It is one of the world’s most atrocious crimes committed against humankind and yet is so widespread in Egypt, that it has almost become a norm; Yes, I’m talking about sexual harassment. Not a day passes in an average Egyptian woman’s life without her being exposed to sexual harassment in one form or another. That’s a problem. The reason why I chose sexual harassment as my topic is because it’s a subject that is directly related to me in my everyday life and it would be nice to try and figure out why it happens and if it’s possible, to put an end to it or at least reduce it. Social psychology is the most appropriate medium for studying sexual harassment simply because it’s a social problem. By identifying the roots and causes of the attitudes that lead to sexual harassment, we are then more likely to establish a long lasting prevention method that will specifically target the root of the problem and therefore have a higher chance of being successful.
I believe the attitude that leads to sexual harassment of women on the street is the conviction that women are inferior and exist solely for the pleasure of men. This leads to them being treated as second class citizens without any consideration for their rights as human beings. In my paper I will target males in their early teenage years (13 to 15). This is because that age is when others’ opinions and peer pressure starts to play a huge role in the boys’ lives, making them more susceptible to develop a negative attitude towards women. So we could use attitude inoculation to prepare them for any attempts to produce within them a negative attitude before it happens. I think it’s important to target the behaviour (sexual harassment) very soon, especially since it seems to be increasing these days and becoming more and more violent. However, I would like to focus on preventing the formation of the permanent negative attitudes in adolescent males of this generation, because I think the longer you live with your attitude the harder it is to change. And we’re running out of time.
All attitudes have 3 bases: Cognitive, affective and behavioural. The cognitive basis of sexual harassment would suggest that women are sexually harassed because of the way they look, the way they walk, the way they act, the way they are. Simply because they are women. The affective basis would suggest that women are sexually harassed because the men hold the belief that it is perfectly fine to sexually harass a woman on the street. They might have even developed schemas that automatically dictate that women walking on the street are asking to be harassed. In the extreme, this harassment may then be rewarded by other members of the society, leading to its reinforcement via operant conditioning. The one I believe to be the most prominent component of this negative attitude however is the behavioural basis of sexual harassment. I think the attitude that women are inferior is an implicit one in most men, in that they are not fully aware of its existence. Sexually harassing women on the street has become more of a routine for them and they don’t really think about why they do it or consider its consequences.
I think the best way to go about stopping sexual harassment and changing the belief that women are inferior is to elicit cognitive dissonance in the harassers or even those who witness harassing and do nothing. By emphasising the difference between what they know theoretically, which is that everyone is equal and that everyone has rights and freedom, and what they see or do in their everyday lives, we can open their eyes to the fact that they are contributing to a very serious issue. Unfortunately, because there are many other ways to deal with cognitive dissonance other than changing their behaviour (like changing their cognitions and making external justifications for their behaviour) it may not be effective on its own. Especially because sexual harassment has become a norm in our culture, making it very easy to find external reasons that justify harassment. Therefore, I think we should also use fear arousing communication, to support the use of cognitive dissonance. We can show them how much pain they’re causing and show them what our society will become if they don’t help put an end to it before it’s too late. We need to put a huge emphasis on the fact that they have the power to make a difference so as to avoid them turning to defensive attributions. By targeting 2 different aspects of the same attitude, we are more likely to succeed in achieving our goal and changing the attitude. I don’t think using persuasive communication will work very effectively in this case, because most men do not consider sexual harassment to be personally relevant to them, and so will not be motivated to listen and pay attention.