It seems to me that my memory is putting in overtime lately the way it has been bringing up events that happened many years ago and have been dormant until resurrected by something in the news. This time the trigger was apparently what has been become known as the “Me, Too” campaign in which numerous women have come forward with reports of being sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace. One of the more sensational accounts was by a woman who told of being traumatized several years ago when a 90-some year old wheelchair-bound well-known celebrity sexually assaulted her by giving her a pat on her bottom.
What my memory box dredged up this time occurred about a quarter of century ago when I was still drawing a paycheck instead of a pension. The powers-that-be in the organization where I worked decreed that all male employees had to go through what now would likely be called “sensitivity training.” I never knew what prompted this move; all I knew was that I was required to attend all-men classes conducted by “mentors.”
The main thing I recall from these sessions is that men, in general, were characterized as rude, crude, foul-mouthed, sex-crazed brutes who constantly treated their female co-workers with disrespect, and harassed them in a variety of ways – including physically and verbally. I don’t recall any specific examples of misbehavior being mentioned – perhaps to spare the feelings of any victims.
Regardless, we were expected to acknowledge these sins and to change our ways.
We were also warned that transgressors could well find their careers suffering. What I recall vividly, however, was a “Guidelines for Guys” that was distributed surreptitiously as an unofficial list of things that could get men in trouble with female co-workers. This list, authored by “Anonymous” was fairly long so I don’t recall all of it, but here is a sample of suggestions by category.
– Keep your distance. Never have physical contact with any female co-worker. Even the most innocent “How’s it goin’” pat on the shoulder falls in the category of fondling or groping. Body-to-body contact, such as accidentally bumping into a woman, is considered particularly offensive. Invading a female co-worker’s “personal space”, that is, getting closer than a few feet, is uncalled for intimacy and may be felt as intimidation. This also includes intruding into her “work space” such as sitting on the corner of her desk, leaning towards her with both hands on her desk, or going behind her desk where she is seated.
Watch what you say. Profanity, “off-color” stories and jokes, and sexual/suggestive comments are all inappropriate around female co-workers.
Don’t comment on a woman’s appearance to her or anyone else – even if it’s intended as a compliment. Such remarks are considered sexist in nature, demeaning, and debasing. Avoid discussing personal matters with your female co-worker – these have a way of being misinterpreted and offensive.
Avoid possibly compromising situations. If work circumstances require being alone with a female co-worker make sure it’s not behind a closed door.
Abstain from having lunch alone with a female co-worker – it can project intimacy. There were also suggestions on how to avoid problems when traveling with a female colleague – including pitfalls of two person car pools. Sounds like a reasonable, practical “stay out of trouble” guide for the guys, right?
Wrong! These suggestions were vigorously condemned by the “experts” as a prime example of how women are segregated, isolated, and treated as if they do not belong alongside male workers. We guys were not only confused and bewildered, we were clueless about what to do. We were being accused of mistreating our female co-workers, but weren’t sure how remedy the situation, particularly since these “helpful hints” were so objectionable. As the women got wind of what was going on, they became agitated so everyone just kinda walked around stiff-backed and not talking much. It was quite a while before the chill wore off.
You know, the reports of how some of these high level executives have mistreated women are truly disgusting and the perpetrators should be held accountable. That said, I seriously doubt that we every day, ordinary guys intentionally harasses or abuse women. If we do so accidentally or inadvertently, it’s just that we’re still clueless. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a local resident, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.