Every day, people experience power harassment. Power harassment is defined as “any unwelcome act that the recipient may perceive as intimidating, hostile or offensive.” It can happen in several ways- it could be happening to you at work, on the street, or even online! In this article, we will explore power harassment and provide tips for stopping it.
The term power harassment
It is a newly coined term used to describe any act that may be perceived as intimidating, hostile, or offensive.
– Power harassment can happen in many ways: at work, on the street, online, and through social media.
– The best way to stop power harassment is by educating oneself about its signs and being ready for its occurrence.
To define this term, we must address the “power” part of it. Harassment exists without power. How does it change where there is a power dynamic involved?
The power dynamic is where the harassment can take on a more intimidating character, and the person in power may be less likely to stop or penalize their actions. Power harassment often occurs between people of unequal status- for example, an administrator harassing a student or an executive harassing a secretary.
The word “harassment” implies that there are repeated occurrences of the action. The power dynamic in these cases can be financial (i.e., a boss who pays less than minimum wage), emotional (a client who criticizes your work, but not theirs), or physical (someone with more authority telling you to do something).
Types of power harassment
To further understand the dynamic, we break it down into several categories.
– microaggressions: these are subtle, often unintentional discriminatory actions or statements. Usually, a power imbalance is not overtly present because anyone in any setting could experience the behavior. However, people with less authority may have to put up with more of these from those in power than their peers without that status would experience.
Microaggression can be in the form of a phrase, question, or action that is usually unintended to be hurtful but can have an adverse effect. For example, someone might say, “you’re pretty good at this for a girl,” after accomplishing something difficult, as if it was easier because the person had female genitalia.
Microaggressions can also manifest in many different ways that can be more difficult to identify. For example, someone might ask, “Where are you from?” as if they were not born in the country even when it is obvious that they were.
Microaggression can be a form of marginalization because people who have experienced them may feel excluded or marginalized by culture and ethnicity while simultaneously having their identity invalidated.
-Excessive Demands: these may seem normal in the form of unreasonable deadlines, micromanaging projects, or an inappropriate number of tasks per day. The only way to police this would be by comparing it to colleagues.
-Unwelcome Attention: this can include sexual advances, inappropriate touching, or comments on appearance. A good way to handle unwanted attention is to be assertive and clarify that the attention is not welcomed.
-Exclusion: these are very subtle ways of excluding people, such as denying a request for an assignment because they have already
-Cultural Assumptions: these typically manifest as a person’s race and ethnic background being assumed by others without asking about them first. For example, someone might say they don’t want to eat any food from a specific country.
-Physical Space: this can involve coworkers physically blocking someone’s way into a meeting or seeking to dominate the discussion while excluding you from it.
-Offensive Language: this is when people use hurtful words and have unequal power in society, such as homophobic slurs. A good response would be to firmly tell them not to continue with that pattern of behavior.
-Physical Abuse: This can include hitting, slapping, shoving, or any other form of physical violence.
-Sexual Harassment: this is when a harasser continues to make unwanted sexual advances towards someone even after being told not to and that they are uncomfortable with it. A good response would be telling them you don’t like their behavior as soon as possible.
-Emotional Abuse: This is when a person will use verbal or written harassment to try and make you feel lower than them.
-Financial Abuse: This is when someone takes control over your finances by withholding money from you, refusing to pay for things like rent or food so that they can have larger amounts of power in the relationship. A good response would be telling a trusted friend about it and finding a way out.
-Economic Abuse: It is quite similar to financial business. This involves controlling how your money is spent by not giving enough, using it for other purposes without telling you, and refusing to work outside the home.
Demeaning Demands: This is when a person will make you do unsafe or difficult things. A good response would be to say no and seek help from someone else who can stop them.
-Individual Intrusion: This is when someone, usually a family member or partner, will invade your personal space and get very close to you. A good response would be telling them that it makes you feel uncomfortable.
-Aggressive Behavior: This could include hitting something in the room near you, being loud and angry all of the time, not allowing anything around them to look good. A good response would be to tell this person that they need help, and you may not be able to continue if it continues.
-Cyberbullying: Power harassment in cyberspace can be more difficult to identify. This is usually due to the underlying power dynamics. It can manifest in the form of stalking or crude messages. A good response would be to tell this person that they need help.
When power harassment occurs
Power harassment often starts in a seemingly innocent manner. It starts with subtle insults and moves into more serious forms of abuse. Power harassment can happen in all areas, including the home as well as on a job site. Failure to identify it and deal with it early only makes things worse.
One of the most infamous cases of power harassment is the case of Harvey Weinstein. He was able to abuse people with impunity for a long time due to his power. In the UK, Jimmy Saville was able to do the same. Organizations have been liable for using their power to protect perpetrators for fear of the implications that exposing them would have on the company.
What you can do about power harassment
There are a few things that you can do to reduce power harassment. Firstly, if the perpetrator is someone in your family or close circle of friends, finding an outside source for help and support may be advisable. Secondly, make sure that your manager or another superior knows what is happening so they can take steps to prevent it from continuing.
Document the harassment. In most cases, the guilty party will deny that any of it has occurred. They may also claim that it was done in a friendly/innocent manner. It would help if you also documented your correspondence. Please do not ask them to stop in person unless you can document the conversation.
Power harassment in the workplace
Power harassment occurs in a variety of ways in the workplace. For example, if a staff member is not allowed to be in the office kitchen, that individual may feel unsafe. The fear of being harassed happens because it is usually not acceptable for someone outside of the important staff members to be there; they may make people question their authority. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress.
In Japan, employees who are not allowed to be in the kitchen or common room in an office setting could fall victim to power harassment. This is because many offices have a very hierarchical and traditional structure. There are often strict guidelines for where staff members can sit, which restrooms they may use, and what break room they may enter.
In more traditional companies such as this, it is seen as a sign of weakness if managers cannot control their staff. Recent legislation has led to more lax rules for entering and leaving an office in Japan. This is because strict adherence to the old rules does not include modern workers who have different expectations. It is no longer practical for managers in Japan to enforce strict rules on their staff- now they must incentivize employees through bonuses or other benefits.
In the United States, Harassment often looks like this:
“Tanya is a programmer at a tech company where she has worked for over three years. Tanya is also transgender. At one of the company’s holiday parties, an employee named Jim came up behind her and shouted “F*** T***” as he passed by. Tanya was shaken and upset by this incident and reported it to human resources after the party.
The company found that Jim had violated their anti-harassment policy and issued a warning to him. Tanya, however, was not satisfied and filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
During the investigation process, Jim admitted to making “jokes” about trans people but insisted that he did not make Tanya feel uncomfortable. Jim also said that he admired Tanya’s work and wanted her to be herself at work in a safe environment. The EEOC found that Jim had not harassed Tanya, but they still ruled in favor of her.
Power harassment in the streets
Power harassment can also take place in public places, such as the workplace. Some people may feel unsafe when another person is staring at them or talking to them as if they do not belong in the same space. This makes the person feel insignificant and not important.
Another example of power harassment outside of the workplace can be an attack on your professional reputation without your consent by someone who has no authority over you. People who are not high-ranking may attempt to make a person feel inferior by criticizing them in public. Power harassment can take the form of backstabbing, gossip, and rumors.
Power harassment in the media
Media coverage can be a form of power harassment. There are countless examples of this. There was a debate in the UK into whether Megan Markle had been a victim of power harassment in the media. Most people will agree that Princess Diana was a victim. However, her status as a member of royalty may have made people feel that she did not deserve the abuse.
Another example of media power harassment is Leslie Jones, a comedian, and actress in the United States. She had come out as black, which was something few people had done before; racist attacks across the internet then targeted her because of it. The internet has become a place where rumors and gossip can spread quickly, leading to real-life harassment.
As we have repeatedly impressed on you in this article, nip it in the bud. You want to document it. It is just as important to express your disapproval for this behavior, whether it is happening to you or another person. Various groups can assist you. If it is happening in the workplace, speak to your human resources personnel or consult your union representative.
It is always worth speaking to follow the chain command before seeking external help. There are cases of people being constructively dismissed after seeking help or reporting harassment. They tend to sue as long as they have documented it successfully.