I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sexual harassment. Of course I have. Who hasn’t. It seems I cannot open twitter or look at the news without seeing a new name. A new face falling into the growing heap of powerful white men who have been using their power for years to harass and assault women. I am glad that it seems women finally have a voice and are being believed and listened to. I am happy that these men are falling. I hope that they go to jail. I hope that there is more to pay for their crimes than a few days of public shaming and a shitty typed out apology that isn’t actually an apology because it never uses the words “I’m sorry” or “what I did was wrong.”
While I’m happy this is happening, I also have had this sort of sinking feeling in the back of my mind. An uneasy feeling like the other shoe is about to drop. Then I was reading an article ( Your Reckoning. And Mine. As stories about abuse, assault, and complicity come flooding out, how do we think about the culprits in our lives? Including, sometimes, ourselves ). It is a bit long but is very good and I would highly recommend reading it. At the end of the article there is a frighteningly good take. I hadn’t quite put it into words yet, but it is exactly what I was afraid of and is the other shoe I know will drop soon enough.
“Letting all this out is undeniably exciting. Its power, to some extent, comes from the fact that it is almost terrifyingly out of control. Anything is possible, good or bad. And yes, there is satisfaction that for a month or so, it’s like we’ve been living in the last ten minutes of an M. Night Shyamalan movie where the big twist is that women have been telling the truth all along.
Yet you can feel the backlash brewing. All it will take is one particularly lame allegation — and given the increasing depravity of the charges, the milder stuff looks lamer and lamer, no matter how awful the experience — to turn the tide from deep umbrage on behalf of women to pity for the poor, bullied men. Or one false accusation could do it. One man unfairly fired over a misinterpreted bump in the elevator could transform all of us women into the marauding aggressors, the men our hapless victims.
MSNBC’s Mike Barnicle, himself once having been returned to power after a plagiarism scandal, has mourned publicly for the injury done to his friend and former colleague Mark Halperin, who got canned after being accused of pushing his penis against younger female subordinates: “He deserves to have what he did deplored,” Barnicle declared. “But does he deserve to die? How many times can you kill a guy?”
A powerful white man losing a job is a death, and don’t be surprised if women wind up punished for the spate of killings.
Many men will absorb the lessons of late 2017 to be not about the threat they’ve posed to women but about the threat that women pose to them. So there will be more — perhaps unconscious — hesitancy about hiring women, less eagerness to invite them to lunch, or send them on work trips with men; men will be warier of mentoring women.”
Many men will absorb the lessons of late 2017 to be not about the threat they’ve posed to women but about the threat that women pose to them. So there will be more — perhaps unconscious — hesitancy about hiring women, less eagerness to invite them to lunch, or send them on work trips with men; men will be warier of mentoring women.
A few weekends ago I attended a USW safety conference. I was invited to attend by my local union reps even though I am not involved as a job steward or a member of the safety committee at my mill. But I figured it would be a good opportunity to be involved and learn so I said yes. I believe there were six women in attendance, but I was the only woman in my session (my session was on return to work accommodations). It was mostly fine. There was one ridiculous video shown for a walking dolly which the instructor apologized profusely for (the general message was, “this dolly makes the work so easy a woman can do it” and then a shot of a woman in heels using the dolly to take a machine up the stairs), it was the only video they could get of the dolly and they needed to show how it worked. Honestly, it was fine. There was also a guy who kind of went on a bit of a rant about the lady at his workplace who couldn’t lift the 50lb bags so he got pulled off his job to help her. We get it dude, you’re stronger than the lady at your work, stop talking about it. Yes, we get it. You lifted the bags and she just cut them open. You’re so strong, now shut up.
But the thing that got me happened after the session. I was talking with a tradesman from another mill. We were talking about what it is like for me to work in such a male dominated environment and he was asking questions and being understanding and I was like, “wow, this guy is pretty great.” And then he dropped this bomb, I don’t remember his words exactly, but it was something pretty close to “I actually prefer to never work with women, I ask my supervisor to never put women with me as maintenance help ” and then went on to explain how it makes things more complicated and sometimes you talk differently around men than you do around women and when there are women around you never know when something you say to men you’re working with might get taken the wrong way by the woman who is there and end up as a harassment claim.
From the way that he explained it, this was a long standing policy of his. Not at all prompted by recent events. If men already feel this way, I can’t see how recent events will do anything but make it worse. Note: this is NOT me saying that this in any way makes it a bad thing to be airing sexual harassment allegations and taking down harassers. That is a VERY GOOD THING. However, an unfortunate outcome of this good thing is that more men are probably going to start feeling this way.
He kind of stunned me when he said it. I tried really hard to justify it on his behalf. He seemed like a decent, level-headed dude, surely there was a way to see that this opinion wasn’t sexist and discriminatory. As a woman in male-dominated work environment (and just a woman in general), this is what I have been trained to do. To rationalize and assure men that their opinions and ideas are acceptable and good, even when they are not. But alas, I could not find a way make it okay, because it is not. But I still didn’t want to offend him (ha!) cause he seemed reasonable and open-minded in everything else we spoke about. Again, something I have been conditioned into doing, making sure I don’t offend men or tell them that they are wrong. Because then I would be seen as bossy, a bitch, too loud, etc and they might not like me.
I kind of gave him a weird look and he explained that “of course he wasn’t trying to say that I was that type of woman.” I think he meant I wasn’t the type who would file a false harassment claim over something a male co-worker said. Sidenote: Why do men think that telling me that I am different from other girls is a thing I want to hear? Here’s the thing. Pitting me against another woman and telling me I’m better than her may sometimes appeal to my ego and competitive nature, but at its core it is divisive, unkind, and it shows a lack of respect for women as a whole. Also, it is untrue. I mean, like if we are married, or seriously dating, feel free to tell me that you like me better than other women. But if I am just meeting you and you feel the need to put down other women as a technique for showing your interest in me. No thanks.
A good tweet:
Anyways, after much reassurance that he was NOT talking about ME specifically but that he still would prefer to never work with women and continued blank and quizzical looks from me I was given the chance to respond. I managed a rather meager, “but can’t you see how that, when taken too far, is itself a problem.” To which he said, “of course” and we continued our conversation.
I have been thinking about this for weeks and wishing I had been more honest about how I felt and direct in telling him so. Here is what I wish I had said. I would have started by asking him outright if his concern was that a woman would fabricate a harassment claim or just that his usual ‘work talk’ is in fact harassment when spoken in front of a woman. Then I would point out that it sounded more from how he explained it that his normal work talk with men would be inappropriate and offensive if there was a woman around. So it wouldn’t be a fabricated harassment claim, but a completely valid claim that just simply wouldn’t have been brought up by a man. So first of all, if false claims are off the table, how am I not that type of woman? I am not the type who would report harassment, but the type that would think it is funny and laugh along? Umm, no.
And second, I would ask him why he thought the best solution to his own (self-admitted) potential harassment is not to change his own behaviour, but to remove anyone who might be offended or call him on it. I would ask him why he couldn’t see that this is blatantly sexist and discriminatory. And that even if he means it from a good place – a good place might be a stretch, so lets say instead a place of not wanting to offend a woman – that does not make it any less discriminatory or sexist. Discrimination is not a trade off for harassment. Saying, “I don’t want to harass a woman, so I will discriminate against her instead” is NOT BETTER. A sawmill is already a hard place to be a woman. It is already a boys club where a woman feels perpetually out of place. To then, on top of that, have co-workers request you never work with them simply because of your gender? That is garbage. I wish I had told him to his face that it was complete shit.
In conclusion, (1) men please stop doing this, (2) next time I will be more prepared and will try my best to do better in the moment, and (3) we are all going to have to deal with this in the future, so practice up.