Ha­rass­ment per­cep­tion dif­fers by gen­er­a­tion

Baby Boomer women are more likely to look the other way than Mil­len­ni­als

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Maria Puente USA TO­DAY

Movie mogul Har­vey We­in­stein. Di­rec­tors James To­back and Brett Rat­ner. Os­car win­ners Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoff­man. Ac­tor Jeremy Piven. Co­me­dian Andy Dick. Th­ese are the bold­faced names in the head­lines lately over ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abuse, even rape. Amer­i­can women, espe­cially, are pay­ing at­ten­tion. But they’re in­ter­pret­ing the news in sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent ways based on their age and gen­er­a­tional co­hort, ex­perts say.

The ar­gu­ment about gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ences goes like this: Baby Boom women (those born be­tween 1946 and 1964) are more likely to shrug off grabby, gross guys in the work­place as in­evitable, not worth mak­ing a big deal when it hap­pens. Keep calm and carry on.

Gen­er­a­tion X (1965 to early 1980s), too, have mostly kept quiet and car­ried on, per­haps chas­tened in their early work­ing years by the blow­back vis­ited on law pro­fes­sor Anita Hill in 1991 when she ac­cused a Supreme Court nom­i­nee of past sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

From the Boomer gen­er­a­tion to the GenXers, na­tional data sur­veys show in­creas­ing sup­port for women in the work­force and for gen­der equal­ity, says a lead­ing gen­er­a­tions ex­pert, San Diego State Univer­sity psy­chol­o­gist Jean Twenge, 46.

“When Boomers were grow­ing up, that was not taken for granted; for Gen­er­a­tion X it was more ac­cepted, but there was still a lot of skep­ti­cism in the 1970s and 1980s,” Twenge says. “Boomers talked about (sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abuse); they knew it went on, but it was not well-publi­cized and it was harder for women to speak up.”

But Mil­len­ni­als (any­one born after 1980, ac­cord­ing to some def­i­ni­tions), have grown up in a dif­fer­ent world, drink­ing in no­tions of women’s equal­ity prac­ti­cally from their sippy cups, Twenge says. Sex­ual ha­rass­ment laws are on the books. Women out­num­ber men in col­leges. Women are ac­cus­tomed to see­ing fe­male doc­tors and lawyers or, even more for­ma­tive, see­ing women play­ing doc­tors and lawyers on TV, she says.

Thus, Mil­len­nial women, the

think­ing goes, are less likely to tol­er­ate the kind of stuff their moth­ers or grand­moth­ers had to en­dure and are more likely to speak up at the time if they are sub­jected to it.

“Gen X and Mil­len­ni­als are more likely to take it for granted that men and women work to­gether in the work­place and that women will be treated equally,” Twenge says. “Given th­ese at­ti­tudes, it makes sense that (some) Gen X or (many) Mil­len­ni­als would not think it’s ac­cept­able and would not put up with sex­ual abuse.”

Brenda Rus­sell, a pro­fes­sor of ap­plied psy­chol­ogy at Penn State-Berks near Read­ing, Pa., and a Baby Boomer who has stud­ied women in dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions, says her early re­search showed Boomers of­ten de­clined to re­port sex­ual ha­rass­ment or rape.

“How many in our gen­er­a­tion would never re­port it be­cause of the shame? You ques­tion your­self,” Rus­sell says. “That’s the way we’ve been trained to feel as long as rape has been around.”

That was the case for Donna Black, 53, a stay-at-home wife in Cleveland, a grand­mother rais­ing her 6-year-old grand­daugh­ter and a re­cov­er­ing al­co­holic.

A for­mer client of the Cleveland Rape Cri­sis Cen­ter, she was sub­jected to mul­ti­ple sex­ual as­saults dat­ing back to when she was a kinder­gartener to as re­cently as last year. She re­mem­bers what she learned grow­ing up: “What goes on in this house stays in this house — you didn’t talk about cer­tain things. You were taught to stuff all this sick­ness inside, which (led) me to act out in dif­fer­ent ways that was un­healthy.”

By the time GenX women were in the work­force, abuse re­ports had gone up, sug­gest­ing the sense of mis­placed shame was di­min­ish­ing. But it did not last that long, espe­cially after the na­tion­ally tele­vised hear­ings on Supreme Court nom­i­nee — now jus­tice — Clarence Thomas in 1991.

“Look at the Anita Hill sit­u­a­tion — that was on their minds,” Rus­sell says. “Maybe it worked for a lit­tle bit, but there were fewer re­ports (of sex­ual abuse after that).”

But most Mil­len­ni­als were too young to have watched those hear­ings. Take some­one like Dai­jha Thomp­son, 19, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions ma­jor at Syra­cuse Univer­sity in New York. She un­der­stands why so many rape sur­vivors de­cline to speak pub­licly, but it’s dif­fer­ent for her and her gen­er­a­tion.

“I would def­i­nitely speak up,” Thomp­son says. “I know why sur­vivors of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and rape don’t speak out, but that’s why it would make me speak up, be­cause I want to be that per­son who makes it com­mon.”

Alexis Verbin, 23, a child wel­fare case­worker in Berks County, Pa., says women in her age group are more con­fi­dent about stand­ing up for them­selves.

“We aren’t go­ing to be con­trolled by men or let things just hap­pen or let it go — we’re not go­ing to put up with (sex­ual abuse),” Verbin says. “Women have the same rights as men, and we’re not go­ing to let some­one take ad­van­tage of us.”

Black says she’s “grate­ful” to see Mil­len­ni­als speak­ing up.

“We de­serve to have our voice be heard — it’s hor­ri­ble to walk around 20 or 30 years with this inside you like I do,” she says. “I teach my grand­daugh­ter to­day: You tell Grandma Poppy ev­ery­thing! It’s im­por­tant to speak out.”

Would Mil­len­ni­als wait decades to come for­ward with ac­cu­sa­tions against their work­place tor­men­tors? Not this hy­per­sen­si­tive gen­er­a­tion, also nick­named “Gen­er­a­tion Me” by Twenge, au­thor of a ground­break­ing 2006 book, Gen­er­a­tion Me. She ex­am­ined data about Mil­len­ni­als and found, among other things, that they are tol­er­ant and self-con­fi­dent and also dif­fer dra­mat­i­cally from their el­ders in their at­ti­tudes about women, work and work­places.

Many Mil­len­ni­als have been stunned by the head­lines — how could this hap­pen in Amer­ica? — about fallen Hol­ly­wood mogul Har­vey We­in­stein, ac­cused of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, co­er­cion, as­sault or rape by more than 70 women, some of them now big stars, go­ing back to the 1970s. His down­fall, fol­lowed by that of Kevin Spacey, are the most spec­tac­u­lar of re­cent take­downs of ma­jor me­dia fig­ures over sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abuse ac­cu­sa­tions.

“I was shocked by the breadth of the al­le­ga­tions, the length of time they have been go­ing on, the vis­ceral de­scrip­tions that th­ese me­dia out­lets had been able to ob­tain — and most im­por­tantly, the as­ton­ish­ing num­ber of peo­ple who were most likely di­rectly in­volved in th­ese at­tacks,” says Made­line Fish­burn, 22, a business de­vel­op­ment as­so­ciate in Wash­ing­ton.

Karin Roland, 35, is chief of cam­paigns for Ul­traVi­o­let, the na­tional fem­i­nist anti-rape group that de­ploys high-pro­file ges­tures to get its mes­sages across (it re­cently sent up a plane with a ban­ner, “HOL­LY­WOOD: STOP EN­ABLING ABUSE,” to fly over the Hol­ly­wood sign). Roland is a late-GenXer/early Mil­len­nial who be­lieves the del­uge of women com­ing for­ward to ac­cuse We­in­stein and oth- ers will get the at­ten­tion of young women en­ter­ing the work­force.

“It may be that older women were (more low-key) about ha­rass­ment, but laws have changed, and it may be safer for some women in some in­dus­tries to come for­ward ear­lier,” Roland says. “That cre­ates a domino ef­fect.”

While Mil­len­nial woman may ex­pect equal­ity and may be more likely to speak out against per­ceived sex­ual ha­rass­ment, many also don’t rec­og­nize cer­tain be­hav­iors as sex­ual ha­rass­ment. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port by the Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion, as many as 75% of women of all ages sur­veyed said they ex­pe­ri­enced sex-based ha­rass­ment in their work­place but only after spe­cific be­hav­iors, such as un­wanted sex­ual at­ten­tion, were de­scribed to them.

Rus­sell says she knows about this. “I am find­ing that with my stu­dents who are younger than 30, they don’t iden­tify cer­tain be­hav­ior, such as co­er­cion, as sex­ual ha­rass­ment,” Rus­sell says. “They’re all kind of clue­less about it be­cause it’s never been dis­cussed with them at the high school or mid­dle school level. When I give them ‘the talk’ in (col­lege) class, I can tell from their faces they get re­ally scared, re­ally ner­vous. Most have had no ex­pe­ri­ence in the work­place.”

In re­cent decades, the ev­i­dence about gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ences in re­ac­tions and at­ti­tudes has been con­flict­ing. Rus­sell says her early stud­ies of older women found that they were more likely to keep quiet about sex­ual ha­rass­ment than younger women. But a later, sep­a­rate study by other re­searchers found the op­po­site, she says: The older they are, the less tol­er­ant they are.

“Nowa­days we’re find­ing that re­ally young stu­dents have more tol­er­ant at­ti­tudes to­wards sex­ual vi­o­lence and ha­rass­ment be­cause they don’t have the ex­pe­ri­ence in the work­place that older women have, espe­cially older women at a high level,” Rus­sell says.

Richard Weiss­bourd, a Boomer-age se­nior lec­turer at Har­vard’s Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment, is the lead au­thor of a re­cent re­port that sug­gests misog­yny and sex­ual ha­rass­ment are “per­va­sive” among young peo­ple, yet few par­ents are talk­ing to them about it and nei­ther are high schools or mid­dle schools.

“Misog­yny and ha­rass­ment have al­ways been around, it was the case when I was in col­lege, but women (back then) would not have abided be­ing called a ‘bitch’ or a ‘ho,’ ” Weiss­bourd says. “As men lose power at work and in aca­demic set­tings (to women), this is a way of assert­ing dom­i­nance.”

The We­in­stein mess and other at­ten­dant scan­dals have been seized by a num­ber of anti-rape groups, such as the Na­tional Sex­ual Vi­o­lence Re­source Cen­ter and the Na­tional Cen­ter on Sex­ual Ex­ploita­tion, to pro­mote their cam­paigns against porn for what some say is its role in an­i­mat­ing sex­ual abuse.

Ha­ley Halver­son, 25, who heads up ad­vo­cacy and out­reach for NCSE, says there are signs that many Mil­len­nial women are more vo­cal, espe­cially with the help of so­cial me­dia, but there are also signs that many are “anes­thetized.”

“The Mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion, my gen­er­a­tion, is more in­un­dated than any other gen­er­a­tion in his­tory with hy­per­sex­u­al­ized im­ages and gra­tu­itous por­tray­als of sex­ual vi­o­lence against women in pornog­ra­phy, the me­dia, and main­stream en­ter­tain­ment,” she says.

For Al­yse Lupinacci, 26, a school coun­selor in Doylestown, Pa., the We­in­stein scan­dal and its fallout is just one wa­ter­shed mo­ment in what might be de­scribed as a flood.

“Each time the con­ver­sa­tion is re-es­tab­lished, the stigma sur­round­ing the topic of sex­ual as­sault is less­ened,” she says. “Each time we dis­cuss this sub­ject mat­ter, vic­tims feel safer to share their sto­ries. ... All of those mo­ments are hugely sig­nif­i­cant, and all of those mo­ments help to cre­ate a safer fu­ture for ev­ery­one.”


Women in 11 cities across France ral­lied against sex­ual abuse un­der the #MeToo ban­ner last month.

Psy­chol­o­gist Jean Twenge, 46, with her daugh­ters at home in San Diego in 2012, wrote the ground­break­ing 2006 book “Gen­er­a­tion Me.”

The na­tional fem­i­nist anti-rape group Ul­traVi­o­let spelled it out for Hol­ly­wood last month. UL­TRAVI­O­LET

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