Sexual Harassment and Safety Cosmetics

Originally posted on February 10, 2021 @ 2:54 PM

Sexual Harassment and Safety Cosmetics

Understanding an Ethic of Risk ( is not about ‘duty’, we see this in the failed deontological ethic of the AIHS BoK Chapter 38.3 (

You cannot come to such a critical ethical issue as sexual harassment in the workplace, as if psychological safety is just about meeting duties under the Act and Regulation. Yet this is how the Safety presents the problem

  • Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties
  • Preventing Workplace sexual harassment guide

Sexual harassment is not about some objective rule or behaviour but rather deeply philosophical and ideological values hidden in plain sight. Of course, in Safety, there is no Feminist group or Ethic of Risk. Indeed, this masculinist industry does a great job on lining up all the sexist agenda behind the masculinst ethic of duty. The last thing this industry wants is some Feminist critique of the power, ethics and politics of safety.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see the ‘Know My Name’ exhibition at the National Gallery ( The Know My Name exhibition ‘celebrates the work of all women artists with an aim to enhance understanding of their contribution to Australia’s cultural life’. You can view some of the works in the exhibition here:

Unfortunately, it is masculinist mythology that paints Feminism as men-hating. This is the binary construct of the duty-ethic. There is nothing more important to the duty ethic than blind obedience, compliance and dumb-down. The last thing a ethic of duty wants is: critical thinking, political critique of power, dissent, questioning and challenging ideologies. This is what is envisioned in the Know My Name exhibition. Envisioning brings visionary thinking into view, duty suppresses envisioning ( ).

There were many works on display in the exhibition but one in particular caught my eye, a work by Fiona Hall entitled ‘Tender’ (see Figure 1. Tender). In this work we see the construction of nests in various form all made by shredded American dollar bills known as ‘legal tender’. I will let you work out what the artist was saying but thought it said a great deal about the way Safety approaches the problem of sexual harassment.

It is so easy to hide behind the cosmetics of legality, law and regulation in compliance to duty. In this way the status quo is never questioned, enemies can be demonized and nothing changes. This is the cosmetics of safety, all the time avoiding any discussion of the tyranny of zero, absolutes and the devaluing of helping, care and learning. This is how safety suppresses dissent, by invoking the ideology of zero, duty and compliance to its assumptions that privilege the adoration of objects ( and masculinist power.

Do some research and you will find that the linguistics of safety is never about persons ( and always about objects and numbers.

Figure 1. Tender


The beginning of sexual harassment is the devaluing of persons yet in safety you will find no discussion of personhood globally. Instead, in these documents on psychological wellbeing and sexual harassment the focus is on duty to a process not the deeply problematic issues of ideological prejudice towards women in the very systems of duty to safety. The problem in sexual harassment is not the process, but the ideology of duty and compliance, all encapsulated in the masculinist binary ideology of zero. Safety is primarily a misogynist activity ( and the evidence for such is overwhelming.

Safety more than anything needs a theory of Feminist Safety ( and until then, it is likely to just rub more duty cosmetics over critical issues – critical methodology for ensuring nothing changes. Strangely, one won’t find a Feminist view in the various women in safety groups either.

The Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) is closely aligned to the emergence of feminist and post-structuralist thinking and this is evident in modules we run on: linguistics, poetics, ethics, politics, communications and culture ( You can get a sense of what a feminist view of safety could look like from a video we made of 5 women in discussion on the issue (

Life and Work – Feminine Perspectives from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.

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