Friday, March 10, 2006

Happy Returns, part Deuce

Before I get started, there’s something sticky on my keyboard.
Okay, that got it. On with the lunatic raves.

~Deb, who apparently has a condo above Wal-Mart, posted a story about white trash rednecks and how she loves them, especially me, and how she worships the air upon which I float, or at least that’s what I got out of the post. Read it for yourself if you don’t believe me. Anyway, after hearing of her and her family’s adventures with sexual harassment, it reminded me of my workplace experiences with SH. Ah, the good old days.

First off, let me state that I think sexual harassment is a woman’s game. The corporate (and supposedly legal) definition taught to me is “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and any other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” where “unwelcome” is determined by being “anything offensive to a reasonable woman.” That’s right – they made sure we all knew the definition said “woman” and not “person.” Of course I could make some sexist remarks about “reasonable woman” being an oxymoron along the lines of “battle-ready peacenik” or “fucked-out virgin” or I could tell you that whenever I hear the words “woman” and “logic” together in the same sentence I invariably get a mental image of a ball bearing rattling around inside of an aerosol paint can, but those comments are beneath me so I’ll be taking the high road by not mentioning them at all. I’m just saying that, although sexual harassment exists and it is a bad thing, the law and corporate America have taken a decidedly single-sided stance on dealing with it. If you don’t agree with me now, read about my experiences below before you judge. If, after you read the following, you still think my beliefs are simian, sexist, and red-neckedly moronic, then feck off.

In my early twenties, I needed a job with flexibility so I could work it around my college schedule. I found work at Kmart, which is like Wal-Mart only without the class or sophistication. Many of the employees where I worked were high school and college students, a demographic well known for its outstanding work ethic and ability to keep its hormones under control (yeah, right). If nothing else, it was a good place to observe the harassers in action.

Case Study #1: management hired a man in his late twenties who was slim, attractive (I guess), and had a penchant for dressing way too nice for that job. We were required to wear ties with our jeans and sneakers, but he went further by wearing pressed trousers and shined wingtips to go with his natty red vest. He was a decent worker, punctual and not afraid of physical labor, but whenever he got around the female employees (especially in the back, out of sight) he always insisted on giving them a hug. I doubt they said anything to him (other than a little cold body language), but they complained to management who in turn warned him to stop. He wouldn’t, so they eventually had to fire him. I hated seeing him go, but it was his own fault.
Discussion: forced hugging? What’s up with that?

Case Study #2: an employee had a tendency to make others nervous. No, I’m not talking about me. He had a Calvin-esque shock of natural blonde hair, badly snarled teeth which he displayed often in his approximation of a grin, and a work speed somewhere between slug and turtle. He liked to follow the other employees around, men and women both, and latch onto them as they worked, showing his bad teeth while he complained about all the work they expected from him. He was later fired under what’s described as “Employment at will” which means you can be fired for any reason or none at all. He deserved to be fired for being shiftless. Instead, management took the easy route and told him they weren’t required to provide a reason. One of the managers confided in me that they really fired him for sexual harassment. They had received two complaints about him – one for telling a female employee she looked pretty, another for telling a female employee she had on a pretty dress one day. She did – I almost complimented her as well. Looks like I dodged that bullet.
Discussion: if an employee is technically fired for no reason but secret fired for sexual harassment when he should have been fired for dereliction of duty, do you, in fact, care? I certainly don’t.

Case Study #3: a female employee in her late teens, the one who filed a complaint about being told she had on a pretty dress, liked a friend of mine. She used to make provocative comments (kind of like cat calls at moderate volume) to him in front of other employees while we were working. He smiled and went along with her jokes even though it obviously made him uncomfortable since he didn’t share her feelings. Later she upped the ante by grabbing him whenever he walked by, first on the butt and then later going for the crotch. Once I saw her grab his groin with enough force to flatten a cement truck. He doubled over in pain, but managed to smile and play it off as a joke. Naturally, he didn’t report the incident(s) because 1) he’s a guy, and were supposed to like those things (even when we don’t), and 2) if a guy reports sexual harassment he’ll likely receive nothing but ridicule.
Discussion: instead of filing sexual harassment claims, shouldn’t we men be allowed to use our innate superior strength and just kick the crap out of any women who behave like that? Hint – the answer is yes.

Case Study #4: while still in college, I got a slightly higher paying job in the factory from hell which could be a post all by itself. When I worked there, I worked for Nazi Pakistanis (yes, that combination is possible). A friend worked there a decade before and said it was run by redneck communist capitalists pigs (yes, that combination is also possible). Another friend told me about a woman who worked there the decade before when it was owned by venerable countrified bigots (finally – normal people). She worked in the office along with other physically attractive women – by some coincidence, that’s all they hired. One day her boss said he’d give her a nickel an hour raise if she would “be sweet” to him. Even in the late 70’s, a nickel an hour wasn’t much. She promptly quit and never returned.
Discussion: is sexual harassment even worse when it’s being committed by such a cheap bastard? Is being treated like a classy whore better than being treated like a cheap whore? Hint – yes again.

Case Study #5: years later after moving to a corporate job, I started to receive unwanted corporate newsletters detailing instances of sexual harassment and how it affected the employees involved. One was a story about a woman who worked in the shipping department of a company with a bunch of male truckers. They kept their tongues in check, but she felt comfortable with making sexually charged jokes in their presence. After a couple of months, two of the men loosened up and return-volleyed her humor. She reported their behavior to human resources who promptly fired the two men. The article never once said this was inappropriate on her part, or that the company acted rashly. Most of those managerial magazines exist to instill a sense of learned hopelessness in the readers. “Remember that you too can be fired for sexual harassment for no reason at all. ‘Ooh, you signed your paycheck in blue ink instead of black. I’m afraid we’ll have to fire you for sexual harassment.’”
Discussion: do you think, in some cases, sexual harassment claims are a game women use as a power play just because they’re not much good in a bare knuckle brawl?

Case Study #6: the same magazine told of an attractive woman whose job required her to frequently cross the production floor of a factory. Some of the men cat-called her as she passed, but one guy frequently deserted his post to follow her around, crotch first, making lewd jokes as he zipped his zipper up and down. He was eventually fired. “What? Just like that? Without warning?”
Discussion: Okay, I have to admit that was a pretty open and shut case.

Case Study #7: at this new company, my boss was fired for being incompetent, which he was, but I later discovered part of the reason for the firing was that he had also received some SH complaints. He was seriously old school and referred to all pretty young women as “honey” or “sugar” or “darling,” although not while conducting business. The women in question liked to hang around him because he kept expensive candy in his office and would freely share it with them. After looting his wares, they bounced off to complain to HR that his remarks made them feel uncomfortable.
Discussion: don’t you just want to smash some women in the teeth with a tire iron?

Case Study #8: another employee, an overpaid union guy who spent more time whining than working, was on medication, liked to wander the hall outside upper management’s offices holding a giant pair of metal shears and daring anyone to make an issue of it, and whose supervisor had to make sure he took his pills daily with food or else he would get really unhinged, liked to grab women (especially the young, pretty ones from #7 above) and kiss them. None of them ever once filed a complaint about him. He eventually retired with full benefits.
Discussion: is sexual harassment okay if you’re really overtly deranged and more obviously insane than I am?

Case Study #9: one of the women from the previous two scenarios had serious sex issues. She was moderately attractive in a plump way, but had troubles with dating, partly because she believed the man should make all the moves. When she could score a date, she always complained the next day that she wasn’t getting fucked (her words, the f-bomb being a particulate favorite). Maybe this is a distinctly male point of view, but an attractive woman who can’t get laid must be doing something seriously wrong. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of horny, willing men. I can think of at least one that’s getting dusty from disuse.
She attended a company e-mail class along with me and two other male employees. The three of them chatted and made jokes, sometimes of a sexual nature although those were usually instigated by her, and dragged me into their conversations from time to time. At one point they joked about her becoming the company’s spokesmodel and using her image for all the logos and holiday designs. I don’t know how that came about – I tuned them out for the most part. Anyway, sometime later the company took everybody’s picture and posted them on our intranet. As a joke, she downloaded my image, modified it to include a pair of Martian antennae, and used it as her computer desktop image for everyone to see (her monitor faced her office door). In an attempt to make nice with the morons in the office, I took the suggestion of the guys in our group and superimposed her picture over an American flag for Flag Day. Rather than publicly display the picture, I e-mailed the picture to her and the two others. She promptly forwarded it to HR with a claim that I was sexually harassing her.
Fortunately, this claim was so ridiculous the HR department just warned me to be careful with whom I talk in the company. They also mentioned that she had filed several sexual harassment complaints against other employees, although not against the nutter from Case Study #8. Naturally, they sent me this warning through my supervisor. After all, they were still HR and didn’t want to develop a reputation for being nice.
Note – most companies will not hire you if you tell them you were fired from your last position for sexual harassment. It’s better to say you killed one of your direct reports because he was frequently late to work. “Uh huh. And did this solve the problem?”
Discussion: many people have told me I was completely in the wrong because I shouldn’t use company e-mail for jokes like that, even though everybody did at that office. While I begrudgingly admit that it is a mistake to use the company e-mail like that (for no other reason than there are a lot of jerks around who will make you sorry), shouldn’t the sex-starved twit (no, the “i” isn’t a typo) be held somewhat accountable for the incident?

Bonus Case Study #10: while in Germany I read a story about American GI’s being carjacked by beautiful young Turkish women (more on them later). Groups of two to four lovely young women would approach lone soldiers for a ride, get in the car, overpower him (many of these women had been working in factories since their early teens and were quite strong), and then drive away. No arrests had been made because, despite many eye witness accounts, none of the victims (macho soldiers) would admit to being robbed by a gaggle of girls. This has nothing to do with sexual harassment, but I thought it was funny so I included it.
Discussion: my instant messaging status is set to “I am active.” When I glimpsed it out of the corner of my eye, I thought it said “I am attractive.” Can I sue my company because I think my computer is harassing me?

In closing, let me remind you that these are not the results of objective studies, but rather all the SH incidents which have happened to me. If you’re wondering why I’ve seen more emasculating bitches than lecherous pricks, it’s probably because I don’t hang out with guys like that so I’ve mostly seen one side of the equation. Still, if my opinion offended you, I recommend you blow me.


Anonymous said...

wow - that was amazing long and discussion-full!

as a chick i really dont understand how women can be so anal about 'comments' as to file claims so easily. I mean, can't you handle being attractive? those laws are to protect actual problems.

i feel sorry for the poor guy still reeling from the very forward lady in case3

its not fair that chicks get to abuse their positions with lewd comments and suggestions.

yout experiences are very interesting and funni though

oh, and i have to 'dubb' you a....

Nice Guy!

Kira said...

It's funny, but a lot of europe doesn't get the whole "sexual harrassment" facination that America has. I think that anybody who is made to feel he or she can't get ahead without putting out--unless she's a whore working for a bordello in Nevada--should have legal recourse. Also, if a fellow OR gal has been warned by a person to stop the sexual banter and refuses, then of course that should be an issue. But the rest? I just don't get it. I'm a natural flirt. I will flirt with: men, women, dogs, cats, insects (except roaches), trees, rocks, birds, small random objects, inanimate toys, bread, and sometimes the elevator. It doesn't mean a thing. Sometimes guys and gals are just like that. Why take it seriously? It doesn't mean what you think it means. LIGHTEN UP. The gal grabbing or touching the guy? Not acceptable. But maybe flirting with him? well, who cares? Same with a guy and a gal. My male students sometimes hurl their asses at me in hopes for a date or screw (hot for teacher!), and I shoot them down. The end. I don't get them "in trouble" for it. I take it for what it is: flattering. Then I move on.

We're so damn prudish here. It totally doesn't fit my temperment. I can give you another case, too: my friend Chuck at work. ALL he did was rest a hand on a secretary's shoulder once while talking to her. He was reprimanded by his boss. The secretary didn't say, Chuck, I'd prefer you not doing that as it makes me feel uncomfortable. He's a friendly guy and didn't think it was sexual anyway. He, like me, is touchy-feely. I can get away with it as a perky redhead. He gets called in for sexual harassment? WTF? He didn't DO anything! It was her SHOULDER! She said NOTHING to him about it making her uncomfortable. Sigh. People are just assholes. That's my decision and I'm sticking with it.

PBS said...

Your long list of cases was very interesting. Especially #6, "open and shut case" ha ha!

In almost every workplace I've been, it's OK to tell sexist jokes about men but not any about women. But my friend SLA was reprimanded for putting her arm around a co-worker guy and making jokes and leering comments about him at the phone company. He had politely requested that she back off, but she just thought it was funny and got worse about it. So HR had to step in. He was a newly- wed and very attractive.

Blue said...

I'm a flirt too - & living in a male dominated world - that works for me. One of the guys I work with calls me 'wench' - doesn't bother me - but a woman visiting our office from another site overheard & dobbed him in to HR as SH. I had to go & tell them I don't have a problem with it. So they 'dismissed' it with a caution....

I got fired once cause I wouldn't date the owners nephew.... Does that count?

Weary Hag said...

It's all gotten completely out of hand.

I really enjoyed all your cases ... and cringed at a couple of them because they were SO inane.

Back when I was 19 and working at a Greek restaurant, the old Greek man who cleaned the place used to walk right into my face and spout a crapload of foreign words at me. Then all the cooks and wait staff would crack up laughing and give these ucky dirty looks as though they had each just soiled their boxers in a sexual way. Finally I had had it. I approached the boss and told him it's just not fair. I demaned to learn some sassy backtalk in Greek just so I could dish it right back to these slobs. He laughed heartily and gave me a few catch phrases and the first day I got to use them, their jaws fell to the floor and they went back to work like the little greasy worms that they all were.

I stayed at that job another six months without incident and in fact, assisted the newbie chippies in learning this special new lingo.

Nowadays, I guess I don't need to worry so much about sexual harrassment. Dammit.

Seven said...

Cool post Grant,
I have a female friend that is strikingly pretty, blonde and an accomplished world class athlete. She considers me her 'friend' because I don't try to get in her pants like everyone else (not understanding its a covert operation) She is constantly complaining to me about men hitting on I told her the exact language to use and how to make a man stop this behavior. These were very well thought out phrases like, "I am not at all interested in you sexually, plese don't embarass yourself this way." (isn't that brainy?)...but she never says a negative word to any male about being harassesd...just bitches to me about the 'asswipes bothering her' I'm thinking she actually likes this? but feels she has to pretend not?

Spider Girl said...

I mostly work with other women--we compliment each other all the time. It's a bit of a double standard if we got offended by the lone guy agreeing with us that so-and-so is wearing a pretty dress today.

But society is screwed up as your case studies show.

One "personal safety" workshop I attended years ago instructed me to say to the leering fellow calling me a hot sexy momma: "Stay back! You're in my Personal Space Bubble!"

Er, yeah, that's what I'd be likely to say to him. ;p

Eternity said...

I love to flirt so I am not overly happy with those women who make it impossible for men to flirt back in the workplace. To clairfy: flirting in my mind does NOT involve grabbing someone's behind or crotch. Ick.

Plus, if I had a problem with a guy's behaviour I would tell him to back off before I would go behind his back and get him fired.

Weary Hag said...

Rick brings up another VERY valid point in this whole SH mess. The female population who now feel OBLIGED to complain, lest they be viewed as a frigging tart.

I find this crew especially annoying. Particularly when one of them works in my husband's office and feels the need to constantly CONFIDE in him about how all the others are always staring at her breasts and breast protrusions and shit. By SAYING this to a male, she has GOT to know that his eyes will invariably go directly to the area of mention.

Now ... what I'd like to do is march down there, grab this twit by the collar bone, pull her into a corner of the room and in the loudest of tones, demand that she use her self-fulfilling prophecy on someone other than my man. I may then be forced to call her a wretched whore as well, but god, how I hate to mince words.

Grant said...

aka fatty: "'dubb' you"? Are you likening me to President Bush? :p

kira: you should tell your class the student with the highest grade gets to sleep with you. It should improve study habits.

pbs: finally! Equal opportunity prudishness.

bluebolt: "male dominated world." Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Hee hee hee. Oh, shit. That was a good one.

weary hag: that reminds me - a coworker (woman) had a sign in her office that read "Sexual harassment will not be reported, but it will be graded."

rick: I sometimes feel for people who complain about all the attention they get for being too attractive, but then I remember that, although there is a limit to how good anyone can look, you can pretty much go as far as you want in the opposite direction so it's self-inflicted. The next time she complains, stare at her breasts until she stops talking and then (after a few uncomfortable seconds of silence) say "I'm sorry, did you say something?"

spider-girl: maybe you could augment the personal space bubble with an actual plastic bubble.

eternity: I agree. Office flirting should stop with ripping each other's shirts off. After that, seek permission.

weary hag: just tell your husband to say "You can relax around me. I don't find you remotely attractive." Then enjoy the silence.

~Deb said...

Wow---HOW did I miss this post? I am so out of it.

You know, it's amazing that you really don't hear of a man's sexual harrassment case. It boils down to whether or not they are ashamed to report it.

At my old place of work, there have been MANY comments from women saying lewd things.

In fact, my office had this girl sitting in the next cubical over from me---and on the other side was this really good looking guy. We worked in a call center.

Anyway, the lady would always make these comments to him---sexual induendos and such. I used to kid around with him as well (but he knew I was a lesbian so I thought I was safe) lol! So, one day he bought me lunch and even brought it over to my desk. In the bag was this sandwich with a gigantic pickle.

The lady says, "If this is any indication of your size---I would bang you in a heartbeat!"

I just looked over as I took a bite of my huge pickle. Ironic that I was the one with his pickle.

~Deb said...

P.S. My point? No sexual harrassment case was filed.

The end.

Back to my psyhe ward now.