My good friend Iris invited me over with a few of her friends for an evening they call “The Salon.” It’s a get together for women to become acquainted and discuss topics on family, finance and life in Israel.
The evening I arrived we took on a difficult topic: sexual harassment in the workplace.
Like in most countries, here in Israel women also struggle with this problem. Sadly, powerful people often take advantage of their position in the workplace and often women become their victims. Here, this problem went all the way up to the President of Israel, Moshe Katzav, who was convicted of sexual harassment and served a prison sentence for his crime.
As it happened, 15 of the ladies who arrived at 6pm for our “salon” came straight from their busy jobs and were well aware of the problem. One of the things I love about Israel is how quickly people are ready to share and talk openly about their lives. There is a natural comradery between Israelis that is hard to find anywhere else in the world. Even in our little group, we were amazed to see how quickly we connected so easily with women we had just met after a meal together. Isn’t it wonderful how food builds community?
We began our discussion by watching the Israeli film “A Working Woman.” Briefly, the film speaks of a young married woman and mother of three small children with a financial problem. She finds a very tempting position in a real estate company. The company owner assures her that he will teach her all the secrets of the profession and in exchange she will have to fully devote himself to work and be present at any hour of the day. In return she will receive a high salary and so she agrees to take the job.
Slowly we are exposed to an obsession the owner of the company has for the woman. It begins with some small harassments, but soon increases. While the salary goes up and rewards of the job become more desirable, it becomes very hard for the woman to give up the job. Until the bitter end when she is eventually raped by her boss.
Despite the increasing awareness and laws to prevent sexual harassment in Israel, women are still harassed in their workplaces and even in the Israel army. Various attempts at preventing sexual harassment have been put in place, but unfortunately there are still those who take advantage of their status and abuse their authority.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is defined as a situation in which a worker is disturbed by sexual advances by someone in the company. The harassment can be verbal, inappropriate touching or just sexual inuendo.
Our “lady’s salon” talked about the film, analyzed what happened, and tried to figure out why the woman didn’t leave the job even though the “writing was on the wall.” We also tried to understand why, in general, women don’t get up and leave when there are warning signs along the way. We realized that most of these situations are so complicated that no one sitting in our living room can judge.
For some of the women in our group, this was the first time in their lives they were able to share openly about private events they had experienced in their workplace, and with retrospect, they now understood that it was sexual harassment.
We discussed child raising and children’s education, especially young boys. It occurred to us that men may also suffer from this phenomenon and are constantly under pressure to exercise caution. Sometimes, this is all they can focus on in the workplace, even if they have done nothing.
Without a doubt this discourse, together with the openness and willingness to open issues that have been closed, created the opportunity of renewed thinking for each of us on this important subject. Our evening together was very successful evening, even healing for many of us. We promised to come back and do it again. I promise to keep you updated on other meetings and interesting topics for discussion about life in Israel – even the difficult ones that many people prefer not to talk about.