A coworker put his hand on my shoulder in a playful manner the other day. It was a brief moment – almost like a “Hey, how about those Warriors?” shoulder pat. In the past, this type of interaction wouldn’t bother me, and it still doesn’t. But given the climate of things, when you have a Dirtbag of the Day being accused of sexual harassment – or worse, sexual assault – should I have said something?
It didn’t bother me, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t bother someone else.
At my last gig, I had a male coworker who always kissed me on the cheek at our holiday Christmas party. The first time it happened, I was caught off guard, and I made a mental note of it, but there were no further advances, so I dismissed it. He and I were friends, and if it did get to the point where I felt my privacy was being violated, I felt comfortable enough to tell him if he crossed a line.
But what if he wasn’t a friend and I DID feel uncomfortable? Would I have been brave enough to call him out on the spot and risk being a buzzkill to a room of people mixing and making merry in spirit of the holidays?
I’ve had a lot of conflicting feelings about the recent flood of Hollywood heavyweights being accused and fired as a result of these allegations. Assuming all these accusations are true, the firing and “blacklisting” of “men behaving badly” is a mere consolation prize. The men and women who have been victimized will carry these devastating experiences with them forever. As a sexual assault survivor myself, I know how time can only heal so much.
But as a journalist, I’ve been trained not to rush to judgment – to hear every side of the story before forming my own, unpublishable opinion. So many of these recent stories refer to generalized sexual harassment or assaults, and, trust me, I don’t want the details, but how are we to learn what is and isn’t crossing the line? Everyone has their own threshold for what is and isn’t OK in terms of their personal boundaries.
Of course, some actions are obvious no-nos and are not to be questioned for their potential innocence, but what about a smile, a compliment on a new haircut or even an accidental butt graze? Accidents do happen.
I think what we can learn as all of these stories come to light is that we need to be able to recognize harassment – what makes us uncomfortable as well as what makes those close to us uncomfortable – and call it out when we see it instead of internalizing the shame. We need to talk about it. It’s time we have a conversation.
A basic rule of respect for each other is keep your hands to yourself, and to quote Thumper from “Bambi”, “If you can’t say something nice... don’t say nothing at all.”
It seems obvious, but I think at times, we are lead astray, and sometimes we honestly don’t understand how our actions or words affect others.
In college, I had a coworker who didn’t like to be hugged. It baffled me and many of my hug-loving coworkers. We were like a family. And who doesn’t like a hug? How damaging is a hug, really?
Every time someone went to hug him, he literally ran away. We would laugh. Why is he so jumpy? He’s so adorable, we thought.
Of course, we asked why he didn’t like to be hugged, and his answer was always the same: “I just don’t like it.”
At times, some of the girls would ambush him into a hug and consider it a victory, but thinking about it now, I realize that even something as simple as a hug can be crossing the line no matter the innocence of the intentions. He’d made it clear that he didn’t want to be hugged and we violated his trust and made light of his vulnerability as if it was part of a little game.
And for these actions – my actions, I am truly sorry. I wish I’d been mature enough to understand the harm of my actions at the time, but I can say with great confidence that I am not who I was 10 years ago. I’ve grown up, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I will admit I am a work in progress, but it is my hope to continue learning and growing and to be more aware – aware of the world around me as well as to be aware of myself.
It’s time we have a conversation.