Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain


47 Comments

Is that Sexual Harassment?

classy

Stock photo I found on Pinterest.

 

 

One day this week I wore an ensemble not unlike the one pictured above.  Very similar, in fact.  Classic.  Business-like.  Appropriate office attire. Not especially provocative.

I was told by Mr. Keep-Away, “That outfit looks good on you.”  Then he proceeded to say, “It…well…I better not say what I was thinking.”

No, perhaps not.

But then he just wouldn’t let it go.

Last week I could hear him the next office over, playing keep-away with my co-worker, asking her if she was going to kiss him for “doing her a favor”(not really, he was just doing his damn job).  I cringed.

He has already remarked about the clothes I wear, “hitting all the right places.”

Later, another male co-worker, Mr. Regional Salesman, remarked on my appearance in front of another male co-worker, Mr. General Manager.  “You look good, Ruth. Oh, wait, is that sexual harassment or something?  I’m just old school.”

Then he looks at Mr. GM and says, “Is that sexual harassment?”

I think, “Probably not until you made it about sexual harassment.”  Meanwhile I’m also wondering what it means that he’s “old-school.”  Does he mean old-school as in when sexual harassment was perfectly acceptable and even expected in an office situation?

Mr. GM says, “That all depends on whether she’s offended by it or not.”

Why in my mind is there a vast difference between, “You look good,” and “You look nice?”

There’s just something in the connotation.  Are you sitting down to a porterhouse steak?

I laugh it off, “It all depends on whether you’re looking at me like you’re about to eat a pork chop or not.”

Mr. Keep-Away always looks like he’s about to eat a pork chop without his hands.

Even the Controller has made remarks both positive and negative about the attractiveness or lack thereof of the women who work here.

I was just making conversation one day and remarked that I’d like to meet a woman who works in a satellite office.  She’s a hoot, but I’ve only spoken with her on the phone.  I’ve never met her face to face.  His remark:  “You haven’t missed much.  She looks like Receptionist, only bigger, if you can imagine it.”

Me:  “Pardon?”

Controller:  “I’m just telling you what she looks like.”

No.  No, you’re not.  You’re being a sexist jackass.

Me:  “What does that have to do with me wanting to meet her?”

In a separate conversation about exercise, he commented that he goes to the gym.  I just said that I’d never exercise if I had to go somewhere to do it.  I run because I can just lace-up and go.  He made some offhand remark about me not needing to lose weight(is that the purpose of exercise?), but that he couldn’t really comment on it because he could get into trouble.

Why did it even need to go there?

The thing is, women are expected to just laugh it off.  We’re in a catch 22.  Yes, there are laws against sexual harassment, but if you file a complaint then you’re a problem.  A troublemaker.  A whiner. Suddenly your performance is scrutinized and the next thing you know you’re looking for another job.  Yet, if you don’t file a complaint you’re seen as complicit.  How can it be sexual harassment if you don’t complain?

Do you know what I have never.ever. heard?  Any of the women in this office say anything like any of this to or about the men who work here.

Is sexism systemic?  Noooo…can’t be.  There are laws against it.


36 Comments

Smile

I have resting bitch-face.  My lips naturally turn down at the sides when my face is at it’s resting position.  Which is often perceived as me frowning, I guess.  I don’t know of anyone whose lips naturally turn up into a smiling composition when they’re not intentionally smiling, but whatever.

I’m sitting here, minding my own business, doing my job.  Which is to say I’m staring at a computer screen, entering data, editing that data, and as a result I’m concentrating.  My face is at a resting position.

On more than one occasion, more than one male that I work with, has walked through as I’m sitting here at my desk, doing my work, staring at my computer screen, entering data, editing that data, and as a result concentrating, and said to me, “Smile!  You should smile more!”

I have never, in all the time I’ve worked here heard them tell any of the men who sit within earshot, also staring at their computers, also working, also concentrating, and also with resting bitch-face, to smile.  Never. Not once.

SimonCOwell

I have also not seen or heard any of the men at this workplace attempt to force other men to smile. I’ve not heard them referred to as, “sweetheart, “sugar,” “darlin’,” or “good lookin’.”

I’ve not heard any of the men tell the other men that they look good in those jeans.  Or stand over their desks playing a game of keep away with papers to try to illicit a response.

I no longer wear jeans to work because of this.

I refuse to play the game of keep away with the papers.

I’m then told, “You need to smile more.  You’re so pretty.  You’d be prettier if you smiled.”

WTF?

Why?  Why do I need to sit here staring at my computer screen with a smile plastered on my face?  So I’ll look prettier?  For whom?  Excuse me, that wasn’t part of the job description when they hired me.  I wasn’t told I’d need to smile so I’d look prettier for the men-folk.  I was hired to do a job and I do it damned well.  They don’t pay me to smile and look pretty.

Who does not know that this is inappropriate?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m extremely uncomfortable with attention.  Maybe I’m taking this all the wrong way due to that fact.  I have always appreciated compliments on the work I do and my intellect far more than commentary on my appearance inside and outside of the office.

Somehow I muster a smile.

“Oh, see, at least I got you to smile!”

On the outside, asshole.  Only with my lips.  My eyes are telling a different story.  Did you not feel those daggers?

Rant over.

 


8 Comments

An Explanation for Trump’s Popularity from Shallow Hal

Shallow.Hal

He’s a pro. He’s the best.  Just ask him.

He’s as racist, bigoted, and misogynistic as people feel.  We need an exterminator to take care of the problem.

Trouble is, nobody’s asking, and even if they are they don’t care about the answer, how he’s going to do this.

So you’ve hired an exterminator, you’ve given him carte blanche to deal with the problem.  You leave it to him.  He says, “Believe me, I’m the best.  No raccoon has ever gotten the better of me.  Raccoons are losers and I’m a winner.”

You trot off to work, leaving him to fix your problem, without even asking for a plan of action.  You carry on, blissfully, throughout your day knowing when you get home those damned raccoons will be gone.  Oh, happy day.

The exterminator calls you, just after lunch to tell you that the problem has been resolved.  He’s taken care of it and those pesky raccoons won’t bother you any more.  He’s left a bill in your mailbox.

On your drive home you’re singing along with the radio – rocking out, actually – excited to get home to your peaceful, beautiful, raccoon-free home.

You turn down your street and there are people standing out in front of what used to be your house. The only thing left standing is the mailbox.  It’s been raised.  Flattened to the ground.  He used explosives and blew it to smithereens.

Sure enough, just as he said, there’s a bill in the mailbox.  It’s more than you can afford.  And he blew your damned house up!  You’re not paying that bill.

Except you ring him up to tell him so and he says that, yes, you will pay the bill.  He did what was requested.  You said you wanted those raccoons gone, and you wanted them gone pronto.  He did that.  You never asked how that would be accomplished.  You didn’t discuss the terms of any agreement.  Only that you agreed to pay him to get rid of the raccoons which he did.

And if you don’t pay the bill he’ll see you in court!

May the gods help us all.  Ain’t America great?

 


82 Comments

There are compliments and then there are compliments

***Edited to add:  This post is intended to bring awareness to the subtle sexist subtext(say that three times fast!) that permeates society.  It is not intended to slay or skewer anyone for having questions.  This issue is complex and confusing and we are all conditioned by our cultures and subcultures. 

In the last post Professor Taboo asked the following question:

Can women please list for us hetero men 10-20 appropriate ways to verbally (and non-verbally) compliment them intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically that THEY find acceptable and uplifting? Please do not leave any of the four areas out.
Thank you! 🙂

My initial reaction to the question was…angst.  How hard can it be to compliment people without being sexist?  How hard can it be to compliment a woman without it being sexual?

My initial reaction as probably reactionary because we had just been discussing how to treat “scantily clad” women in a bar.  And then I was asked if it was sexist to wolf-whistle at a woman in a short skirt.  So when the question was asked I was viewing it in that context.   As if he were asking, “Well, if we can’t wolf-whistle, and we can’t cat-call and we can’t tell you you’re hot, just what the hell can we say?”

Turns out that’s not so much what The Professor was asking.  I think many men do want to know what is and isn’t appropriate.  Sincerely.

Many things sprang to mind when I thought about what my answer to that question is.  I didn’t come up with 15 or 20 but here are a few that immediately entered my mind:

1.)  Wow!  That’s really your color.  It brings out your eyes.

2.)  You’ve got a great sense of humor!

3.)  You’re a very interesting person!

4.) You’re intelligent.

5.) Your smile is infectious.

6.)  You’re very thoughtful and thought-provoking.

7.)  I like your work ethic.

8.) You’re so easy to talk to.

9.)  You’re a good listener.

10.)  You make the world a better place.

Some of these require that you have an actual conversation before you begin complimenting.  Some of these can be conversation starters.  ALL of these apply to any gender.

Immediately following Professor Taboo’s question Swarn Gill left a couple of comments.  These are prime examples of how to compliment a person in a way that is uplifting and positive but which carry no hint at a hidden agenda:

You are an interesting person. I’d rather just sit down and have a conversation with you!

And:

You are a much better writer than I am which is both annoying and great a the same time, but somehow just reading what you have to say has me completely agreeing but also going off in all sorts of directions.

Both of these comments made me feel really good about myself.  It let me know that I have value and that I’m appreciated as a person.  Not as a person of the female persuasion but as a person regardless of my gender.

About the wolf-whistling and cat-calling.  Just. Don’t.

This may come as a surprise but most women do not dress to attract men.  [Most] women dress for other women.  It’s a daily competition and most women would rather be complimented on their dress by other women.  It just means more.

[Most] women also dress for their own comfort.  I’ve been known to wear a dress above the knee or shorts.  I live in South Georgia.  Otherwise known as hell in the summer time.  If I wear a tank top and shorts it isn’t to attract a man.  It’s because I’m freakin’ hot.  And I don’t mean the way I look.

Wolf-whistling and cat-calling – especially from someone I’ve never met- is intimidating.  It’s presumptuous.  You might think that I’m stretching it to say that it’s not that far a hop to rape but when a man does that it shows that he’s aggressive.  It feels more about power than it does about complimenting anyone.  If a man would wolf-whistle or cat-call a woman he’s never met what else might he do given the opportunity?

When giving any sort of compliment the foremost thing should be sincerity.  Don’t say things you don’t mean.  It’s patronizing.  Think about what message the other person is going to get.  Don’t be superficial about it.  Show the person that you’ve really taken the time to notice what is important to them.

The important thing is to treat people with respect.  This is how we can address the more subtle sexism and misogyny that permeates society.


80 Comments

Missing the Point

70mb film, uppercut select

Is that a whole forest over there?  Or is it just trees?  I can hardly tell the difference.

I, myself, have been guilty of saying that political correctness can go too far. It can be taken to extremes.  But is it political correctness that is taken to extremes or is it that we are trying to tip toe around delicate issues to the extent that we don’t want to hurt anyone’s wee wittle feelings at the expense of honesty?

My last post shone a spotlight on what it means to miss the point.  It is easy to spot sexism, misogyny, racism, homophobia, etc….etc…etc…

…in everyone else.  We tend to have a gargantuan blind spot when it comes to ourselves.  I am no exception to that. Oh, how I wish I were.

We often try to justify it when we say or do something inappropriate, hurtful, or uncouth.  When we’re called out on it we get defensive and immediately begin the damage control. Human nature rules the day.  When we say it or do it we want everyone else to know how “not racist” or “not sexist” or “not homophobic” we are.  We’d never!

But we just did.  How to reconcile momentary lapses of judgement with personal character…well, that is the rub, isn’t it?

Are we missing the big picture?  The broader concept of what’s being said is completely lost the minute we begin rationalizing our own behavior.  We can’t see the forest for the trees.

These posts are not meant to either endorse nor condemn any particular lifestyles or life choices.  These posts are meant to highlight both the blatant and subtle sexist and misogynist undercurrent that permeates society.

Let me make this clear if I haven’t already.  I think men are as much a product of society as women are.  The way they were raised, the messages we receive from the media and advertisements, the systematic undermining of minority groups and those perceived as weaker – all of that plays into the dynamics of society.  The top dog wants to stay the top dog all the while protesting that they endorse equality.

Oh, yes, we endorse equality.  As long as it doesn’t diminish our own privileged place.  But wait, equality might just mean that privilege isn’t so much a privilege anymore.  It might mean…we are all of equal value as individuals.

This is an easy concept to say one is in favor of.  Yes, on paper that looks like it should, in fact, be so.  But what about individually?  Do we, with our own sense of entitlement, push anyone who dares gain an equal footing back down? Are we, individually, missing the point?

 


131 Comments

Can the Frogs Get Out of the Pot?

In my last post I talked about the excesses of male privilege. It might have come across that I’m averse to affection. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m a hugger. I like to give hugs and get hugs – appropriate hugs. I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman.

The trouble is casual sexism and misogyny often go overlooked. Women look the other way when there are catcalls on the street. Or when they’re told to, “smile, it’ll get better.” Or when the joke is at the expense of their gender. All because they don’t want to appear as though they don’t have a sense of humor, or can’t take a joke, or a compliment, for that matter.

A compliment is: “That’s a nice dress”. A man who works here in the office with me told me one day that I always dress so classy. I didn’t take that as a pass. He wasn’t looking me up and down. I didn’t get the impression he was undressing me with his eyes. I didn’t think it sexist or misogynist. I politely smiled and said thank you. Because, yes, I can take a compliment.

Not only can women take compliments, but we do, indeed, appreciate appropriate affection. Appropriate affection can be a touch on the shoulder – not a massage. Touch and move on. It’s nice to know a person cares about you. An affectionate greeting with a small, friendly, hug is appropriate. Sliding your hands below the waist down to the small of a woman’s back and not letting go is not a friendly greeting.

I know that what a person looks like is the first thing we notice as human beings, but don’t rate us solely on that score alone. We’re tired of comparing ourselves to airbrushed Victoria’s Secret models and trying to live up to unrealistic expectations. We look in the mirror everyday and instead of seeing beauty we see flaws.

To the men out there, you no longer need to wield a club and drag a woman by her hair to your cave. We aren’t pieces of meat on display at the market. We aren’t property to be claimed. Think about the scenarios in which you are involved. If it were happening in the reverse would it be uncomfortable? Creepy? Inappropriate? If it would be then it’s uncomfortable, creepy and inappropriate. Period.

To the women out there, it’s time for us to stop glossing over misogyny and laughing along with sexist jokes. When we do that we’re only sending the message that it’s okay; that it doesn’t bother us; that we accept unequal treatment.  We perpetuate misogyny and sexism when we seek to profit from it. We need to send the clear message that inequality is a problem and we’re not going to take it anymore.

Casual sexism and misogyny may not seem ‘that bad’.  It doesn’t have to be ‘that bad’ to be wrong.  Isn’t inequality a good enough reason to address these issues and make them better?  It is the only way we’ll ever climb out of the pot of boiling water.

I do see progress over where we were even twenty years ago.  It is slow, but it is progress.  Sometimes, though, it seems like two steps forward and one step back.  Thank you to all the male readers who expressed concern and compassion over these issues.  Perhaps there is hope after all.

Well, this sermon hasn’t been three points and a prayer, but how about a poll(thanks for the idea, Roughseasinthemed) and a song?

 

I also want to open up the comment section, not only to discussion about the content of the post, but to any woman who would like to share her story.  Not to make any men uncomfortable, but sometimes it helps just to be able to share it, even anonymously.


52 Comments

We’re All Frogs in a Pot

[TRIGGER WARNING: This article may contain content about misogyny, sexism, sexual abuse, or assault which may be triggering to survivors.]

Indoctrination into patriarchy starts young. Very young. Even to girls whose parents don’t particularly subscribe to patriarchy. Boys get the same subtle hints at it, too. But they are on the top of the food chain. I’m sure it has negative effects, but I can’t speak for boys or men. I can speak for girls and women.
I am not unique in my experiences. Let that sink in as you read the rest of this post. Girls and women all over the world experience these things and worse every single day. This is hardly rare. So this is also not a tale of woe or how my life has been terrible. It hasn’t. This is to highlight exactly how commonplace misogyny and sexism are in all its forms, some blatant and some subtle.

Growing up I wasn’t what I would have classified as pretty. I was an ugly duckling. In fact, the boys at school let me know that I was on the opposite end of the spectrum on the regular. I looked like a boy. Ugly girls aren’t to be talked to. They’re to be talked about, the butt of the joke. They sure aren’t worth much. We learn at a pretty early age to just shake it off. Let it roll off like water off a duck’s back. It’s going to happen so we might as well learn to live with it. Does it hurt? Of course. But we learn early that looks are important and that they’re part of the package of anything that resembles worth. Keep that in mind as I tell you what I’m about to tell you.

When I was maybe six or seven, I went to the neighbor’s house to see if Margaret could come out and play. She wasn’t there. There was normally a house full of people there, but that day only her older brother was home. I don’t know how old he was, but he had already graduated from high school, so he must have been at least eighteen. At first he told me that she was there and that I could go on into her room where she was. When I got to her empty room and turned around there he stood in the narrow hallway of that two-bedroom house. He asked me if we were friends. I said, “Not really.”

As I tried to walk past he knelt down and put his hand on the wall blocking my path. My back against the wall, he leaned in close and said, “We can be friends. Let me show you what friends do.” With that he shoved me into the bedroom and pulled my pants down and his. No, he didn’t go quite that far either. His friends pulled up into the driveway and blew the horn. My salvation. He gathered himself, made me crawl through their house to the side door, and told me to wait until they had gone to leave. We could see my dad out the window in the door. He pointed to him and said I’d better not tell. I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to him, would I? I never went back even when I knew other people were there and I didn’t tell.

When I was fifteen I got my first job. My granny and granddaddy got me the job. There was a man in town they knew who installed insulation who needed a part-time secretary. It was the summer and he’d give me all the hours I wanted until school and then it would be part-time. He was my grandparents’ age, which seemed old to me at the time, but probably in his mid to late fifties. He paid in cash. I was supposed to answer the phone, make appointments, sweep the floor, take payments, and make deposits. I thought I’d hit the jackpot because he was going to pay me two hundred and fifty dollars – in cash – every week! He rarely had checks. He always had wads of cash. I heard later that the insulation business was just a front for something far more lucrative. I have no idea if that’s true or not.

Things went pretty well the first week. I did all the things I was supposed to do and he seemed pleased with the work I’d done. Then it happened. He would come into his office in the morning before he went out to job sites and then in the afternoons around five. He sat at his desk and pulled me into his lap. I pulled away. He let it go. Then he started hugging me and trying to kiss me and trying to fondle me. After about a week of that I quit. I lasted all of two weeks. My granny came to see me because France had told her I quit. She wasn’t happy. It made them look bad because they had vouched for me. When I told her what happened her response was, “Every man likes to have a little pat on the rear – a secretary they can give a little squeeze.” The lesson? The bodies of women are for the pleasures of men. I still didn’t go back. Granny still wasn’t happy.

Mama hired a preacher to do some carpentry work at the house. Elbert Cox. He made me really uncomfortable. He liked to hug a little too close and a little too long. He liked to caress when he hugged and look into my eyes. Later he got arrested for having sex with an underage member of his church. Last I heard he’d repented and gotten another preaching job.

Then there was Mr. Eatman. He was a deacon at the church we went to. Dirty old man. He liked to hug a little too close, slide his hands a little too low, and give a peck on the lips. Only a peck because that was all he was getting a chance at.

In each instance I got the impression these men thought that I should be thrilled at the attention. They were perplexed that I wasn’t.

When I tried to talk to my mother about it she brushed it off. They were just being men. I wasn’t the only one they were doing it to, either. My friends and I talked about it and it happened to them, too. They felt just as uncomfortable as I did. Their parents were equally as nonplussed. No big deal. Men being men.

The lesson? Sweep it under the rug. Don’t make waves. It’s expected. Might as well learn to live with it. We’re here for the pleasure of men.

When I began to date my future husband he took me around to meet his grandparents. A few months later I saw his granddad in the bakery. He spoke, we chatted for a minute, and I went on my way. He told Charles about the encounter and said, “You know, when you first brought her to the house I thought she was homely. She looked really pretty the other day when I saw her. Son, she’s a keeper.” A backhanded compliment if there ever was one, but subtle. I eagerly accepted the compliment. Implicit in that is that if I were homely I wouldn’t be worth keeping. Throw that ugly fish back. Apparently my face had caught up to the rest of my body.

My ex husband had a saying about women who had an attractive figure but wasn’t particularly attractive in the face. He would say they were “two-baggers”. Put two bags over her head in case one falls off. His friend had a crass joke about having sex with an overweight woman, “It’s like riding a moped. It’s fun until someone sees you doing it.” All of her worth wrapped up in what she looks like. I am ashamed to say that I laughed an uncomfortable laugh. I didn’t want to be that girl – the one with no sense of humor.

I could go on. I have more examples. I’m not even telling the half of it, really.

The world we live in is misogynistic and sexist. If women fight back against the tide it is said that we can’t take a joke or we’ve got a case of sour grapes. I may be wrong, like I said I can’t speak for men, but I can’t remember hearing any quaint little sayings about men who might be less than attractive. I don’t hear of that many cases of women groping and fondling. When it does happen, if the advance is rebuffed it is respected. Men are allowed to have boundaries. Women are not. We are here for the pleasure of men.

You see, it starts when we’re young. Slowly, steadily, progressively, methodically we’re taught that a woman’s worth is in whether or not a man will have her. Men and boys are equally caught up in systematic misogyny and sexism. It isn’t entirely their fault. They have been indoctrinated, too. We are all like frogs in a pot. Place them in while the water is nice and cool, slowly turn up the heat, and they won’t even realize they need to jump out.

Let me be clear. I know that not all men are like that. But these are instances that average women deal with on a daily basis. These are not isolated incidents. It is there. When you hear women talk about rape culture, this is exactly what they’re talking about. The implications all around us are that the female half of the population is here at the pleasure of men and we ought to be damn glad about it. We should feel honored to have the privilege.

____________________________________________________________________

**Edited to fix the formatting.  Jesus H. Christ I will never write a post in Word and do a copy and paste again!