Saturday, November 18, 2017

Mothers, Wives, Daughters and Sisters

Financial and family circumstances forced my Mother to get a job when I six years old. This was way back in the Leave It To Beaver days when more women stayed home than worked. It was the Mad Men era as well. Women often got hired based on how they looked and how they dressed. My Mother was a good-looking woman. She got a job as a secretary with a small real estate company in Fort Worth. It was a good place to work and for the most part they treated her right. Almost like family. But the owner’s son, only a year or two younger than my Mother, was always flirting and teasing her. One of the male real estate sales agents, a retired air force officer, also tended to say and do a lot of things that crossed the line. My mother had a thick skin and was no prude, but I know it eventually got to her. She even complained to my Dad and then had to spend the next few years convincing him not to go down to the office and kick some ass. But, I think the men in her office knew that the threat was there. After my Dad died unexpectedly in a construction accident, she decided to change jobs and went to work in customer service for a chemical company. Is it any wonder?

My first wife worked in a bank. She was young and attractive and she was sexually harassed. Even to the point of being cornered in an office by her boss, a young VP only a few years older than me. She fended him off. This was in a day and time when women didn’t go to HR or complain. “He said-she said” tended to always fall in favor of “He”. But when she finally told me about it, I made a point to drop by the bank and introduce myself to this VP. I was sort of an intimidating looking guy back in those days, 6-2, 225, mostly muscle and bone. I remember smiling, shaking his hand, squeezing it very tight and saying in a whispered growl, “My wife has told me a lot about you. I’d appreciate it if you kept your hands to yourself.” He gulped, adjusted his glasses and mumbled something unintelligible. Not long after that episode, she started getting bad reviews, minimal raises and crappy work assignments. But, eventually things changed. New ownership came in and this jerk along with some other jerks, went off and started up their own bank. Things got better for my wife and the jerks eventually went broke.

My wife now (and forevermore) has worked off and on throughout our marriage. She’s tough as nails and can pretty much take it and give it back. She would have made a great truck stop waitress. But she too has been the object of sexual harassment. Like a lot of women, I think she just accepts it as coming with the territory and has learned not to tell me about it. And, she’s older now. So most of the harassment is coming from real old guys which she finds mostly harmless and amusing. And regardless of their age, her come back is usually along the lines of “You couldn’t handle it” or “Let me check with my husband, I think he’s at the gun range right now.”

I share these stories to make the point that I have witnessed the anger and pain that comes when men harass women in the work place. When men who have power and can impact a woman’s career say and do things that suggest a woman should just go along in order to get along, it’s plain wrong. Always has been, always will be. And even though I went out of my way not to be that guy, I look back at times in my career when I said things to women that probably made them uncomfortable or at least question my motives. And for that, I am truly sorry and apologize.

With all of the sexual harassment revelations, accusations and confessions coming out of entertainment and political circles, a lot of us are thinking back, wondering if or regretting that a comment or a look made a woman feel uneasy or uncomfortable or objectified. At some point, I do think “correctness” in this area is likely to go the way of all “PC” issues…to the extreme. Can you compliment a woman on her appearance? I’d be afraid to say anything today. Can you take a second, perhaps long look at woman? I wouldn’t today. Would you risk being alone in an office or even out on a business lunch with a woman? You may have to as part of your job, but be careful. However, this is the price we pay for years of bad behavior. Eventually we’ll strike a balance and it will be a balance set by those who have been the victims… our Mothers, our Wives, our Daughters, our Sisters.

“I am not your dog that you whistle for; I’m not a stray animal you call over, and I am not, I never have been, nor will I ever be, your “baby”!”
― Joy Jennings, I'm Not Your "Baby": An Australian woman's tortured life of sexual harassment and assault.

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