I am fully aware that in broaching this topic I'm walking on very thin ice
I am fully aware that in broaching this topic I’m walking on very thin ice. In fact, I’m in real danger of falling through the ice and freezing to death.
For those of us old enough to remember the TV show “Lost in Space,” the robot is flailing his arms and flashing his lights right now, warning “Danger Will Robinson,” or rather “Danger Barry Fetzer.”
I’m also aware that I’m writing about a topic I cannot fully comprehend because I am a man. But the women with whom I’m closest mostly agree with me on the points I’m about to make. I could not go off and write about this very sensitive subject without checking with the experts first, could I?
So here we go.
Women’s roles are changing in America. Therefore, so do our law, and mores on sexual wrongdoing in the workplace need to change.
Since the Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore accusations, there are so many sexual misconduct claims being thrown around that we’re in danger of contracting the “Boy Who Cried Wolf Syndrome” and desensitizing ourselves to real sexual assault.
You know that iconic photo of a sailor who rejoicingly bent a nurse over, kissing her (without permission) on VJ Day in 1945? That couple is honored by a massive statue in San Diego on the shoreline of San Diego Bay. Based on how our standards have evolved, that sailor’s no icon. He’s a no-good bum of a sexual predator overpowering and assaulting a helpless woman.
Since I hope most of us really don’t believe that, our rules need to change to match the reality of women’s changing roles in the work place.
How? The women I love — wife, sister and sisters-in-law — don’t overly concern themselves with what the law calls a “hostile work environment.”
A “hostile work environment” is so ill-defined, nebulous and fraught with personal interpretations in our present law that in all practicality it defies definition. An actress recently complained “rough sexual language” was used too often, creating a hostile work environment. “Unwanted sexual advances” at work have been accused so often as to almost become ubiquitous. It may even be a hostile work environment if a woman has to say (or think), “Hey pal, my eyes are up here!”
The women I’m closest to say women have personal responsibilities in this issue and that they’re not powerless. If the language is too salty, tell the offender to shut up and make it professional. If the eyes are focused on the wrong place, “tell the creep,” my sister says, “to keep his eyes where they belong.” Women have to watch their own attitude, too, she says, and not put themselves in positions that can allow for unwanted sexual advances. And then get back to work and quit complaining, my sister says.
I’ve been blessed to love, respect, and work with many women in my life and want them — I want all women — to be free to excel based on their hearts and spirits and minds. A woman should be valued for the body of her work, not the work of her body.
Even so, we need to stop over-sensitizing, over-sensualizing, and over-sexualizing everything and focus on problems of real sexual assault and quid pro quo. Let’s agree the San Diego sailor is an icon and not demonize him or his act. Demand the locker room talk stop or ignore it. If hands or eyes begin to get too friendly, order the creep to back off and get real.
And when warranted, men need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for their real sexual assault or quid pro quo transgressions immediately, not years after the alleged event.
An example of how women’s roles have changed was highlighted by a female Marine pleading guilty at her court martial for hazing (San Diego Union-Tribune, Nov 30, 2017 by Carl Prine) where she, “threatened to toss the (male) subordinate off a rooftop, questioned his gender, derided him with salty language and told other Marines that she was “not (expletive) done with him.”
Sounds exactly like male drill instructors’ threats back in the 1970s.
Times, they are a changing. It’s time to stop diminishing women’s power by assuming they need protection. It’s time to stop guarding women from the Big Bad Wolf as if they have no accountability or power to protect themselves. As long as Little Red Riding Hood needs to be protected, she can never be truly equal.
Until we accept this reality and better define and narrow hostile work environments, women will continue to be shunned from the inner circles of their male colleagues. And men will continue to walk on eggshells around them, breeding less honesty and inclusivity.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.