap: Gender roles and stereotypes are at the root of the wage gap. Important projects are offered to male employees, while women in the same organization are often assigned auxiliary roles. For one, a study of American films and TV shows found that male actors’ screen time and spoken lines were approximately double those of their female co-stars.
  • Promotion gap: As a result of corporate gender role discrimination, women make up less than 10% of all employees at the world’s top 100 corporations. Though female employment is relatively higher (10-25%) at Facebook, Google, and other American tech companies, women make up approximately 5% of employees at Asian tech companies and less than 10% at global financial services and manufacturing corporations.
  • Discriminatory policies: Gender discrimination is also prevalent in companies’ internal policies. For example, most companies around the world provide parental leave for women only, illustrating the legacy of patriarchal societies where the responsibilities of childcare fall solely on women.

⇒ The issue of gender discrimination against women is seriously dealt with in American MBA business ethics classes, evidencing its severity on par with other social issues such as racial discrimination.



Even more serious is the fact that discrimination against women is leading to sexual harassment, sexual violence, and other crimes.

  • In a survey of 400 female employees conducted by a South Korean media outlet, about 70% of women reported that they have been sexually harassed. Regarding forms of sexual harassment, excessive physical contact came on top with 60%, with sexual jokes following at 45% and negative comments about physical appearance at 33%. Additionally, about 6% of women reported that their bosses have solicited sex from them—a statistic that signals the severity of workplace sexual violence.
  • Women are coming forth with various accounts of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, which goes to show that these problems exist worldwide and not just in South Korea. In fact, cases of workplace sexual harassment are one of the most prevalent lawsuits in the U.S.


II. Causes for the prevalence of sexual harassment/violence in the workplace

Experts say the male-dominated power structure of corporations essentially enables gender discrimination.

  • The ratio of female employees is gradually increasing as mentioned above, but very few women hold major decision-making power → Although companies may be pushing for gender equality in their policies, male executives continue to make major decisions as the company status quo.
  • According to experts, most high-ranking male executives (and the female ones who come few and far between) tend to entrust male employees with important tasks, perpetuating the gender discrimination against women → Multiple surveys reveal that corporations do not assign important tasks to their female employees “over concerns about possible hiatuses due to pregnancy and childcare, as well as women’s physical limitations in performing intensive work, etc.”

That said, some have argued that the root cause of continual sexual harassment and violence is not gender discrimination in the workplace, but “men’s misunderstanding of what constitutes sexual harassment.”

  • The globally accepted criteria for sexual harassment is “judged based on the victim’s perception of their own experience, not the perpetrator’s intentions.” That is to say, even if a person does not intend or consider their speech to be sexual harassment, it is sexual harassment if the listener feels humiliated by it.
  • However, the most common excuse among perpetrators is that they “did not intend to harass her; she’s just being sensitive.” Due to this skewed perspective, perpetrators continue to commit acts of sexual harassment.

Additionally, it has been pointed out that there are not many options for reporting or resolutions available to victims of sexual assault, and virtually no instances of perpetrators facing severe consequences (much less being charged and convicted) for their crimes.

  • Over 80% of victims do not report being sexually harassed and/or assaulted at work. Perpetrators are often not penalized in any way, giving rise to a culture of tolerance around sexual harassment and violence.
  • Even so, survivors have been silenced and pacified due to the absence of channels for them to report harassment and request help, as well as the structures that are insufficient for providing emotional aid and restitutions, often resulting in further scrutiny and even blame on the survivor.
  • Accordingly, as the lack of prosecution persists and becomes known among perpetrators, the perpetrator can continue working and committing sexual harassment shamelessly, while only the survivor remains hurt and eventually ends up leaving the company in an unfortunate turn of events.


III. Signs of change

However, the recent American #MeToo movement is quickly expanding as an international women’s rights movement.

  • The start of “Me Too”: American civil rights activist Tarana Burke was the first to use the phrase “Me Too” in 2006. As a African American woman and survivor of sexual violence, she created the nonprofit organization Just Be Inc. to uplift young women of color, who are often targets of sexual violence and unable to find support due to the wall of racial discrimination.
  • The expansion of #MeToo: In October 2017, Hollywood stars such as Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie, and Gwyneth Paltrow exposed the acts of sexual violence that Hollywood tycoon Harvey Weinstein had committed over the span of three decades. Soon after actress Alyssa Milano suggested the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter, the campaign rapidly spread. As numerous women and men gained the courage to come forth with their stories on social media and join the #MeToo movement, a number of perpetrators finally faced repercussions for their past actions (e.g., Weinstein was ousted from both his film company and the Motion Picture Academy, Kevin Spacey was fired from the Netflix series House of Cards, a few U.S. Senators have stepped down), ultimately effecting change in various institutions.
  • The results of #MeToo: In the past, perpetrators of sexual violence continued living their lives shamelessly, while only the victims shouldered the weight of various traumas and damages; however, the #MeToo movement has created a social atmosphere where justice means that the perpetrator receives a deserved punishment and the victim receives support and protection.

In late 2016, South Korean women started hashtags against sexual harassment in various fields, such as literary circles and the film industry. While these Korean hashtags are still in use, the #MeToo hashtag in particular has captivated South Korean mainstream and social media.

  • The introduction of #MeToo in Korea: On JTBC Newsroom, the top news program of South Korea, a public prosecutor shared the facts of her experience being sexually assaulted by a senior official, joining the #MeToo movement in January 2018.
  • The expansion of #MeToo in Korea: Following the the public prosecutor’s televised interview, the number of women reporting their cases through JTBC Newsroom, other media channels, and social media increased at an exponential rate. Accusations against world-renowned film directors, actors, poets, etc. in particular brought a huge impact on society. Most recently, former presidential hopeful An Hee-jung was exposed for sexually assaulting his secretaries; although he still contends that the sexual acts were “consensual,” he announced his resignation as the governor of the South Chungcheong Province and retirement from public office.

The #MeToo movement can be found not only in South Korea and the U.S., but in Middle Eastern and developing countries where the human rights of women have been relatively less protected. The movement is establishing itself as a revolution in women’s rights.



IV. Some areas for improvement

However, there is a variety of opinions—held by those from all walks of life—about how the #MeToo movement can be improved.

  • The #MeToo movement should not only compel people to “act carefully” from a fear of repercussions, but also move toward raising awareness and properly educating the public about sexual harassment.
  • Rather than inciting antagonism between men and women, the #MeToo movement should continue to support survivors of sexual harassment and assault, including men, in addition to further advocating for institutional reform.
  • In the case that the #MeToo movement proceeds in a “trial by media” form, it is, of course, possible for an innocent person to be harmed in the process, and the judicial presumption of innocence (“innocent until proven guilty”) may also crumble. A process should be established to deal fairly and transparently with sexual harassment and violence cases and to protect the rights of victims as much as possible, while also minimizing the victimization of innocent people.


Talk to your Ringle tutor and exchange opinions about the problem of gender discrimination and sexual violence within the workplace, and also receive feedback on your English usage.

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