Tag Archives: sexual harassment

#Me Too?

The world is abuzz with new revelations about sexual harassment, workplace predators and all-around bad behavior.

This leads me to think about a couple of incidents from my past.  Viewed through today’s lens, they’d probably warrant a call to HR.  But — and this is not to excuse these men — the world WAS different when I was young.

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Incident #1

A suburban-dwelling supervisor stopped by my desk one evening to let me know he was going to “apartment sit” a friend’s place in the city for a few days and encouraged me to meet him there for drinks “and”. Said supervisor was married, decades older, and my direct boss.  Accepting might fast-track a promotion and certainly lead to plum assignments; refusal could turn a cordial relationship into enmity.

Unlike, say, Harvey Weinstein, there was no physical intimidation.  But the message was clear: if you want to advance, here’s one way to do it.

Incident #2

I had a tiny office and a very large, very tall boss.  One day, he came in, closed the door, and proceeded to back me up against the wall while attempting to kiss me. Physical and scary, as this man had total power over me — not just in that moment but going forward if I handled things badly.

Did I tell anyone? No. Because what good would it have done? Men had no hesitation coming on to women at work; it was almost expected and it happened a LOT. So with both bosses I tried to offer a reply that would protect their egos while I rejected them –thereby preserving our working relationship.

With boss #1, I flattered him by reminding him that I was a lot younger and said that if we became involved I’d risk falling for him, which would be a very bad idea.

He bought it.

With boss #2, I flattered him by telling him how much I liked working for him (he was brilliant) and I may have lied and said I had a boyfriend.

Was this brave? Of course not.  Just simple gut instinct that if I didn’t make a big fuss, they’d stop.  It didn’t occur to me that they might victimize someone else or that this could be a pattern; I only wanted them to leave me alone.

My questions are these:  Does every proposition by a person in authority qualify as sexual harassment? And has it become too easy to assign blame without also considering ways in which the other party might respond?

I get that a powerful person like Weinstein can intimidate the hell out of a young woman whose career might never get off the ground if she doesn’t “go along”.  But showing up at the guy’s hotel room might send the wrong signal.  And if he answers that door in his bathrobe, why in hell does she go in? Is she that naive? Or is she a participant in a quid pro quo?

I don’t mean to diminish the seriousness of sexual harassment. Men who think “grabbing pussy” is a compliment, or feel entitled to treat women as objects, are disgusting. On the other hand, I wonder whether we’ve gone too far in the other direction, labeling every advance or teasing remark as harassment, which minimizes those that are.

Perhaps we should learn how to diffuse a tense situation before it gets out of control. Plus karate, in case that doesn’t work.

What are your thoughts?

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R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

I was going to write about something else this week; something more lighthearted than lewd remarks made by a person running for office.

But I feel the need to go on record: crude, demeaning, objectifying language about women is not “locker room banter” or some benign indication that “boys will be boys”. And no half-assed apology after the fact dilutes the message.

Remember that old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”? Not true. Words have power. And allowing language that insults women to go unchallenged encourages a culture which is one small step away from a date rape, abusive marriage, serial cheating, or any situation in which a woman is viewed as “less than”.

In my twenties, when I was a junior copywriter, I had a supervisor who was very tall, very large and very intimidating. I knew he had a bit of a crush on me so I kept our conversations brief and professional. One day, he came into my office, closed the door, and pushed me up against the wall as he attempted to kiss me.

Another time, a different man – married, and also my boss – slipped me the address of a friend’s apartment, saying he had been asked to “apartment sit” and hoped I would meet him there to “relax” outside of the office.

These weren’t the only incidents.

In those days, women joked off advances to save face for the men and to hang onto their jobs while maintaining a decent working relationship. There was no term such as “sexual harassment” and if you’d gone to HR you would have been told, “They didn’t mean any harm; just laugh it off”.

I’ve read that many of today’s young women reject the term feminist, thinking it equates to “man hater” or means they are unfeminine. That’s because they haven’t had to fight overt sex discrimination at every step of their careers. They take equality for granted, even though women are still paid less than men.

But here’s the thing. When a man talks about a woman in terms of her body parts, or comes on to someone who isn’t interested, it isn’t flattering – it’s offensive. Just as saying, “I love women” is patronizing and reductive.

It’s not a compliment when someone grabs your ass, tells a buddy about your great rack, or jokes that you are “hard to get”. Whether he’s 17 or 70.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve never been raped, and I’ve never had to make the agonizing decision whether or not to have an abortion. I don’t know what I would have done. But I know this: my body is nobody else’s business – to flatter, insult, violate, or make decisions for.

In the immortal words of the great Aretha Franklin, “All I’m asking for is a little respect”!