6.20.2008

Sexual HISassment

That was what a friend of mine in college called it. Her reasoning was that “if a guy ever tried it with me… that’s what I’d get. His ASS!”

She was also the only woman, nay, the only PERSON that, during a Strike (the one-night takedown of an entire set at the end of a show), grabbed the chainsaw (before I could) and yelled out, “Where do I start??” Ah, a woman with a penchant for power tools and destruction… So, *I* thought she was the cat’s meow.

Her description of it, to me, actually seems to be a lot more accurate. At least, it’s a lot more accurate as to what would happen to ME if I were caught up in it. Then again, I’m one paranoid sucker.

Suffice to say, I’m more or less terrified at the idea of being accused of Sexual Harassment. (And I don’t throw around the word “terrify” lightly) Years ago, when I was first entering the workforce during high school with a job washing dishes… I assumed that it’s probably something that never would have to worry me, because I was a respectful guy. I assumed “Sexual Harrassment” invariably involved ass-grabbing and very blunt, straightforward orders to remove clothing and perform… *ahem*… “non-work functions” while on the clock. And seeing as how I flat-out knew that women were not objects, but rather belonged to the same sentient and intelligent species category that *I* did… what did I have to worry about? I’m polite and cordial to everyone… and since I’m not a touchy-feely person, I won’t have to worry about people claiming I molest them. As for the female co-workers I was attracted to? Well, I knew I was too chicken to do anything, so how can anyone complain about advances I’m not making? To me, it’s always been “Look, but don’t touch” when it comes to women in the workplace.

Now, thankfully, I’ve never been accused of Sexual Harassment, or even reprimanded for it. But what I *did* do… was read about it. I’m not talking about just the examples given by Human Resources whenever I had to take the “mandatory sexual harassment workshop” (isn’t there a better title? It almost sounds like they’re going to show you how to do it… and that’s not the kind of job training I expect). Those workshops really only give you the obvious clear-cut scenarios, where there is NO doubt in anyone’s mind that “yes, what that guy is doing is sexist, an abuse of power, inappropriate, wrong, and 100% no-ifs-and-or-buts-about-it Sex-U-All Harassment!”

They DON’T tell you about the examples from the ugly gray area… the cases that sound flat-out shady and miscarriages of the system. The cases that to any logical individual aren’t actually sexual harassment… but are called, tried, and convicted as such. These are some of the cases I read about… the ones that got me REAL paranoid.

Like a guy who simply came up behind a colleague and tapped her on the shoulder with one finger just to get her attention. No, the colleague had no problem with it. It was the THIRD person… another woman who was *watching*, and suddenly ran to HR saying, “He was feeling for her bra strap! Sexual Harrassment!” The guy lost his job… and somehow the complainer got money out of it.

Or the woman that brought a lawsuit against her company for Sexual Harassment because… everyone in the office was hooking up and getting into relationships with each other and… wait for it… she WAS LEFT OUT!!! Yes, NOTHING happened to her… and THAT’S why she was complaining! And… she… *won*. A very large settlement.

Or the example I heard not too long ago on a morning radio show… A woman went to a male co-worker, because she discovered that he “found something funny”, and when she asked him about it, he refused to tell her… because he flat-out said it was raunchy and inappropriate. She pressed him, asking for the internet link. He still refused. She insisted, and kept insisting that she really wanted to see it. So, eventually he relented, and by her permission and emphatic request… he sent her the link. Two days later, he was called into HR, because that same woman then complained, and called Sexual Harassment. The company, wanting to avoid any and all trouble whatsoever… fired the guy, on what they admitted was very flimsy grounds for Sexual Harassment.

What- The- F---K???

That’s when I realized exactly what Sexual Harassment is. And every time I had to go to another mandatory Sexual Harassment Workshop, I expressed this out loud. Because invariably, the whole thing would start off with a manager or some outside “consultant” (brought in specially for this “training”) asking the very simple question:

“So, what *is* Sexual Harassment?”

It’s a standard technique in seminars (Hell, *I’ve* even used it). I don’t know, maybe it makes the speaker seem smart for “stating it so simply”. But they’ll go around the room and get everyone’s “answer/opinion”… and then poke holes in everyone’s answer, all in a set-up to simply get to THEIR definition, stated in a “nice, convenient, accurate wording” which is, in reality, the language of “Legalese”. People will talk back and forth, spouting something about “Well, what about *this*? Or how about *this situation*?”… and the speaker will be pleased because they initiated a “dialog” that goes on for an hour, but it doesn’t teach anyone anything new, yet everyone THINKS they learned something new, and walks out of the conference room saying, “Wow, that was enlightening”… without ever actually solving or changing anything.

My answer is quick, dirty, simple… and I don’t see how you can poke a hole in it, or ask a question that can’t be answered simply by repeating the exact wording. And it’s this:

Sexual Harassment is whatever the Accuser says it is.

It covers every “interpretation” point that is made when talking about “comfort” and an “appropriate work environment”… but I can tell that people don’t usually like me to state it like that… because it also encompasses a very ugly truth. This is the fact that Sexual Harassment has the capacity to be a Witch Hunt.

I’m sure we all know what a Witch Hunt is, right? For those that may not be sure: It’s looking for something that isn’t there, and finding it anyway.

The Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s… no one there was *actually* a Witch. It was just an excuse to get your neighbor’s land if they didn’t want to sell it to you cheap. They accuse you as a Witch, and that’s your death sentence… and you have no defense.

The McCarthy Communist Hearings of the 1950s… Hundreds of people blacklisted because someone named them “Communist” (accurately or not), and even though they were on a public “trial”… again, the accusation IS the sentence, with no due process and no defense.

Sexual Harassment has that ability. No guy wants to hear those words, because no matter what the facts are, chances are he’s losing his job (at the very least). Even if there IS direct evidence showing his innocence… he’s already been put through the ringer so much that he *couldn’t* stay there, even if he wanted to.

Higher-ups will admit, “yes, it can unfortunately be that way… that’s why WE thoroughly investigate the validity of each to fairly assess each situation and find the truth!” Sounds great… that’s what *should* be happening… but that takes a lot of time… and when the Accuser is on the horn to their lawyer, who is in turn pushing that paperwork through as fast as possible… well, the pressure starts coming down faster than a penny off the Empire State… and if something isn’t resolved *fast*, then the consequences just start piling up. Too often, the word comes down from on High saying, “make this go away”. The easiest way to do that? Eliminate the source of the apparent “problem”.

Now, I’m definitely not saying that ALL Sexual Harassment suits are attempts to cruelly ruin someone’s life for no reason, or looking for a big payout. Nor am I suggesting that all Accusers don’t FEEL threatened and harassed… which is the biggest legal snag. (How can you argue feelings? You can’t. That’s why they pretty much HAVE to side with the Accuser.) I’d like to think the vast majority of reports are legitimate and honest. (But not in the sense that I like to hear about people being accosted.)

Every angle of the whole issue is just so muddy and foggy, 100 times more than it’s even made out to be. Even if your company is incredibly strict on it… they’re still underestimating all the ramifications. And yes, I know it is fully possible for Men to be Sexually Harassed by Women. Now, pretty much my only example of that is an episode of Three’s Company, where Jack Tripper (John Ritter) was working at a restaurant, and his female boss kept grabbing his butt. (There was a movie with Demi Moore and Michael Douglas about that too… but I never saw it.) But I think, deep down… with everyone “knowing how guys are”… people probably don’t take that as seriously as they should.

Sure, I’ve heard the statistics that say how a lot of people end up dating and marrying people they work with… but what about the instances when it doesn’t work out? If there’s a bad breakup… and then you have to still see that person every day? (I know I’m, at the very least, uncomfortable being the same area as an Ex.) Oooch, that’s just a recipe for bad karma, right there.

That’s why I do my best to remain Asexual when it comes to women I work with. I so blatantly keep my eyes above chest level, most people think I’m fascinated by the ceiling tiles. Yet, despite all my efforts, sometimes just the circumstance of owning a penis tends to throw it all out the window.

I used to work at a women’s clothing catalog… Now, it wasn’t the first or last time I’d been outnumbered at a job, gender-wise… but definitely the one where I had the greatest odds against me. Including myself, I think there were 5 guys in that office, compared to 150 women. Two of those guys were corporate, and were locked inside their office all day. So that left 3 male cubicle-jockeys in the joint to sell women’s clothing alongside the legion of actual target customer demographic. (Oddly enough… I was actually good at selling clothing to women I’d never seen.) Some guys would consider that “heaven on earth”… not me. Eyes on my computer, ears on my phone system, and just do my job. Last thing I need is to give a reason to be lynched by a score of scorned women.

Still… it didn’t stop many women there from believing that I *was* there with the intention of feeding my libido. I actually got several dirty looks from women that believed that just because I was walking past them and said “hi” when they looked at me… figured that meant I obviously wanted to do the horizontal hokey-pokey with them. There was one that was actively telling people that I “had a thing” for her, and she was annoyed at me for it. When a friend of mine told me this, (one of the few really cool gals I met… who was in a relationship, so off-limits) and asked if it was true, I said:

“Who?”

Yeah, methinks she was only seeing what she wanted to see. To the point of complete self-delusion.

Hell, I might have had a case MYSELF… I was having an uncomfortable work experience because I was being judged on my gender. Hell… I could have paid off college years ago!

Anyway, with the next job I had… I decided to try something. This was when I went off to Grad School, and ended up going back to my roots… washing dishes. When I started there, I made the resolution to not let ANYONE know what my sexuality was.

Granted, it’s not one of the first things that come up in conversation… but I’ve been thought to be Gay before, and that’s from no effort on my part. So maybe I actually get that to work *for* me this time around. (There was always the extremes… either I’m Gay, or a disgusting chauvinistic pig. Apparently no room for the “nice guy” category that I’ve always tried for) With a little effort, I got pretty good at being very cryptic and ambiguous with the things I said, especially when asked questions of a love/dating nature, or that were just plain risqué. (When working in restaurants, those subjects come up on pretty much an hourly basis. Its how we got through the day.) One day, one of the waitresses was flat-out asking me if I “liked” any of the other waitresses, and was mentioning each individually by name. My answer for each one: “She’s not my type.”

It worked! I was avoiding that attitude of “He’s straight and has a penis, so he must *obviously* want me”… and having a pleasant time at work, and not getting the standoffish treatments from the single gals. Yes, no one should really care about that gay/straight kind of thing… but it’s often entertaining to see how many people DO care. Even the ones that say they don’t.

And when the day came that a young lady I was dating came in to see me… and after talking with her briefly, we kissed goodbye… the look of utter shock on everyone’s faces was absolutely priceless. I just stopped, turned my head, and said, “Yes, I’m straight”… then continued on. I could hear my boss say, “I was *wondering*…”

(Not only a neat social experiment… but a fun way to screw with people. I highly recommend it, if you have the opportunity.)

One of my first Temp jobs when I got back to New England was for a company down in Massachusetts. And my cubicle was smack next to the resident “hot chick”. Pretty face, blonde hair, tanned skin, yadda yadda… all the stuff that appeals to the superficial guy. My total conversational time with her over the 6 months I was there, totaled to a 15 second conversation by the vending machine one morning. That’s it. Frankly, I just didn’t give a crap.

I swear, on almost a daily basis, guys twice her age would be flirting with her. They just “happen” to swing by to “see how you’re doing? How was your night last night? Do you work out? If you ever need anything, let me know… etc” Funny how they never seem to swing by MY cubicle to say that… or anyone else’s, really. To her credit… I think I detected some annoyance in her voice on some of these numerous occasions.

One morning, she came in… and had just locked her keys in her car. Simple mistake… I’ve done it a bunch of times myself. But she has sometime in the next 8 hours to find a solution… locksmith, AAA, ask a favor whatever. She doesn’t actually ask for help, but does try to think of what she’ll do. Then… I see FIVE guys… count them, FIVE… *immediately* jump up to run out to the parking lot to get her keys out. Two of them grab coat hangers, another says he has a slim jim in his car… and I don’t even know why the other two went out. I was almost crushed underneath the shockwave of testosterone. 20 minutes later... (for a 5 minute job… methinks it did not go smoothly) all five come strutting in declaring satisfied success in a manly way.

Wow… it was F’n pathetic.

The young accountant in the corner cubicle pushing 300 lbs probably wouldn’t have gotten that level of attention. I’m just saying…

That’s walking a very iffy line. If she ever thought for a bit, and decided that she didn’t want so much attention… she would probably have a case.

Honestly… I wish I had some kind of conclusion to come to here. But the rules of the issue change back and forth, differ from place to place, person to person and situation to situation so often… it all really does is just support my earlier summation.

Sexual Harassment is whatever the Accuser says it is.

At the very least… it’s worth repeating.

So, thank you… to the over-sensitive accusers, and the under-sensitive perpetrators… for making me so freaking paranoid I barely leave my cubicle, because everyone will think I’m looking at their cans.

I hate you all.

(Besides, I’m more of a Leg-and-Butt Man. *grin*)

2 comments:

fritz said...

Very weird dynamics passed for normal at my job in Santa Monica. There was a woman, around 50, with a great hourglass figure, fun, smartass personality. She dressed to show off her figure, but didn't look like a streetwalker or anything. The three male, older owners of the company loved how she looked (and this worked in my favor b/c I realized that although the official dress code was business suits, I could totally get away with knit shirts instead of blouses, which is way more comfortable for lunchtime speedwalking--and I could ditch the pantyhose--b/c although I was dressed casually, it was very conservative compared to how she and one of her other coworkers dressed).

The kicker, though, was the Halloween party (during our lunch break), when she wore a tight plastic/vinyl sexy cop uniform, and the innuendos were flying. Everyone was laughing and having a great time, but I felt so bad for her b/c I had to wonder how much of it was just her having fun, and how much was her playing along to keep her job? (No idea if she was great at her job or not; she was definitely the life of the office, though, and a genuinely nice woman; it was just a potentially super creepy scenario.)

BTW, love your ending! (The "I hate you all" line.)

rickieblue said...

i need to be more assertive about when guys creep me out. there have been a few instances where the guy was clearly being inappropriate and i just felt so uncomfortable and got too scared to talk to anyone about it, until another girl complained about feeling the exact same way about the exact same guy, about the exact same thing he was doing to me. we ended up not reporting him to the boss, but another, male, co-worker. he took care of it and the guy kept right on working there...but no more creeping us out.