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Harmful Sexuality: Workplace Exploitation

January 12, 2011

One of the Buddhist precepts that I don’t hear discussed much in ‘official’ settings is the advice to “avoid using sexuality in harmful ways.” There’s a ton to unpack there, obviously, but one connection I’m making has to do with a meeting tonight of Bay Area radicals rallying around a friend of mine who got fired from her job.

She’s been an educator in an Oakland after-school program for a while, and a few weeks ago her boss fired her. Didn’t tell her why. (Still hasn’t.) Didn’t even bother to notify her: she came in and worked a whole day before being told that her contract had been terminated.

So what’s this got to do with sexuality? Well, even though no one has told her why she was fired, my friend has a pretty good idea: she turned down her boss’s sexual advances. For months he had been flirting with her, but as soon as she put a stop to it, the game changed. You can read her entire account on her blog.

Sexual harassment at the workplace? Clearly not okay. So tonight a bunch of us will get together and see what we can do to support. My friend already took the lead herself, by refusing to play along with her boss in the first place. (Reminds me of Robin D. G. Kelley’s Race Rebels, where he examines everyday worker resistance, and specifically names the form of struggle wherein women respond with calculated coldness to sexually aggressive male superiors.) But individual assertions of dignity are not enough. Not even when it comes to sila (Buddhist morality, including the precepts.) It takes sangha, community, to breathe life into explorations of harm and benefit.

And importantly, the precepts aren’t some kind of spiritual checklist. Don’t lie — gotcha; Don’t steal — okey dokey. If that were true, then as long as my shit is under control, I wouldn’t need to care about anybody else’s struggles with harm.

To me, rather than instruments for performance evaluation, precepts can act as guideposts for looking deeply and holistically into processes of harm and benefit.

We’ll see what we can come up with at tonight’s meeting.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    January 24, 2011 5:05 pm

    I didn’t read the post you linked to, so ignore this if it’s inapplicable, but if your friend is considering legal action against her former employer (and if she was fired for refusing the sexual advances of her superior, I think she should be considering legal action), it is probably unwise for her to be blogging about specifics until all legal issues are settled.

  2. January 24, 2011 5:16 pm

    Thanks, John — I’ll ask her about it.

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