Sexual Harassment – layered and complex

I’ve spent the past four weeks at my internship in a bit of shock as I examined and absorbed the flirtatious, sexually charged office culture. Men and women frequently pet each other, hold hands, and joke about their sex lives. It’s in good humor, but It’s a culture that wouldn’t fly in professional spaces in America.

Because cultural norms are different in Ghanaian offices, I try to not overreact at things that are seen as culturally acceptable behavior. With no context as to what is culturally appropriate behavior versus what is crossing the line, this isn’t an easy task. I’ve had to learn fast, spending my energy deciphering meaning, quickly.

Most of the time, I’ve felt comfortable with my interactions with male workers. But as I try to casually brush off certain unwanted attention, I am met with an internal conflict. What I feel comfortable with is very different than what is perceived as culturally appropriate in Ghana. These interactions might be considered appropriate here, but I still feel uncomfortable by them. Do I have the right to hold my male-coworkers to the same standards that I would in the U.S.?

Even more confusing, what happens when I have an interaction with a male co-worker that I know is culturally inappropriate? How does my altered ability to understand cultural norms impact my confidence in dealing with that situation? This, in addition to the pre-existing dynamics of privilege, i.e. power, gender, and race, make dealing with sexual harassment difficult and complex.

No one in my office is overtly aggressive. No one in my office ever touched me in a way that wouldn’t be perceived as culturally appropriate. But have there been times where I’ve felt uncomfortable with the way I was treated? Yes. Even though it’s ok here, am I comfortable with the flirtatious banter people try to engage me in? Not always.