Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Problem with Greater Awareness of Sexual Harassment

As Shakespeare put it, in a line that is not quite self-evident:

For 'tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petard, 

It may or may not be your idea of sport, but the prince is referring—in modern terms-- to a terrorist whose bomb goes off unexpectedly and kills him.

The slightly outmoded word “enginer” refers to someone who builds and designs engines, not necessarily to someone who conducts them.

One recalls the 1970 explosion of a townhouse in Greenwich Village. While members of the Weather Underground were preparing a bomb, they made a mistake, the bomb blew up, three of them were killed.

It may not seem quite fair to compare bomb-making to gender politics, but our fine-tuned awareness of sexual harassment has caused apparently caused some Congressmen to exclude their young female staffers from one-on-one meetings.

Given their prominence and the possibilities for public exposure these men are exercising an excess of caution. Unfortunately, it works against the best career interest of their female staffers.

Somehow or other Congressmen have learned that young women are a threat and that even the appearance of impropriety can severely damage their political careers.

How did we get to this point?

Since the practice has been going on for some time, let’s give credit where credit is due—to Bill Clinton’s peccadillos with several women, among whom an intern named Lewinsky.

And let’s give credit also to those who rose up in righteous fury upon learning that Clarence Thomas was accused of having uttered some sexually suggestive remarks to Anita Hill.

These events raised everyone’s consciousness about sexual harassment in the workplace. But apparently, they also made women into a potential threat to their male superiors.

It makes sense. Raised consciousness about sexual harassment forces people to see professional interactions in potentially sexual terms. It sexualizes women, and defines men as potential or actual sexual abusers.

The more you see professional women in terms of their sexuality the less you will see them as professionals.

Given this climate, many men—especially those who are in the public eye and whose antics are most likely to be exposed—are unwilling to assume the risk. They refuse to have closed-door one-on-one, private meetings with female staff and do not want to be seen out at a function with a female.

For all anyone knows, it is all perfectly professional. And yet, given the cultural climate, there are greater chances for misinterpretation—innocent or malevolent.

The National Journal has the story:

In an anonymous survey of female staffers conducted by National Journalin order to gather information on the difficulties they face in a male-dominated industry, several female aides reported that they have been barred from staffing their male bosses at evening events, driving alone with their congressman or senator, or even sitting down one-on-one in his office for fear that others would get the wrong impression.

It continues:

"Even though my boss is like a second dad to me, our office was always worried about any negative assumptions that might be made. This has made and makes my job significantly harder to do," one female staffer told National Journal.

Another reported that in twelve years working for her previous boss, he "never took a closed door meeting with me. … This made sensitive and strategic discussions extremely difficult."

This situation is apparently not the norm:

The issue is hardly the norm. Numerous staffers contacted for this story, both male and female, said they had never experienced or even heard of such a policy. But those who do employ these policies could have a legal issue.

The lawyer’s solution: sue.

Any Congressman who systematically excludes female staff from certain types of interactions might now be threatened with legal action.

Attorney Debra Katz sees how this makes career advancement more difficult for women:

"So much happens in creating trustful relationships and if you can't develop a trustful relationship where you're having some one-on-one time, as the men apparently are getting—I can see many reasons why this is a terrible idea, terrible in the sense of discriminatory," Katz added, calling the practice "clearly unlawful."

The presence of women in a Congressman’s office thus becomes a threat: damned if you do and damned if you don’t. One finds it difficult to understand how women are advantaged in the workplace by having their presence made a danger.

And, how is anyone going to litigate face time or private meetings? In this, as in many other cases, we should never underestimate the ingenuity of lawyers.

For reasons that remain mysterious to some, the same problem does not arise with senior female senators, for example.

Maine Senator Susan Collins does not get it:

The Maine Republican said she was "just stunned" that some of her male colleagues would be so concerned about working closely with their female aides. "To me, that's just extraordinary because of what it implies, the lack of professionalism that it would imply," Collins said. "It implies that a man and a woman can't have a completely professional, proper relationship. That's just stunning."

It doesn’t feel absurd to think that under certain circumstances it is difficult for a man and a woman to have a completely professional relationship. Need we mention that the fault is not always on the side of the male?

Given human nature, it has occasionally happened that a young woman will act in ways that are not entirely professional, the better to advance her career or even to find herself a husband. Heaven forfend, but unmarried young women have even been known to flirt or seduce married bosses.

To imagine that women are totally innocent in these matters stretches credulity.

Pretending that the difference between the sexes does not exist seems not to serve the best interests of men or of women.


Ares Olympus said...

So potential predicaments here are:
1) A male boss can be accused of sexual passes by a female staffer, and its a he-says-she-says conflict if no one else is present.
2) A male boss or female staffer can be gossiped about if they are seen going into private spaces with no one else to chaperone their mutual virtues.
3) A male boss who wants to avoid false accusations and gossip may exclude these threats but at the cost of female staffer's usefulness and threaten her career advancement.
4) Such avoidances by a male boss can be considered legally discriminatory.

The most interesting thought for me on the subject is to consider some men may be intimidated by young attractive women, whether in the distracted sense or uncomfortable sense, and not want to hire young attractive women staffers.

Should a male boss under such "preferences" be allowed to discriminate? And barring that, it would also be interesting if a female staffer would have a problem if her boss told her to dress more conservatively.

And the roles can be reversed, and we can ask whether a male staffer could request a female boss dress more conservatively. Of course you may assume a female boss is "unavailable" while a lowly female staffer is "asking" for status by showing undue interest in her boss's tie being straight every day or whatever.

And I've heard of similar problem with a male pastor and an apparently emotionally unstable female intern, not even called sexual harrassment but "intimidation", some sort of abusive father issues, but the report threatened his reputation while the woman didn't even have to testify her "facts". So you'd never guess of these dangers until after they happen.

And on a parallel problem of awareness, teachers and coaches have the same problem with students, and a teacher must be very careful about inviting a student to their home or closed-door office rooms unless someone else is present, both for teen-adult relationships, and sexual abuse of younger children.

Back to adults, clearly some men and women are highly skilled in communication and can navigate ambiguity, and the majority of us are a little confused and unsure what to do or what someone is saying between the lines, and another fraction will read things that are not there, and may react unpredictably and accuse things you didn't mean.

The closest I saw was from a few years ago, some male engineer made some crude joke, and a female complained, and the entire company had to go through a harrassment training program. I can't remember much now.

Looks like some Youtube videos to help us confused human beings see problems before they occur, and hopefully not create new problems in our new awareness?

JK Brown said...

"It implies that a man and a woman can't have a completely professional, proper relationship."

That is a completely ignorant sentence. What it implies is that a completely professional, proper relationship between a man and a woman can quickly be construed into something else by others mistake or malevolence when conducted without rebuttal witnesses. And this neglects the risk of accusations from the woman in the relationship.

Waiting in the wings is the risk associated with same-sex oriented subordinates or bosses. All in all, don't be alone with someone who isn't your wife or child and even the latter can turn on you in a heartbeat.

Dennis said...

Before I retired, and it had nothing to do with whether they were attractive or not, I made sure that the door was always open and I talked loudly. It just became too dangerous to be in any situation that could be utilized agains't you. I know I was not alone.
As can be noted, the sexual harassment idea pushed by feminism can and does become a double edged sword. And more so if we start getting more law suits. It is almost as if one lives by the harassment suit then one will die by the harassment suit. If one is damned if they do or damned if they don't it is far easier to not do.
It would seem that feminism has create a hostile work environment for everyone involved and it hurts women far more than men in the long run.
Fortunately I am past that for the most part. I do have a few women, but they are there for the expertise I provide and to be part of an excellent group of people.

priss rules said...

When we look at our pop culture, I think the bigger problem is

Ladies, stop acting like stupid whores.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

When I read the title of this blog post, I immediately thought "Ah, yes... this will be a tale demonstrating the abdication of personal responsibility for _____."

Plays true. The Left poses that there are no consequences in life, only opportunities. Yeesh.