Friday, December 27, 2019

Was She Really Betrayed?

Call it another lesson in the perils of imprecise language. It shows one of the effects that #MeToo is having on relations in the workplace. 

The letter, to the New York Times etiquette columnist, Philip Galanes, reads as follows:

I am a woman, and I have worked with two men for a couple of years. One of them has become a good friend and confidant to me. He and I have had numerous conversations about gender issues. So, when our other co-worker began to sexually harass me, I thought I could turn to him for support. Instead, he told me: “I don’t like to get involved in office drama.” He also told me that he still thinks our co-worker is a “really cool guy” and I should give him a second chance. Do I have the right to feel hurt?

Unfortunately, we do not know what she means by sexual harassment. She does not provide the details and apparently does not feel a need to provide the details. So we don’t know whether he said something inappropriate or did something criminal. The term has sucked up so many different meanings that it is impossible to evaluate the situation without knowing the details.

Besides, don't these two have anything better to do with their work time than to talk about gender issues? This makes her seem overly political and it makes him appear to be someone with whom she felt safe talking about gender issues... a kindred spirit.

She assumes that her male co-worker is as woke as she is and will naturally take her side in what may or may not be a conflict. He tells her that he does not want to get involved.

Perhaps he knows that she is overly sensitive and easily triggered. Perhaps he knows that the cultural atmosphere is toxic. Perhaps he does not want to lose his job and blow up his career to defend a woman who feels slighted. 

If one is allowed to speculate, one suspects that if the situation were on the level of assault he would be more prone to come to her defense. Again, we do not know and we are expected to take her at her word. All we do know is that her male friend has told her to give the other male a second chance. This suggests that the "harassment" is not recurring.

What does that mean to you? Does it suggest that the other male has asked her out on a date? Does it mean that the other male has asked her on a date after she turned him down? Is the other male her supervisor or manager? Did he touch her inappropriately or use foul language in her presence? Or has the harassing male wrongly assumed that she is so cool that he can say things in her presence that he would normally reserve for locker room banter?

And then, what is the woman doing to deal with the situation? Is she so completely disempowered that she cannot deal with it herself? Does she require a knight in shining armor to save her? And if the situation does not rise to the level of serious harassment, the kind that would need to be taken to HR, why should her male friend rush to her rescue?

Such are the questions that arise from a cursory reading of her overly vague letter.

For his part, Galanes decides to take on the role of rescuer. He assumes that someone terrible has happened. He wants to show how seriously he takes sexual harassment, even though he does not know, on the basis of the letter, precisely what happened.

Galanes seems not to distinguish an uncomfortable from a painful experience. Surely, we know that there is a difference. And he is quick to denounce the friend, who is far more privy to the real circumstances, than he is. Galanes considers that the male friend has betrayed the woman in question. This means that he is encouraging the woman to break her relationship with her close male colleague because he is not sufficiently woke.

So, she will be losing a friend and a colleague… over, we don’t know what. How will they all be able to work together then?

Here is the Galanes response:

You don’t have to earn the right to feel anything. I get not wanting to overreact, but that’s a far cry from what’s going on here. You confided in a trusted friend about an uncomfortable, perhaps even painful experience. He brushed you off and told you to let it slide. That’s a betrayal.

But let’s put aside your so-called friend for a moment. My greater concern is whether the harassment is continuing. I want you safe.

I don’t want to be prescriptive about how you handle this, though; every person and workplace is different. If there’s a manager you trust or a human resources officer, consider confiding in her or him. If not, contact an organization like RAINN that provides support to survivors of sexual abuse.

As for your friend, keep your distance for now. When this matter is resolved, let him know what a bad friend he was to you. Characterizing your harassment as “office drama” showed a stunning lack of compassion. And for the record, he also proved that he’s a terrible arbiter of cool.

As we know, most HR managers will only get involved when situations become extreme. We do not know whether or not she went to HR or to anyone else in the company. And we do not know how someone who knew the details would react. Telling the man that he was a bad friend sounds like teenage girl talk to me… and it is not likely to improve relations with the man in question. 

As for being a terrible arbiter of cool, since we and Galanes do not know what happened, we have no business seeing anyone as an arbiter of anything.


UbuMaccabee said...

We do not need to know what happened to know it’s probably a bad idea to hire women in the workplace. That seems like the most elegant solution.

JPL17 said...

Unless both their job descriptions required them to discuss "gender issues", the first huge mistake made by both the letter writer and her male "good friend" was to discuss gender issues at work in the first place. It's just asking for trouble.

Derek Ramsey said...

"Call it another lesson in the perils of imprecise language."


"If not, contact an organization like RAINN that provides support to survivors of sexual abuse."

Survival. I just shake my head.

n.n said...

War of the sexes, featuring male and female chauvinists.

UbuMaccabee said...

I am a chauvinist out of economic self-preservation whereas she is a chauvinist because once that hamster climbs inside that wheel, there is no telling where this will end.

Besides, what if you hire her and suddenly she developes ennui because she is far from home? Poor dears.

Elegant solutions to intractable problems.

Anonymous said...

She worked with this man for years and suddenly, after all this time, he sexually harasses her? Her "friend" probably thinks she is a nut whom he's been humoring. He put up with it until now but the s*t is hitting the fan. In answer to her written question, she can be hurt if she chooses to be; but isn't the bad work situation about the OTHER coworker? Why is she writing about the innocent party? I posit that she is a nut.