“No Talk Stink” Culture Can Stop Sexual Harassment
reprinted from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, May 13, 2018
When the #MeToo movement first appeared, a local businessman told me he didn’t think it would hit Hawaii because of our “no talk stink” culture. Actually, “no talk stink” can help stop harassment.
For decades, training has been offered as the way to stop harassment. But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces harassment law, found in a recent study that typical harassment training doesn’t work. That conclusion is supported by scientific research on bias, which suggests that people don’t change their behavior based on a one-way, “don’t do it” lecture.
However, people will change when they realize the majority of their peers agree with the message. That’s because we all naturally want to conform to the group. This may be even more true in Hawaii, where we’re all familiar with the Japanese proverb, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”
Studies show the majority of men and women oppose harassment. In other words, the “nail that sticks out” is the harasser. In trainings where people can express their opinions against harassment, harassers suddenly realize they are outside the norm. It’s not just the law that is anti-harassment, it’s their peers. Once harassers understand they are in the minority, they may not change their desire to harass, but many will change their behavior.
Changing the culture of silence is as easy as inviting people to tell their stories in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Stories engage our emotions. Research shows that we are unlikely to change our opinions or behavior when confronted by facts (“this is the law”) but we will change when we feel emotionally connected with others. Stories make that connection. In our island state, those connections are even more important.
When we honor our connection to others, we are more likely to do something. In my trainings, men and women have said they don’t know what to do when they see something offensive but the woman who is being harassed doesn’t say anything herself. One reason women may not say something is because, like anyone caught in an uncomfortable situation, we may freeze and not be able to think of an appropriate response—until an hour later, when we come up with a brilliant comeback.
One way any of us who are bystanders can be allies is to literally step between the harasser and the victim. This strategy is being promoted on New York subway trains. When a woman is harassed, anyone can move next to her, creating a barrier between her and the harasser, and start quietly talking to her as a friend. You’re not confronting the harasser, but you’re interrupting the harassment, and giving the harasser the cue that he is the nail that sticks out. He is the one talking stink.
At the very least, we have another time-honored tool at our disposal to stop harassers in Hawaii. We can always give them stink eye.
Makana Risser Chai is a Hawaii HR consultant and trainer, and former Silicon Valley practicing attorney, specializing in sexual harassment training. Contact her at 808-282-2743 or Makana (at) MakanaChai.com