Wednesday, March 23, 2005

EOTM: Sexual Harassment

I don't think anyone has any problem with the provisions of Sexual Harassment law which relate to Quid Pro Quo, making the provision of sexual "favors" a condition of continued employment or advancement. And the "Hostile Work Environment" provisions were certainly positive in intent. In many respects it is simply an extension of the thinking underlying the Occupational Safety Hazards Act, OSHA, into the less clearly defined areas of emotional reactions and response. However, like OSHA, the attempt to eliminate all discomfort and risk from the work environment cannot operate independently of the realities of that environment.

I have worked in a great many "hostile environments", meaning those where there was a significant risk of "discomfort", mostly in terms of unpleasant working conditions and risk of injury or death. As a teenager, I saw a friend of mine lose his arm to a piece of equipment without proper safety shielding. In at least one respect, he was lucky. By the time I graduated from high school, at least a dozen people I knew had died in mishaps which were directly due to risks inherent in the industrial or agricultural environment. One man I knew suffocated in a grain bin. Another was drawn into a hay baler, along with his wife who tried to rescue him. Several died when tractors overturned on them. One died when a tank of ammonia fertilizer blew its seal and filled the shed he was in with alkaline gas. Three others died when dust around a grain elevator exploded and caught fire.

The risks and discomforts involved with many jobs were simply so inherent in the nature of those jobs that it never occurred to men to expect or demand that those risks and unpleasantness be removed. Phrases like "part of the job", "goes with the territory", and "if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen" embodied a certain common sense folk wisdom that one's choices were limited by circumstance and that the only real choice one had was whether to take the job or not. Taking the job meant accepting the risks and conditions. If the risks or conditions were intolerable, one was always free to take another job.

It was for this very reason that an informal and natural division of labor took place. The presumption that men would simply perform the more dangerous jobs, while women would have the opportunity to stay with the safer ones, was a cultural protocol as deeply ingrained as the act of shaking hands as a method of greeting. No one ever thought of it as "oppression" OR privilege, but rather as common sense. In an environment where muscle power, physical agility, and a certain degree of ability to ignore discomfort were not merely requisites for the job itself, but also a key element in a person being able to make an active contribution to his own safety, those characteristics were considered basic qualifications for the job. Persons lacking them were simply not considered. The very concept of a free market for labor implied that the job requirements were fixed and that if ANY adaptation were to be made that it would be on the part of the worker and not of the job itself. The concept of a "worker friendly" job would have been considered an oxymoron, had anyone brought it up.

Balancing the degree of risk, or discomfort, was the fact that as either of those two factors went up, so did the wages or compensation of the job go up. Borrowing a phrase from the military, the more hazardous the job, the more of a "hazardous duty pay" incentive went with it. When I was a teenager, some practical-joker hung a pair of long underwear at the top of the local radio station's tower. The station advertised in the paper for someone to climb up and get them down. They paid $1/foot of the height of the tower. For slightly less than an hour's "work", I went home with $400 in my pocket. The seemingly "high" rate of my compensation was more than offset by the simple economics of the task at hand. It certainly would have made no economic sense whatsoever to pay such a high rate for simple labor if it was going to be a repetitive job. Installing safety nets or some kind of mechanized lift which would have eliminated or reduced the risk would have vastly increased the number of people willing to take that reduced risk. As the danger inherent in the job went down, so would its value. The economics of capital investment dictate that available funds, profit, can be expended either on capital OR labor, but not both. Had the climbing of the tower been a weekly event, the labor+capital cost of $400/week, or $20,000/year, would have eventually shifted the advantage to allocating more money for capital and less for labor. While a great many of the factors are different, this example illustrates the same business principle as replacing skilled labor with robots in manufacturing. The less inherent danger, or skill, that is required for any particular type of work, the less value that work will have in the marketplace.

So, you are probably asking, "what does all this have to do with sexual harassment?" Simply that the notion of a "woman friendly" workplace is antithetical to the historic notions of the workplace itself. The "workplace" has NEVER before been conceived as a "friendly" place - not to women, not to men. The requirement that the workplace be redefined as a place of "comfort", and particularly one of "emotional" comfort, requires a radical change in the very nature of how we conceive work itself.

In the 1930s, while the US was in the midst of the great depression which eventually spread throughout the world economy, the scarcity of jobs of any kind put employers in the situation of having to have absolutely no regard whatsoever for the comfort and safety of their workers. Each morning, hundreds of hopeful and hungry men, with families to feed, would show up hoping to be given a day of work. Any question or complaint about the conditions, their danger or "hostility" would have been met with "Go home. NEXT!" These conditions dictated the attitudes toward work of an entire generation: the parents and grandparents of the boomers, who then passed these attitudes along to their children to some degree.

Under the old ethic of achievement, overcoming adversity was considered an essential element of success. Attributes like persistence, endurance, and exceptional effort were highly valued and were in fact considered to be essential elements for high degrees of success. The long standing ideological conflict between American freedom, capitalism, and free markets; versus the collectivism, central planning, and entitlements of Communism or Socialism; made the ability to succeed DESPITE adversity into an essential American ideal. Publications for male audiences stressed that the road to business success involved working 60+ hour weeks and never taking vacations. Men whose skins were a little too thin, or their committment and drive a little too weak, to survive the essentially hostile nature of the workplace were told that these characterisitics would place them forever among the ranks of the "also rans." Men were told that the most significant attribute for success, was their very ability to survive hostile environments.

When "work" got redefined from an activity essential to survival to "career" as a means of "self-fulfillment" or "self-expression", and the ethic of achievement replaced by an ethic of entitlement, those new social values were slow to penetrate and have an impact on the marketplace. The natural sorting out of the weak and unsuited which is an inherent part of competitive business got personalized.

However, recourse against practices of an employer which were offensive and intended to make success difficult, thus insuring that the best of the best would prevail, became only available to women and only around an issue which is unavoidable in any environment where the sexes mix. The biological realities of the ways that men and women interact, as MEN and WOMEN, clashed with the social fictions of feminism. A previously self-regulating system which was never intended to be "fair", but rather to encourage excellence by seriously punishing anything less, now requires significant government intervention and regulation.

Initial resistance to wide scale integration of women into the workplace was based on an instinctive belief that such essential redefinition of business would not work. Perhaps the best example of how trivial personal reactions can get turned into major issues came when Sportscaster Lisa Olson barged into the locker room of the New England Patriots. The double standard which has emerged to give women this mythical "equal footing" in careers is nowhere better illustrated than by the expectation of a woman sportscaster expecting to be allowed in a male locker room with males in various states of undress.

The simplest way to detect sexism is to reverse the sexual roles and see if the situation changes. In Olson's case, I seriously doubt that anyone would expect a male sportscaster to enter a female locker room for the opportunity of gawking at naked or semi-naked members of the opposite sex and be met with ANYTHING except extreme hostility. Yet when the athletes made their displeasure over Ms Olson's voyeurism clearly known, she attempted to play victim and paint them as being in the wrong. The hostility shown by the athletes is simply indicative of the normal resentment that men have shown when women invade an environment which has been traditionally segregated and DEMAND that the code of conduct be changed to suit the whims of the woman.

At its very heart, this boils down to an essential battle for control and consistency. It is the same battle that is being fought over physical qualifications for occupations like fire fighters and law enforcement officers. Where previously the nature of the job dictated the qualifications of those who would be considered potential candidates, the candidates now have taken it on themselves to dictate that the nature of the job to suit their needs and whims. In the process, the basic concepts of achievement, accomplishment, and excellence have been thrown out the window.

However, that is not the most destructive effect of the way that Sexual Harassment law has been implemented. More than any other area of law, SH law runs contrary to the principles of the American justice system, and by itself does more to give credence to stereotypes of female incompetence than anything else which has occurred in the past 30 years. SH law replaces any sense of objectivity with complete self-centered subjectivity, and places the female point of view as the reference standard. It places feelings above facts and rewards those with the thinnest skins and the weakest performance.

In all respects, it is reminiscent of the old fairy tale of the princess and the pea. The exquisite and finely tuned "sensitivity" of the princess kept her tossing and turning all night from a single pea placed under 18 mattresses. The princess simply cannot function unless EVERYTHING is constructed to her comfort and tastes. Hiring a princess involves making the job serve her, rather than the other way around.

Employers do not seek liabilities when they hire, they seek assets. If they are faced with a situation analogous to climbing the radio tower I mentioned above, the greater the amount of investment required to make the employee able to do the job, the less that employee's work will be valued. Thus, SH law rather than decreasing the general hostility of the workplace toward women is actually increasing it. And it is increasing the general hostility of men in the population toward women as well.

When I worked for the security department of a large corporation, I was harassed and discriminated against because I was not an ex-cop and didn't have a lot of office political connections. Contrary to what most women believe, simply being a white male did not automatically make me part of this particular "good old boys network." However, I had no paternalistic federal law on my side to guarantee that that I could demand changes to make it a "non-cop friendly" workplace. My choice was to endure the hostile environment and find a way to succeed despite those disadvantages, or to fail. I chose to succeed - which involved putting up with a lot of discomfort and offense.

The people who discriminated against and harassed me did not do so because of sex, obviously, but because they were abusive power-mad jerks who would abuse anyone they could get away with abusing. I was left to my own devices to find ways to cope with it. My experiences in seeking recourse through Human Resources and management were identical to those described by women seeking recourse, except that I didn't have the strawman of sex to blame it on.

The simple existence of SH law is tacit admission that women can NOT compete with men on their own merits and need special protections from the offensiveness of men in order to survive in the workplace at all. It is an indirect form of validation of the original resistance to wide scale integration of women into the workforce on the grounds that they were too fragile to withstand the rigors of the workplace. By its very existence, SH law is a complete refutation of the equality of competence of women, as is Affirmative Action, because of its underlying presumption that women require special protections and the assistance of the federal government in order to be able to compete in an atmosphere where men thrived even without such government support.

While some women certainly benefit in the short term from this governmental and legal big-brother-ism, it simply perpetuates the view of women generally weak and incapable. The workplace becomes a sort of special olympics which no one confuses with the real Olympics. The message to men is clear - women are only able to compete with men whose hands are tied.

As if those effects are not destructive enough, the intrusion of such vague and ill-defined law into the already confusing dynamics of male/female attraction in the post-feminism era simply invites both abuse and further polarization. Anyone who naively persists in believing the simplistic mantra that "no means no" is either a fool or a liar, or both. Playing "hard to get" is a standard item in the behavioral repertoire of women, and one which has classically functioned to the advantage of the female.

As long as women flatly refuse to share in the burdens of the "shit work" of initiating potential relationships, they will be faced with having their selections limited to only those males aggressive and thick-skinned enough to keep approaching them despite all the normal and inherent risks plus the new risks posed by SH law.


The extreme one-sidedness of SH law, with its inherently anti-male stereotypesand assumptions, far from creating a "woman friendly" workplace, in fact guarantees the opposite. As women have been fond of labeling all men as "potential" rapists, it becomes simply pragmatic self-preservation to for men to regard all women as potential Sexual Harassment lawsuits waiting to happen.

To men, the mere fact that the structure of the mating dance requires them to make the first move is regarded by men as a form of female power. Women can wait passively for something to happen and there are enough aggressive men around that sooner or later something will. Interestingly, women see this as a form of powerlessness, not power. This difference in perception underlies a great deal of gender conflict. Women, of course, can increase the possibility of this happening by advertising their availability and interest through provactive dress and/or actions.

The widespread denial by women of this female ploy is the source of much animosity between the sexes. While a woman wearing a low-cut blouse and a wonderbra is not asking to get raped, or harassed, she certainly is asking to get her breasts looked at. The contradictory behaviors of women who solicit men's attention in this manner then pretend offense, along with the widespread denial by women that it is intentional, contribute greatly to men's distrust and dislike of women and contempt for their mental abilities. If you don't want the peaches, then don't shake the tree.

Without objective standards, Sexual Harassment turns on nothing but individual perception. No one who is even marginally literate can have escaped the knowledge that it is not only common for people to perceive events differently, it is virtually impossible for it to be otherwise. Ask any police officer whether they have ever had two eyewitness accounts of an event agree completely and you will find the answer to be "no." The entire history of human culture and politics is nothing besides mechanisms for balancing and adjudicating these differing perceptions, but SH law denies any part of this. The elevation of the perceptions and interests of one group of citizens over all others is antithetical to the concepts of democracy, on which most western governments are founded.

Incidents like Lisa Olson's hissy-fit when the athletes objected to her gawking, and even worse the whole Tailhook scandal, produce a de facto adversarial position and conflict of interest and power. There is a fundamental denial of certain realities on the part of women, certainly not the least of which is the role of their own actions in contributing to the outcomes, which make cooperation with them by men simply impossible.

At Tailhook, women were allowed in to a previously all male enclave. It was a highly selected group of jet-jockeys for which the primary and most sigificant job requirements are the highest possible degree of aggression and fear of nothing. Only a brave man, or a damn fool, would climb into those jets knowing that they may never come back. It is only supreme confidence in their own abilities and willingness to take exreme risks that gives them what Tom Wolfe termed "The Right Stuff." These young men in their sexual prime, when in the presence of women who gave every impression of welcoming the men's sexual attentions, responded in exactly the manner of confident and aggressive young men. The very characteristics for which they were chosen for those jobs, became revised after-the-fact into harm done to those women. It is precisely instances like this which have undermined any positive benefit from SH law for those women who really are subjected to indefensible offense.

Despite the efforts of the extremists to deny and redefine biology, the mechanics of attraction between women and men remain unchanged. There do remain a few women who enjoy, and actively seek to be the center of, male attention. The criminalization of men's expressions of interest in women have these women who seek it in the position of having to engage in ever more extreme measures to attract it.

In the context of the workplace, a woman who wears a short skirt, plunging neckline, or carefully applied makeup is herself engaging in Sexual Harassment by creating an environment which is hostile toward men. Women who do this, then complain about the attention they receive are among the most detested by men. They are regarded to be nothing but manipulative liars. Men's business attire is designed for the purpose of minimizing individuality and the attention it attracts. Any woman who dresses otherwise is clearly intending to capitalize on the benefits that such attention will bring them.

An excellent example of this is the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas case. Most men consider that Hill's right to be offended by her bosses behavior ceased to exist when she followed him from one job to another. Whether Hill was competent in her own right, or trading on Thomas's interest in her to gain favored treatment, can never be known at this point, but the fact that she preferred to follow him rather than stay in her current position and compete on her own merits suggests otherwise. It is not just that Hill refused to take action on her own behalf, but that the path of least resistance would have taken no action at all and that following her harasser was the course which actually took initiative on her part, which leads to the conclusion that she was perfectly happy to exploit her sexuality to further her career. No one will likely ever know exactly what it was that led her to cry "foul."

The entire foundation of SH law is predicated on what Betty Friedan took women to task for in "The Feminine Mystique." What may or may not be considered harassing is hidden behind the mystique and is only revealed when some man runs afoul of it. The good news for men is that women are increasingly becoming the targets of frivolous charges of sexual harassment. It appears that only as women begin to experience the fundamental losses of rights of due process of law, and the ability to confront one's accuser, will they begin to approach the issue as one of principles rather than feelings. The mystique of female moral superiority falls when the confrontation is between two women.

I have frankly been amazed at the persistence with which women have promoted the lie that "women don't lie about these things." That statement alone is an obvious and bald faced lie which strengthens the impression that not only do women lie, that ALL women lie and will continue to do so at every opportunity. Aligning themselves with dishonest and opportunistic women, and condoning the use of dishonest and unethical tactics, works against all women. Those few who are actively speaking out against such abuses, like Cathy Young and Kathleen Parker among others, are voices lost in a cacophony of liars.

Any law serves a useful purpose if and only if, when and only when, it allows effective discrimination between socially constructive and socially destructive behaviors. While there are many who question whether the traditional family is a viable institution any longer, the majority of women still seek the stability it provides them.

In a recent correspondence with a young college woman, she spoke of her difficulties in overcoming the essential distrust of a man her age in whom she was interested. For all the compassion one might be tempted to feel for difficulties of such a young woman trying to establish a relationship with a man forced to treat all women as potential date-rape charges or sexual harassment lawsuits waiting to happen, a jail term, possible loss of career, or being put under the jurisdiction of a criminal justice system with a clear anti-male bias make the costs of such compassion prohibitively high.

The biggest tragedy of SH law is that it is neither serving the needs of those it was intended to help, nor does does it have sufficient protections from abuse. It has become the modern day equivalent of an accusation of "Heresy" which puts all power in the hands of the accuser, which means that the accuseds will often resort to dirty tactics to fight it. In the meantime, now that it has become the discretion of the woman to declare whether being asked for a date is romance or a crime, young women should not be surprised that they are not being asked.

In most men's minds there is a clear distinction between sexual interest and sexual harassment. A great many men I know have discovered that after middle age they often find themselves the target of sexual harassment by women in whom they have no sexual interest. These men can sympathize with how obnoxious the experience truly is.

I wonder if there are any women who can sympathize with the men's side of this battleground issue.

Back to Gender War, Sexuality, and Love


Further Reading:

Bonecrker #13 - DV Myths = Cold War