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Thursday, November 3, 2011

When Will it be Politically Incorrect to be Politically Correct?

Back in the 1980s I worked in a small publishing company in Manhattan. I was in my late twenties and was something of an innocent, having been raised in upstate New York and, prior to the publishing gig, had only one other real job, as a newspaper reporter in Arkansas. I've never been what you might call naive, but I was a bit inexperienced in the ways of the big city.

There were many people at the company who were my superiors on the pecking order, but I answered directly to two men. One of them, who I'll call Mr. X for the purpose of anonymity, thought himself quite the charmer. Whenever he came into the office he'd wink and carry on with me, saying my name in a sultry way and acting generally flirtatious. He was married (I was not) and was quite a bit older than I, probably by 15 years or so. He was okay looking and for the sake of office getting along, sometimes I'd flirt back. Nothing serious. Back then, office flirting was not uncommon and certainly wasn't looked upon as being politically incorrect.

After awhile, though, Mr. X started taking things too far. His mild flirtations became highly suggestive, and the more he came at me the farther back I pulled. I no longer flirted, and in fact started mentioning to him that I really wasn't comfortable with his advances. The truth is I think he was too much of a chicken to actually carry out any of drivel that came out of his mouth, but that didn't mean the drivel didn't bug me. And, of course, he was my boss.

So one Saturday a bunch of the office crew came in to work on a project that had a nearing deadline. There were maybe seven of us in a conference room and Mr. X started in with me, remarking on my clothes and my hair and spouting off with what I'm sure he considered to be charming sexual remarks. I'd had enough. In front of the entire room full of my officemates, I slammed my hand down on the table and said "Do ya really want to? I mean, do ya REALLY? Because if you do let's go, pal. Right here. On the table. Let's just go ahead and get it over with already!" The room fell quiet (although there were more than a few smirks being hidden behind surprised hands) and Mr. X clammed up. Then he rose and left the room. I don't really remember if he came back in, and I have no clue what, if anything, was said after that. All I remember is that I handled it. A few days later he slunk into my office and told me how I'd humiliated him in front of the staff. I responded "Good. Now you know how you've been making me feel." From that day forward, our relationship returned to one of employer and employee. We even became friends, though at a distance, and a year or so after the incident went our separate ways, into our own careers.

I haven't been able to turn on the news this week without hearing about Herman Cain's sexual harassment situation. I'm not a supporter of Mr. Cain, nor am I a non-supporter. I'm interested in his ideas for turning the country around, and he seems like an intelligent and successful guy. I'm also interested in hearing the details of the sexual harassment charges because I'm wondering what in the world he might have done to cause one, then two, and now three women, years later, to start talking about how he harassed them. I'm interested because I wonder if he was as blatant as my Mr. X in his advances, if in fact he made advances at all. Did he tell a raw joke? Did he remark on a nice outfit? Or did he attempt to have sex with one or all and threaten their jobs if they didn't go along? I'd like to hear why one or more of these women went on to get settlements for his alleged off-color behavior, whatever it was, and how much the lawyers got when all was said and done. Most of all, I'd really like to ask these women why they didn't just handle it, like I did; why they didn't tell him to stop, and, like Dolly Parton in the movie 9 to 5, tell him they'd turn him from a rooster to a hen in one shot if he didn't back off.

I get the importance of being politically correct in many situations, I really do. When it comes to flirtations in an office setting, however, I'm conflicted. By today's definition of sexual harassment I've been harassed ten dozen times, by bosses, co-workers, clients, doctors, contractors, bartenders, gas station attendants, and friends. Men flirt. So do women. Men say stupid things. So do women. Men tell dirty jokes and assess, unsolicited, various parts of the human body. So do women. If we all stopped flirting and talking and assessing nobody would ever go on a date again. Ladies, when unwanted advances get on your nerves, tell the guy to stop. If they don't, humiliate them into stopping. And if they still don't? If they threaten your job? Yeah, okay, take it to a higher authority, but only as a last resort unless you're feeling genuinely threatened. If the guy is some clown where you work...yes, even your boss...there are ways to handle the situation without involving lawyers and getting settlements and stirring the pot years later because now the guy is running for president.

As I said, I don't know what Herman Cain did or didn't do, other than try to cover up the "scandal" (which as it's turning out was a colossally bad idea). I actually don't much care about his lack of political correctness back then because I have a sneaky feeling his telling a saucy joke in the office hallway or flirting with a secretary...or possibly worse in that category...doesn't tell us much about how he's going to deal with global financial meltdown. Yes, let's be PC when we're talking about ethnic backgrounds or sexual orientation or skin color. Let's not insult people for no good reason. Let's not be cruel in humor. But let's also be careful about ruining somebody's career and good name when it isn't warranted. Maybe campaign meltdown will be warranted in Mr. Cain's case, at this point none of us can say. However I can say that in my case with Mr. X I handled it instead of getting a lawyer and running away with a big check in my hand...and possibly a big book deal in my future. 

I'm not sure I'm all that interested in what Mr. Cain has to say about this. I'm very interested in hearing the other side, because I've been there.

1 comment:

is this...a...hair?.... said...

Hearing either side, or both sides, would be interesting if one could count on the stories being truthful. Let's not waste our time.

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum