Essay Prompt: Sexual Harrassment and Women in the Workplace

I’ve said it many times: some of my best essay prompts come from my Conservative friends on FB. Just this morning, in response to the firing of Matt Lauer, I saw the following in a comment conversation chain:

Poster 1: I actually believe this will work the opposite way: if you so much as look crosseyed at a woman at work – no harassment of any kind by any stretch of the imagination, she’ll claim it anyway and you’re still gone. There was a round of this kind of stuff going on in the late 80s and early 90s. Guys need to be squeaky clean and need to be prepared to lawyer up against false accusations.

Poster 2:  As for women. I am growing to want little to do with any of them outside my wife and family, it’s too risky. Too many false accusations and everything is assault now. Even just having good manners. Women’s libbers are truly setting the female gender back decades. Who is going to want to hire a potential lawsuit knowing it’s now “guilty until proven innocent” in this matter?

Just think about this for a minute, and you’ll see why this is an essay prompt. Follow this down the path, and where do you end up? We must keep the women separate to protect us. They must dress modestly (thank you Angela Lansbury). “It’s not my fault, I just looked at her wrong.”

Guys (I was going to say “Folks”, but perhaps “Guys” is better): You need to listen to those Sexual Harrassment training courses. The issue isn’t looking at them crosseyed (although pervasive stares could be a problem). The issue isn’t opening the door for someone or being polite. The issue isn’t women in the workplace.

Here’s what the key issues are: (1) Harassment. (2) Power. (3) Respect. In many ways, it boils down to the Golden Rule. Not Trump’s Golden Rule, which is “He who has the gold makes the rules.”, but the biblical one, which for those unaware goes back to the Talmud:

Once there was a gentile who came before Shammai, and said to him: “Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”  – Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a

How do these points relate?

  1. Harassment. Don’t harass anyone, in any way. That’s being a bully. That can range from offensive looks, artwork you know will incite, statements you know will incite. Don’t push people’s buttons. Wikipedia notes that harassment  is commonly understood as behavior that disturbs or upsets, and it is characteristically repetitive. In the legal sense, it is behavior that appears to be disturbing or threatening. Sexual harassment refers to persistent and unwanted sexual advances, typically in the workplace, where the consequences of refusing are potentially very disadvantageous to the victim. Key aspects there: Persistent and unwanted. In other words: the first time you do it, it is a mistake. Do it again, your ass is grass. I said so in an earlier post. Whether sexual or just bullying. This isn’t a “female” thing. If you wouldn’t behave that way to someone you like and respect, don’t do it.
  2. Power. Often these relationships are an abuse of power. They are attempts to show that you have the power, or you are taking advantage of that power to get something of benefit. Be it money, sex, or some other favor. Don’t do it. Again: Using your power against someone is just being a bully.
  3. Respect. Hillel said it best: “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow.” Perhaps you know this as the line from Matthew: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Same thing. Treat people with respect, they way you would want them to treat you. This goes to word, deed, and what you do in your workplace at home. It is an attitude to teach your children.

The problem is not women in the workplace. The problem is not looking at them crosseyed. The problem is not avoiding all women. [And, to be fair, not that this isn’t just a man to woman problem — ask Kevin Spacey]. The problem is treating people as sexual objects, not people. The problem, even broader, is treating people as objects, not people. Treat people with respect, as you would want to be treated, and you’ll be just fine.