University of Virginia professor: 'Men benefit professionally from sexual harassment'

Men walk along Wall Street near the New York Stock Exchange in New York.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Men walk along Wall Street near the New York Stock Exchange in New York.

In a Twitter thread on Wednesday, University of Virginia professor Siva Vaidhyanathan shared his thoughts on the recent wave of sexual harassment allegations against powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner and Kevin Spacey.

Men, he wrote, "benefit professionally from sexual harassment."

Vaidhyanathan recalled a time in graduate school when he worked closely with a professor who had "a powerful intellect, great editorial instincts," and made him a far better writer. His female colleagues, he says, avoided the same opportunity because of the professor's "notorious" behavior.

"I'm a much better writer and scholar because of his close, sincere attention to my work," he tweeted, adding that, "I thought I was the good guy because I would run interference and warn women who did not know him that he was dangerous."

Missing out on a working relationship with a particular professor may seem small in the grand scheme of someone's career, but Vaidhyanathan tells CNBC Make It that it's missed opportunities like these that can keep women out of a field entirely — benefiting their male colleagues in the process.

"If a woman has a bad experience in graduate school and decides not to become a professor, that is one less woman who applied to the same jobs I did, and that meant more room for me," he says. "All men have benefited from the reduced competition of women who have been dissuaded from certain careers or certain companies."

Vaidhyanathan says it's the responsibility of everyone to address the issue.

"It's too easy for men who pride themselves on not mistreating women to check out of the conversation," he says. "If we really want equal opportunity for women in the workplace and equal wages, as well as comfortable and dignified spaces, then we all have an investment in stopping sexual harassment."

Kim Churches, CEO of the American Association of University Women, echoes Vaidhyanathan's sentiments. Churches says one solution to the problem can be the promotion of more women to positions of power.

"All men have benefited from the reduced competition of women who have been dissuaded from certain careers." -Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of media studies, University of Virginia

"I'd say workplace managers and supervisors should be really looking themselves in the mirror to do everything they can to promote women in the workplace," she says. "A lot of these systematic things are linked to us not seeing enough women in leadership roles."

Vaidhyanathan, who is a professor of media studies and director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia, says he sees it as his duty to speak up against harassment and hopes that other people will not be afraid to do the same.

"I hope the past two weeks have woken up enough people so that women are going to be less fearful of the ramifications, but I suspect that will still take a long time," he says.

"I was in my 20s when Anita Hill testified in court. She was so brave and so impressive and she still lost. It's like we barely learned any lessons since Anita Hill made that stance, and that's depressing."

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