Before I begin, and people get all ruffled, let me lay some ground rules for this post.
In my mind, there are two types of sexual harassment: there’s the kind associated with positions of power and the kind where you just need to get a sense of humor and shut the hell up. It’s the second that bugs me.
The first, where a person uses power as leverage to gain an advantage and use it for sexual advances, e.g. “If you sleep with me, I’ll give you a raise,” or “Maybe you should wear tighter clothes to work, accentuate that nice ass,” is, in my opinion, unacceptable. Forcing someone, whether by intimidation or knifepoint, into doing something sexually that they otherwise would not want to do, is rape. Like the old, stupid commercial from when I was in elementary/high school, “We’re talking about your job here.” “No, we’re talking about sexual harassment, and I don’t have to take it.” I always thought that was a dumbass commercial, and the woman in it was loathsome and annoying for no apparent reason, nevertheless, that form of sexual harassment is wrong.
The other type, what they call “hostile work environment,” is just a crock. This is yet another thing I file under, “lighten up.” When work environments get so sterile, that you’re afraid to make a joke, even an innocuous one, because you might offend some annoying asshat’s fragile sensibilities, well that’s just dumb. I don’t hurt anyone when I make a mildly sexual joke. I don’t force anyone into anything they don’t want to do by hanging a raunchy comic strip in my office.
I know, I know, it’s a “slippery slope.” If you allow random, innocuous jokes, then do you allow jokes about a specific person. If you allow jokes about a specific person, do you allow comments about someone’s appearance. If you allow comments about someone’s appearance, then where does that cross the line into inappropriate innuendo? All good points. Yet, shut the hell up. It’s a joke. What is it about people that they can’t take jokes? Of course there’s a line. And as with any other slippery slope argument, you draw the line. That’s it. Jokes are permitted. If you’re an idiot, and you don’t get the joke, or you’re blond and you’re the butt of some jokes, or you’re Polish and the butt of every joke, suck it up, go online and learn some jokes about Russian Brunettes and start getting back at people. Being able to joke and be lighthearted in the workplace engenders friendship, comraderie and makes the workplace a fun and good place to work. Getting rid of jokes just makes it sterile, and makes everyone dread coming into work, except the idiot that is the one constantly “getting offended.”
A small anecdote: the other day, an attorney was in my office explaining a project to me, when another one walked by the office. As a joke, he pokes his head in and says, “you can’t teach wood,” and we all chuckle, even though I was just called dumb (see, I’m good natured like that; I can laugh). Then I deadpan, “was that a sexual joke?” He looks at me for a second and walks away from my office cracking up. That’s why he’s one of my favorite people in this office.
One note of interest: the firm has “Mandatory Professional Conduct Training” next Wednesday. That should be a lot of fun. (I’ll try to revisit this then, with all new BS to skewer.) When we had that as summer associates, I almost had the person giving the lecture ready to kill me. You see, I wouldn’t just accept the stupidity for itself. I questioned reasoning. We had a question on a questionaire of “are the following things appropriate/ inappropriate/depends” and while everyone was wimping out with “depends” I was saying appropriate. When the example was something ludicrous, I went even farther to see how far you could stretch the reasoning. For example, under the question of putting up a nude photo in the office, everyone said that’s offensive and inappropriate. I said, “it depends. Is it a tasteful nude? Is it art? How far do you take this,” I asked her. “Is it offensive for me to put up my wedding picture because it might offend my gay officemate who isn’t allowed to marry?”
See, that’s my point. It is a slippery slope, but just as bad as sliding towards allowing something bad, is sliding to outlawing the absurdly OK. Everyone just needs to chill. And get a goddamn sense of humor.