Some people think if they throw enough words of the “what if” or “but then” variety, anything can be twisted out of shape enough to render even the most toxic subject harmless.
Take sexual harassment.
The presumption on the part of some men that a woman is there for their entertainment underlies the casual fecklessness of the entire frat-boy mentality. They excuse themselves with all manner of absurdity. “She was there to party” “her clothes” “she didn’t say no” “she laughed.”
That last one gets me every time.
I worked with a man for nine years who used that as his justification for a level of “flirtation” that bordered on intimidation. Every attractive woman who came into the store could be a target for his brand of locker room humor and he excused himself from charges of harassment by saying “But they laughed.” Which to him signaled they were having a good time and what he was doing was acceptable.
He seemed tone deaf to nervous laughter. He was oblivious to the rictus of “I can’t believe you just said that.”
Gradually, they stopped coming. We lost business. One good friend complained to me about it and I advised her to call him on it. She did. Immediately afterward, his comment was “I had no idea she was such a bitch.”
“She’s not,” I said. “You’re just such an asshole.”
He looked genuinely hurt. I patiently tried to explain what he was doing that was wrong. Maybe he didn’t want to get it, but I still believe that he was so steeped in the culture of the Fifties and Sixties that he just couldn’t accommodate the idea that what he had been doing all his adult life was fundamentally wrong. Disrespectful, intimidating, humiliating. “But they laugh.”
This is who he saw himself as and he thought it was cool. He thought I was being a whiney liberal.
But we lost almost all our female customers of a certain age and physical description.
Now he did ask one question that got me thinking. “If I say the same things at a party, I don’t drive anyone away.”
Well, I had to question that a bit, but—
The difference between a social occasion where everyone is perfectly free to walk away and a business environment wherein the parties are trapped by a set of necessities which do not allow easy egress. In order for them to walk away they have to be willing to break a business arrangement. They have to find another source for what they need. They have to start over to build a relationship.
None of this has a damn thing to do with making yuk-yuk over sexual innuendos and flirtation. There are costs involved.
Of course, there are always costs involved, just that some of them are not so immediate or monetary. Loss of respect, at minimum. Actual fear. Women who may realize that they’re quite glad never to be alone with you. The easy intimacy of friendship lost.
Not to mention just adding to the general toxicity of a culture that takes as given, usually unstated but always there, that women are there for a man’s pleasure.
And those who reject that?
The oblivion of being recategorized and cast out. At best. Punished at worst. Punished by assault, but actions based on the assumption “Oh, she really wants it even if she’s saying she doesn’t.”
Underlined by ridicule.
But it was all in fun! After all, the boys were laughing.