The "Reasonable Man" standard
By Rod Van Mechelen
In the sexual harassment case of Ellison v Brady, Kerry Ellison scored a feminist victory when she set the precedent for the uniquely female "Reasonable Woman" standard. But there's another side to this case that is often ignored.
1995 Bellevue, Wash. - "Curly," my sexy manager said, brushing at my hair. I closed my eyes and shuddered with longing as her finger caressed the top of my ear. "The password is curly."
Later, when she sat down to show me how to reconcile our bank deposits, she laid her bare arms on top of mine and left them there while typing on the keyboard.
For her this was nothing more than a casual office flirtation, or nothing at all; for me, as for millions of other men, however, such teasing is more like torment. A form of sexual harassment feminist extremists and most women refuse to acknowledge. But that doesn't matter because, as Rita Risser, author of the handbook Managing Within The Law, notes, "In sexual harassment cases, the behavior must be considered explicitly sexual by a reasonable victim. If the victim is a woman, it's a reasonable woman standard. If the victim is a man, it's a reasonable man standard."
This is because in the same case that set the precedent for the "reasonable woman" standard, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also established a uniquely male "reasonable man" standard, and there's nothing to say that the men's standard should be anything like the women's.
How would men's perspective differ from women's?
According to EEO guidelines, "a hostile environment exists when an employee can show (1) that he ... was subjected to sexual advances ... or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, (2) that this conduct was unwelcome," and that it "has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance."
So, what would a male standard look like? Think of it in terms of food. From dieting to bingeing, millions of women obsess about it. Lasagna, Hagen Daz ice cream, pizza, potatoes smothered in gravy, it's so easy to tease them with your burger and greasy fries as they nibble on rabbit food. Now, make it a sometime but we won't tell you when until after the fact crime to let your tormentor hear your stomach growl. That's how it is for men.
To harass men, women torment them with tantalizing sexual morsels, wearing "Wonder Bras," form-fitting tights that pass for pants, makeup that accentuates their sensuality, and libido-arousing perfumes in an environment where any indication of interest may ruin a man's career. (Would reasonable men even bother with a uniquely male "reasonable man standard" if the reasonable woman standard was more ... reasonable? As Warren Farrell, author of The Myth of Male Power, points out, "It would not be a big deal for most men if no one were making a big deal of the man's response.")
How can a man do his job under such conditions? Particularly when his female coworkers are already broadcasting so many subliminal sexual messages that interfere with his ability to work?
Conduct of a Sexual Nature
Many feminists respond by asking, "How do you know those 'messages' are sexual, let alone for you?" It doesn't matter who the signals are for. Just as women decide what harasses women, men decide what harasses men. If men agree that a woman who wears a tight sweater is engaging in "physical conduct of a sexual nature," then she is. End of discussion.
But men don't feel harassed by tight sweaters, do they? Would a dieting woman say she was harassed if her break-time companion with the flat tummy and thin thighs ate a piece of pie in front of her during lunch? Probably not. But what if thin people could claim they were harassed by people who obssess about dieting? Now would our hungry heroine feel harassed by her thin tormentor? Maybe.
As long as men's response to women's sexual behaviors may be considered actionable, women who engage in "verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" (as men define it) in the work place may (under the reasonable man standard) be guilty of sexual harassment.
So next time someone tells you "men just don't get it," comment on how women harass men with tight sweaters and short skirts. Then, when they disagree, smirk and say, "women just don't get it."
Rod Van Mechelen