By Rod Van Mechelen
Masculine desire is as much an offence as it is a compliment; in so far as she feels herself responsible for her charm, or feels she is exerting it of her own accord, she is much pleased with her conquests, but to the extent that her face, her figure, her flesh are facts she must bear with, she wants to hide them from this independent stranger who lusts after them. -- Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (Vintage)
Women as "Work Objects"
1992 Bellevue, Wash. - The issue of sexual harassment gained prominence during the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill controversy late in 1991. At that time, it became very clear to men they still need to treat female co-workers neither as women nor as equals, but as a specially protected class of sexless work-objects.
On television, in the newspapers and magazines, and in hundreds of "men just don't get it" debates and conversations, women have told men they don't want men using the workplace as a meat market. Yet, most women still consider work the best place to meet and mate men. (True-life Stories about Meeting Men, Lesley Dormen, New Woman Magazine, March 1992, p 64) Consequently, despite that men can lose their jobs for making the slightest reference to a woman's sexual identity, women focus on, think about, learn about, and plan how they use makeup, perfume, and clothing to attract the attention of their male co-workers.
With impunity, women still play the dating game where, with a single complaint, they can have the men who displease them fired for sexual harassment. Why the double standard? The most obvious answer is, most women want it both ways. They want to be wild and irresponsible, and if things get out of hand, blame men:
Sometimes charges of sexual harassment are shrouded in shades of gray. One story making the rounds occurred at an out-of-state aerospace company where a woman employee allegedly photocopied her bare breasts and then handed out copies to select co-workers in her department.
Where only women are allowed to express their sexual nature, all men are vulnerable to biased charges of sexual harassment.
One male co-worker, who had not been given a copy of the picture, later walked up to the woman and asked if he could see her breasts (not the photocopy). The woman refused and then filed a sexual harassment complaint against the man, who was later fired from the company. The woman is still employed at the firm. -- No Laughing Matter, Connie Day, Washington CEO Magazine, October 1992, p 19
Types of Sexual Harassment
According to the Northwest Women's Law Center in Washington state, the "courts have recognized two types of unlawful sexual harassment: 'quid pro quo' harassment (which is Latin for 'something for something') and 'hostile work environment' harassment."
The courts have held that "a hostile environment exists when an employee can show (1) that he or she was subjected to sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, (2) that this conduct was unwelcome, and (3) that the conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment." (Ellison v. Brady, 924 Federal Reporter 2d Series, pp 875 - 876) Further, "EEOC guidelines describe hostile environment harassment as 'conduct [which] has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.'" (Ellison v. Brady, 924 Federal Reporter 2d Series, p 876)
This seems fairly straight forward. But the issues cloud when it comes time to define terms like "unreasonable interference" and "intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment." To deal with this, the ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a hostile environment is in the eye of the beholder. For that reason, it is determined according to a subjective standard known as the "reasonable woman" standard.
The "Reasonable Woman" Standard
The precedent setting case of Ellison v. Brady established the "reasonable woman" as the new standard for determining whether or not men have committed sexual harassment: "In order to shield employers from having to accommodate the idiosyncratic concerns of the rare hyper-sensitive employee, we hold that a female plaintiff states a prima facie case of hostile environment sexual harassment when she alleges conduct which a reasonable woman would consider sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment."
The reason: "We realize that there is a broad range of viewpoints among women as a group, but we believe that many women share common concerns which men do not necessarily share. For example, because women are disproportionately victims of rape and sexual assault, women have a stronger incentive to be concerned with sexual behavior. Women who are victims of mild forms of sexual harassment may understandably worry whether a harasser's conduct is merely a prelude to violent sexual assault. Men, who are rarely victims of sexual assault, may view sexual conduct in a vacuum without a full appreciation of the social setting or the underlying threat of violence that a woman may perceive."
Given the predilection of the popular press to sensationalize male violence against women, we may wonder just how sensitive a reasonable woman might be to male behaviors. Oddly, however, the facts do not support the Court's contention. As Tara Roth Madden notes, half of both "men and women in the workplace feel they have been sexually harassed." (Women Vs. Women: The Uncivil Business War, Tara Roth Madden, p 166)
Male Vulnerability Ignored
Men feel just as victimized as women do. What's more, men feel far more threatened within the context of affiliation and intimacy, whereas women feel more at risk within the context of impersonality and "competitive success." (In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, by Carol Gilligan, p 42) Hence, there must be some other reason for such hypersensitivity. Particularly since so many women see the workplace as the best place to meet men. (True-life Stories about Meeting Men, Lesley Dormen, New Woman Magazine, March 1992, p 64)
Perhaps women feel threatened by men's "sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" not because they perceive any danger of rape or sexual assault, but because attention from "unattractive" men is both common and a nuisance: "(T)he average young woman has so many men with a sexual interest in her that she may feel overwhelmed." (The Other Side of the Coin: Causes and Consequences of Men's Oppression, by Roy Schenk, p 72 - 73)
Socially Castrating Inconvenient Men
Hostile environment sexual harassment provides a convenient way for women to control inconvenient men. Portraying even the kindest comments from men as threats dripping like blood-drenched blades with malicious lasciviousness and a vile carnality requiring the imposition of harsh penalties, they have codified into law the means for socially castrating men who get in their way:
Well-intentioned compliments by co-workers or supervisors can form the basis of a sexual harassment cause of action if a reasonable victim of the same sex as the plaintiff would consider the comments sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter a condition of employment and create an abusive working environment. -- Ellison v. Brady, 924 Federal Reporter 2d Series, p 875
Compliment or ask a female co-worker out, and you risk a charge of sexual harassment.
No Objective Standard
Sexual harassment is unacceptable and we should treat it as such. But how are men to know what it is? What's the objective standard? "In determining whether sexual harassment is sufficiently severe to be actionable, court focuses on perspective of victim." Civil Rights Act of 1964, Sections 703(a)(1), 42 USCA Section 2000e- 2(a)(1). That is, the "objective standard" is: it's subjective. What was the perspective of the "victim"? How would a "reasonable woman" feel about it?
General legal standards are necessary because it is impossible for the courts and legislatures to foresee every situation possible and pass laws to address them all. But such standards must be universal. A law or legal standard that depends on gender is no different from a standard that depends on race: a "reasonable white person" standard, to define unlawful behaviors on the basis of race would clearly be prejudicial, and so is the reasonable woman standard. It's not universal, but discriminates on the basis of sex.
Pop feminists have persuaded judges, legal scholars, politicians, professors and corporate executives to judge men by anti-male standards. By this cause, the only standard men can rely upon is fear -- fear of women -- because the segregation of these standards institutionalizes the pop feminist promulgated fears of men into law, thereby putting all men legally at risk for doing what most women expect and demand that men do -- take the initiative in creating relationships.
Time to Boycott Women?
Despite all the chatter about equality, most women still expect men to take the initiative. This means men are now caught in a catch-22. Play it legally safe and risk permanent sexual solitude, or risk charges of sexual harassment in their quest for love. Consequently, so long as women don't share the burden of asking for dates or making the first move, some men will continue to engage in behaviors some will call "sexual harassment."
How should men deal with this? Maybe the time has come for men to boycott the initiative, refuse to initiate relationships and sexual-advances until women demand an objective standard, so men can know ahead of time, with certainty, what is legal and what is not. Or perhaps men should begin filing sexual harassment suits of their own under the reasonable victim standard.
Sexual Harassment of Men
How can you sexually harass sex-starved men? The same way you harass a person dying of hunger or thirst: by holding what they need just out of reach. Essentially, that is what every woman who wears makeup and sexy outfits does. She flaunts her sexuality, then snatches it away when the wrong men respond.
If a "reasonable man" would find that women's provocative dress, makeup and suggestive or flirtatious behaviors are "sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment," then by the reasonable victim standard, those things would be sexual harassment. Does a woman who wears a short skirt to work make it hard for her male co-workers to concentrate? Then she's guilty of sexual harassment. When she shows a little cleavage, is she tantalizing them with her sensuality? Then she's guilty of sexual harassment.
Most women will almost certainly reject this. But they have no say in determining what sexually harasses men because when the court established a uniquely female reasonable woman standard, it created a uniquely male reasonable man standard, too:
Of course, where male employees allege that co-workers engage in conduct which creates a hostile environment, the appropriate victim's perspective would be that of a reasonable man. -- Ellison v. Brady, 924 Federal Reporter 2d Series, p 879
It is important for men to know this because sexual harassment will not remain just a workplace issue. Soon, women may be able to sue men for sexual harassment for asking them out for dates no matter where they are because pop feminists are working to move this issue beyond the confines of the work place, to place men at risk in the public domain, too.
No Safe Place: In the Public Domain
Until recently, sexual harassment has been an employment issue. But not anymore. Friday evening, October 11, 1991, on NBC news with Tom Brokaw, Catherine MacKinnon, a Legal Scholar from the University of Michigan Law School and author of Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law and Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, briefly noted that, with Clarence Thomas, we have a case of sexual harassment extending beyond the work-place, beyond the term of Anita Hill's employment as his subordinate.
In this mold, those who would see men bound in all contexts by the hyper- sensitivities of some women are attempting to make specious charges of sexual harassment a risk in all places and times where and when men and women interact.
Could this extend even to a singles' bar or a party? It already includes office parties:
Sexual harassment laws may extend beyond the office situation if the offending behavior on the part of a supervisor or coworker (even though occurring away from the office) contributes to a hostile working environment for the affected employee. -- The Microsoft employee newsletter, Micronews, Vol. XI, issue 26, June 26, 1992, p 8
And pop-feminist organizations, like the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, were working to persuade jurists, politicians, and the public that women should be able to charge and sue a flirtatious or inconvenient man for sexual harassment anywhere:
- Over the phone
- On the street
- At school
- At home
- At work
- At a party or a meeting
How long until men dare not even to look into the eyes of women: "(L)ooking directly at a woman might seem sexual, a display of flirting." (You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Ballantine Books Edition: June 1991, by Deborah Tannen, p 269)
Ironically, because "women, far more than men, consider the workplace a social setting" (Women Vs. Women: The Uncivil Business War, Tara Roth Madden, p 170), they are victimized as much by this pop feminist created hostility as men are. As is already happening, women are beginning to complain about a new kind of "hostile environment" because their male co-workers will no longer talk to them about anything except business. Hostile, because a growing number of men no longer feel safe around their female co-workers.
This is insane. The time for women to end this nonsense is now, while men are still listening. Eventually it will be too late.
Rod Van Mechelen
Rod Van Mechelen is the author of What Everyone Should Know about Feminist Issues: The Male-Positive Perspective (the page now includes several articles by other authors), and the publisher of The Backlash! @ Backlash.com. He is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and served for 9-1/2 years on the Cowlitz Indian Tribal Council.