Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fear and loathing at City Hall, redux

I've had some VERY interesting reactions to my Saturday op-ed, reflecting on the Warren Turner non-censure vote. I told of a couple of instances long ago in which male colleagues had been inappropriate, either to me or others. I never reported them, I wrote, in part because that was an era when people really didn't talk about "sexual harassment" as something you should complain about.

I also wrote, "Not reporting things is not unusual. Why didn't I report Mr. Trashmouth Reporter? Why didn't I speak up, years later, when a male politician casually and briefly dropped a hand on my thigh at a dinner? I guess I didn't want to make a scene. I told a friend. She revealed that the same fellow had, in the guise of a hug, groped her. (For the record, it was not Warren Turner.)"

As you'd expect, I got some e-mails and phone calls in response. Most of the ones from women recounted experiences they'd had in which male co-workers, bosses or colleagues made their workplace uncomfortable.

Two off-the-record accounts came from women whom I've always thought of as taking no guff – the kind you'd think would have told the men to knock it off or they'd be missing key body parts. They told of thoroughly inappropriate remarks or even fending off men whose names you'd recognize. Neither ever reported it, or directly confronted the men. Why not? They just didn't want to make a scene, they said.

The e-mails were interesting as well. Several from men expressed skepticism that the harassment truly occurred or was really anything more than clumsy attempts at flirtation. Here's what one man wrote:
"Women in the workplace are exposing themselves more and more. ... skirts with high, high slits; leg crossings exposing panties and/or the upper thigh. At the water cooler or in the elevator, an attractive man might get a really hard unmistakable breast buried in his ... triceps. Or a woman will bend over facing him, showing how loose her bra fits and a whole lot of her anatomy. I can understand how some men interpret that conduct as an invitation ... . Sexual harassment is a two-way street. Women should hold their exposure and their pressing of breasts on men for their husbands at home, etc., not at work." (Never mind that neither I nor the women I knew whom I wrote about had dressed in those ways.)

The women's e-mails were more sobering. Here's one: "I've been in the same job for 21 yrs and always "1 rung below" in the pecking order of the same guy all these years. I've put up with exactly what you talked about – for 20 yrs. Nothing has changed for women really today. The same guy has been in trouble numerous times. Nothing ever happens to him. Most who did dare to come forward & complain, found themselves laid off or transferred to a lesser paying job. Why come forward if you'll not be validated or supported by management but rather only made to look like a fool? Certainly, it was never worth it to me."

Another: "Thank you so much for writing the article regarding sexual harassment. I am a retired teacher who was harassed by a principal along with several other teachers. My reaction was interesting when it first happened. You wonder, was it something I said; was he only kidding; maybe I was overreacting. When it happened again, I began to feel very uncomfortable and threatened. I then made it a point of avoiding his presence whenever possible. Eventually I along with a group of other teachers went before the school board attorney to express our feelings. I was wise enough to take my own attorney along and get in writing that I would not receive any repercussions due to my action. There was never any action taken against the principle but he eventually did lose his job for another infraction not related to the harassment. ... I have two daughters in the work force now and they tell me that they have never had a boss who did not harass them in some way. "

And this, with an interesting suggestion at the end: "You told the situation just like it really is. I know from sad experience. I worked for many years at one of our hospitals as an RN. I was groped by one of the doctors, and then later when I complained to the RN in charge, I was told "this is Dr. M, and we don't want to upset him, do we?" Several years later, that same doctor made inappropriate remarks when we were on an elevator. I was so dumbfounded that I just looked harshly at him, and got off the elevator at the next stop. I did tell a superior, and she said basically the same thing that the first one had said, that is, leave it alone. I was supporting my family, and needed my job. You can be assured that I stayed far away from that doctor. ... Perhaps we need a place where women (and/or men) can go to report inappropriate happenings. It would be ideal if there could be some sort of a committee which could listen, and then weigh the situation to see what could be done about it."

So fellas, here's a lesson for you. You may not be making smarmy remarks about body parts or your sexual prowess to your female co-workers, but some men do. You may not be groping your female colleagues, but some other men are. Most men behave themselves. A few don't. When the women try to report these things, please try to believe them. A small percentage may be making things up, but it's more likely that they are telling the truth. Even if it's about your fraternity brother – or your fellow City Council member.


tarhoosier said...

Amen, sister


WashuOtaku said...

Don't have to worry about me, I've been thought long ago to fear all women... if you even look at them with mild interest, it could land you in a hep of trouble. Yep, I'll probably die a lonely person, but at least I have the Internet.

Cognoscenti said...

Thank you, Mary.

Really!?! said...

Yep! It's a two-way street. Women harass men too. As a bartender of twelve years I received dozens of unwanted comments and advances from both men and women on a regular basis. It can make you feel like crap! However, the tables can be turned: often times I addressed the situation in a manor so as not to humiliate the offender, (even though they deserved it) and usually the offender was apologetic as well as more rewarding in future trips to the bar with tips.

Jessica said...

Well written.

AugustEve said...

If the US Congress had taken appropriate steps when Anita Hill told the truth on Clarence Thomas then the law of the land may be different. To ignore the actions of people like Warren Turner, Clarence Thomas and many,many others speaks volumes of where we need to be as a society. Neanderthals do this all the time and get away with it because they will always have other neanderthals to support them. Just look at the proof: Clarence Thomas is on the highest court of the land and Warren Turner is smug as a bug in a rug. Garbage should always go out with the trash. No exceptions. Women who come forth with the truth are courageous and strong and I hope my daughter grows up to be as strong and courageous. As a father I talk with my daughter all the time about thugs and their behavior. Sexual harassement of any nature is thug behavior.

consultant said...

American society is structured around three concepts-race, sex and class. You can look at any one or all of these concepts to explain how our society works.

Take sexual harassment. It almost always is from men directed at women. The race or ethnicity of the male doesn't matter. It's usually men harassing women.

Now take punishment for said harassment. If it's a white male doing the harassing, chances are EXTREMELY high that nothing will be done.

Here's the key to harassment AND punishment (if caught):

*White male harasses white female->nothing is done

*White male harasses black female->nothing is done and he gets a promotion

*Black male harasses black female->nothing is done, woman is labeled a slut

*Black male harasses White female->he is fired, called crazy and punished to the full extent of the law

On another matter, how many Tea Baggers have signed up to go down to the Gulf Coast to sop of that oil? BP is counting on all you free market, anti regulation folks to come to their rescue.

So git goin'!

Thad said...

If the person who is getting groped would say something (loudly) at the time of the incident, I bet the actions would stop immediately.

Call them out, don't go whining to anyone else (co-worker or the company president). The embarrasment will stop the actions.