An Idiot’s Guide to Sexual Harassment

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I used to believe it was difficult to be charged with sexual harassment. After all, to meet the legal description, you need to do more than just tell one dirty joke or call a subordinate Hon at a meeting. There either has to be some sort of quid pro quo (have sex with me and I’ll give you a promotion), a practice I thought went out with the last episode of Madmen, or you had to create a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment needs to be pervasive. That means you have to do something sexually offensive, be told you’ve crossed the line, and then keep doing it. In other words, in order to create a hostile work environment, you either have to be a clueless or not give a damn.

In the past month, I’ve been proven wrong. It turns out there are a lot of (mostly) men out there who fall into one of these two categories. I suspect most of them fall into the last category. These are men of wealth, status and power who believed the rules didn’t apply to them, because, let’s face it, they never have before. They probably knew what they were doing was wrong, but hell, they just didn’t care, and besides, who was going to stop them?

But now that their reputations and careers are running down the drain like the blood in the Psycho’s shower scene, their finally starting to get it.

A host of men are finally facing consequences for their actions, and I have a feeling the list will grow as time goes on.

Granted, these men are mostly  in the entertainment industry (and yes, I count network news as entertainment), so I shouldn’t be to surprised that some of them act like the world revolves around them and their needs. I remember after 9/11, the Emmy Awards were going to air,  and Hollywood was worried about being a target. All I could think of was, how full of themselves are they to believe Osama bin Laden gives a rats ass what happens to the cast of Friends? If everyone in the entertainment industry were gone tomorrow (and I don’t wish that – they are still people after all), the world would keep plugging away same as it always did. And anyway, for every one of those who made it, there are 10 waiting to take their place on the red carpet. They should count themselves lucky,  not entitled.

But these pigs do feel entitled. Entitled to treat other human beings like objects, things to be used and tossed aside. I like to think it’s only the entertainment industry that has this type of culture. I know it doesn’t exist in any culture I’ve worked in. I recall once, now twenty some years ago, when a plumber doing work on one of our buildings kissed a manager. The regional director got wind of it, fired the subcontractor, and then fired the contractor who hired the subcontractor. The message was clear. We don’t tolerate that crap.

Still, I’m afraid it probably does exist in other places, we just don’t hear about it, because fields like industrial engineering and waste management aren’t as glamorous as Hollywood.

I’ve had to deal with sexual harassment over the years. Most of these issues have been relatively minor. A person filed a complaint. We investigated the complaint and learned it was true. Yes, most of the time, the complaints were warranted. While perhaps 1 percent of women are making up a story for some ulterior motive, the other 99 percent would not endure the embarrassment of coming to their HR department without the events having occurred. Once we learned it was true, we told the person to stop or be fired. Most of the time, the person apologized and the behavior ended. Sometimes, it didn’t stop, and we had to fire the person. Either way, problem solved.

Of course, most of the situations I dealt with were more of the rude comment, shoulder-rub variety. Not the sexual assault and rape we are talking about with many of these pigs.

Hopefully, the guys who are either clueless or don’t care are beginning to get the message, but in case you’re reading this and you haven’t, here are some tips for avoiding committing sexual harassment:

  • Treat all women like they were your fourteen year old daughter. If you wouldn’t want her exposed to it, don’t do it.
  • If you don’t have a fourteen year old daughter, imagine the woman was your mom. You all have a mom.
  • Other than a handshake keep your hands off people at work.
  • And don’t be a close talker. She can still
  • Genitals (men’s or women’s) are not attractive. No one wants to see a photo of them. Ever.
  • You’re aging, pudgy and balding. She’s young, fit and attractive. No way in hell she has any interest in  you.
  • There’s nothing wrong with asking a woman out at work, assuming you are both unattached and neither is a supervisor. But if she says no, back off.
  • If you are truly interested in someone, do the old-fashioned thing. Ask her our for a coffee, a drink, maybe lunch, don’t grope her in the mail room.
  • Your dirty jokes aren’t funny. She’s only laughing because she doesn’t know how else to react.
  • If the only way you can get her to sleep with you is to force or threaten her, it’s not an act of passion, it’s an act of violence.
  • If you aren’t yourself a pig, but are around pigs, say something, do something. Stick up for your female coworkers. Don’t pull a Billy Bush and awkwardly go along just to seem like one of the guys.

I know that some of you think that all of this makes the workplace less fun. If that’s the way you feel, forget the entertainment business and run for office.

 

 

 

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