“Watching high-powered sex offenders fall like dominoes recently has involved plenty of schadenfreude for women in many fields. Those of us in the media and the arts have been glad to watch the downfall of previously untouchable editors, producers and comedians who everyone knew were creeps but few people could confront. As Harvey Weinstein can attest, in America today the right kind of bad publicity can undo even the rich and powerful. But what about the women who are sexually harassed by men who aren’t even a little famous? It’s unlikely many newspapers care about a disgusting night-shift manager at the local Denny’s.” S. Leonard, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“The fact is that sexual harassment is more about power than sex; any industry with extreme power differentials will be afflicted by it. ‘Raising awareness’ is crucial, but not enough.
The service industry, where more than half of workers are women, is especially plagued by sexual harassment. Tipped work is notorious: If you have to please the customer to get paid, you are constantly having to decide between defending yourself and paying rent. The Restaurant Opportunities Center, an advocacy group seeking fair wages and better treatment for workers, reports that a majority of restaurant employees are sexually harassed weekly.
Domestic workers are another especially vulnerable group. They are often immigrant women of color, sometimes without legal immigration status, sometimes living in their employers’ homes. This combination makes them uniquely subject to intimate harassment and intimidation. A majority of female farmworkers, who often toil in isolation in the field, have experienced sexual harassment or assault. For these women, shaming their bosses on Twitter or going to a newspaper is, unfortunately, rarely an option — if the predator doesn’t have a big public profile, few will notice the complaint except, perhaps, the guy with the power to fire the person complaining. That’s why women in these fields often take another route: collective action.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a worker-run human rights organization based in Florida, for example, has incorporated sexual harassment rules and penalties into its Fair Food Program, the labor agreement reached after an enormous struggle with fast food companies. It has worked. The coalition says it has gotten 23 supervisors disciplined for harassment and nine fired. ‘The bosses and even the growers in the agricultural industry are not public figures, and so public shaming does nothing to change their behavior, ‘Julia Perkins, a spokeswoman for the Immokalee Workers, told me.
These organizers stand in a grand tradition. The first female-led American labor struggle was started by teenage girls working in mills in Lowell, Mass., in the 1830s. One of their central complaints was sexual harassment and assault by supervisors…Sexual harassment continued to be a focus of union campaigns as America industrialized — the untold story of the labor battles of the 19th century. Not every campaign succeeded, and some unions excluded women workers altogether, but working women have always known that no one fights a gross boss alone.
Ellen Bravo, one of the pioneering feminists behind 9to5, founded in 1973 to support working women, has done hundreds of harassment training courses for unions. ‘What we wanted was to root out oppression from the structures that were needed for change,’ she said…Groups like the Immokalee Workers, for example, show how fighting harassment can be incorporated into demands made by men and women fighting together.
Women can put an end to this not just by organizing their own workplaces but also by supporting others who are organizing or transforming unions. The growing strength of women in workplaces from agricultural fields to restaurants to newsrooms to movie sets means a new sort of solidarity is possible across sectors. The women who are newly speaking out in the limelight should now rally alongside those who have been fighting sexual harassment in the shadows.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer
Directions: Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Women have a feeling of schadenfreude as the predators are revealed.
- Raising awareness is crucial.
- The Restaurant Opportunities Center is an advocacy group for workers.
- Many employees are sexually harassed weekly.
- If the predator doesn’t have a public profile nothing will happen.
- Ellen Bravo is a well known pioneering feminist.
- In the 19th century many unions campaigned for the rights of workers.
- The labor movement wanted to stop oppression of employees.
- In addition, unions wanted to grapple with racism and homophobia.
- Even in the unions there are recalcitrant male members.
Directions: The following sentences are from the article. Choose the correct word for each blank space from the word list or make up your own words.
A ___is not, of course, a ___harassment-fighting___ Abuse can ___within a union, too. In fact, the Service ___International Union___ fired an executive vice president over sexual___allegations.
WORD LIST: harassment, Employees, happen, solution, magical, union, recently,
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- A union alone are not magical.
- Sexual harassment is about power.
- In the service industry more than half of workers are women.
- In essence, tolerating harassment strengthens the boss.
- Men and women need too band together.
- Workplaces all over the country continue to breed abuse.
- Women should organize in there own workplaces.
- Abuse can happen within a union, too.
- Not every campaign succeeded.
Discussion for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.
- List some of the occupations where sexual harassment occurs. Can you think of other job situations not mentioned in the article?
- In your opinion why do people harass their employees?
- What would you do if you were harassed at work? Explain why or why not you would take action.
- According to the article, what are some actions people can take when they’ve been harassed?
- Can you think of additional ways of helping women or men who have been sexually harassed at work?
Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.