Wednesday, March 21, 2007

(Do) You Gotta Fight?

Posted by Anonymous.

I think the appropriate place to ask this is in the Basement.

A few months ago there was a lot of talk about feminsim on various blogs, what it meant, etc. I didn't weigh in, because to me it was a non-issue. Not that I didn't care. I just never thought about it that much. My mom is a feminist, and she raised me in an environment where I never questioned women's rights.

I still don't mostly.

Except for one thing in my life.

I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb here if I say that a lot of women have dealt with the issue of their sexuality in the workplace before. I have. My friends have. Being a woman is not easy. Entering the work world, unless you are in a decidedly female environment introduces you to it. Sometimes, I use it to my advantage. Not in the sense of sleeping my way to the top, but I know that sometimes some men are more willing to help me out because I'm pretty

But then something happened that shouldn't have.

A man, who I used to respect, and still do respect, did something he shouldn't have. He said stuff that I won't repeat. I was shocked. I was a little angry. I was mostly just surprised - partly that he felt that way and partly that he would express himself.

It was the situation. It was a social setting. Drinks were flowing. We were enjoying ourselves chatting. But, then he said some stupid things. I didn't know how to reply. So I didn't. I just let him talk. At the time, and looking back, I know it was a shitty moment for both of us. But we've all had them. We go for drinks with friends and colleagues. We say dumb things. It's the alcohol talking. And then the next day we wake up and think "shit. Did I say that?" And we hope that it's not the scandal of the day. We hope that the person we made the comment to gets over it, is maybe flattered by it (depending) and moves on.

This is how I took it. A booze induced slip of tongue that shouldn't have happened but did.

The problem? It was overheard. What's more of a problem - that now it's growing and lots of people know and lots of people want me to fight for my (feminist) rights.

My question - should I?

I have already spoken with him about it. I've already cleared the air. I was okay with it the next day. I'm not embarrassed to see him. I don't want to do anything about it. I want to accept that he made a mistake. I don't feel the need to "speak to someone about it". It's not that I don't think the various options available to me aren't great. I just feel that in this situation they are not necessary. It was not a huge deal.

I've closed the door. I'm not willing to re-open it.

But now there is a feminist backlash. There are the naysayers. The ones who are telling me that by not using every option (i.e. harrassment policies) out there I'm setting women and the feminist movement back. All the rights that my mom and my grandmothers and all feminists have been fighting for - they are all being destroyed because I won't do anything about this and I am willing to forgive him.

When I said no to laying any sort of charge I thought this was over. I really did. But I just found out (this week) that since I refuse to claim harrassment it is being claimed for me. The reasoning, because I am too "weak" to claim it for myself. There is literally nothing I can do. The charge is going ahead. I can't stop it. My only choice is to fight back and defend him and say none of this is true - but I don't want to do that either. It did happen. But, I want to say he made a mistake, apologized and I fogave him. How do I do that?

So here's my question - by refusing to claim harrassment was I hurting the "cause" of feminism?

And, an additional question. What now? Now that this is over my head and I am the unwilling victim how do I stop it?


Betsy Mae said...

Part of being human is making mistakes. It sounds like this person made a mistake and must have owned up to it in some way as you have forgiven him.
I don't think it's necessary to raise this issue any higher than you have if you don't feel it's necessary. Forget what other people think, this was between the two of you. Now if other people feel the need to raise this issue, you haven't got any control over that, and I suppose it's their right as well..and the person who said the inapporpriate thing(s) will have to deal with the consequences that he said something that offended people who heard it. Honesty really is the best policy, if you are "the unwilling victim" then I suppose you will need to be honest and express how you feel (that you believe it's over and it was handled between the two of you).
You aren't hurting the cause of feminism if you don't raise the issue (by the way, you addressed the issue), do you think you are?
I've rambled long enough but I would like to add once again, that people really do make mistakes and it's unfortunate that more people aren't forgiving (like you were in this situation).

Anonymous said...

I get really irritated with all the people who try and decide what a feminist does. In my mind, being a feminist is all about having choices and making choices for yourself based on whatever is important to you. If you are strong enough to deal with this and move past it easily, it doesn't make you anti-feminist. My only concern would be the other people who overheard the comments, because the "victim" of sexual harassment does not have to be the target of the sexual comments. If other people overheard the comments and felt uncomfortable, then they are the victims. If the comments did not (ultimately) make you uncomfortable, then you are not a victim of sexual harassment. Even so, since this was a public situation, his actions may still be considered harassment (but not of you). I think you can and should state your opinion about the situation, that it was a mistake and you dealt with it personally, if you are asked. But it may not matter legally. So I am sorry to say that you probably have no way to stop it. All that depends on the specifics of how such things are dealt with in your organization.

Anonymous said...

People say dumb stuff sometimes. We've all done it. (And I'm sure will do it again!)

It sounds like from your viewpoint that the other person apologized, you understood and forgave, and it's all fine and over. I suppose if other people were uncomfortable with it, or if it affected their working environment, they can do something about it, but it sounds like they're trying to 'fight' on your behalf when you don't want it.

*shrug* I don't know how much you can do, other than to continue to speak up that you and the coworker have talked about it, an apology was made, and that you are FINE with the situation as is - in fact, having it moved forward into the 'harassment' policies without your permission is what's making you uncomfortable now 'cuz you feel like it's been dealt with already and doesn't need to be turned into a huge show. Maybe 'the powers that be' will be content to leave it alone with the understanding that if anything similar happens with this coworker that things will move forward within the harassment policies right away.

Best of luck - it sounds to me like you were assertive and direct in speaking up for yourself with the coworker after the fact, which is what empowerment is all about in my book. No need for Big Brother to step in to defend you - you spoke up for yourself and resolved the situation to your satisfaction.

motherbumper said...

We all make dumb mistakes - some more dumb than others (and this must of been one of those).

That said, I can't understand or fathom how others would take it upon themselves to forge ahead with the harassment charges on your behalf. Isn't that in itself saying you are too "weak" to do it yourself or maybe too intimidated? It makes me wonder if that is why they are doing it - they must think you were intimidated or feel threatened (job security/promotion-wise). I dunno but all I can guess is that they made this policy so that people that feel threatened for their job/career don't have to make the charges themselves (just like police can lay charges against spouses who batter partners without having to involve the battered spouse). I don't exactly feel sorry for the person who made the wrong comments because they should have never been made (alcohol or no alcohol) but the situation stinks of corporate crap. Who is in control again?

Anonymous said...

It is my understanding of feminism, that we have the CHOICE. Choice to stay at home, or work. Choice to opt out of bad relationships. Choice to vote or not. Choice to handle a stupid comment in the manner most comfortable. If the choice is being made FOR YOU, whether by man or by woman, then it is THAT which is the violation of feminism. IMO.

dawnatello said...

i think what you did was a very feminist thing to do. that you helped teach a man about where the line is.

noone has to get fired or charged in all situations. i think being a feminsit is about making your own choices and having control over what decisions you make in your life. and having options and exercising them as you see fit.

in my opinion, as this was the 1st time this happened with this gentleman, and you handled in a way that you were ok with, felt comfortable with, were able to talk to him about it, that the "people" forcing you to take back your power are making you powerless.

i think they should be respectful of your choices and rights and decisions.

just my feminist opinion!

Anonymous said...

I do think that your co-workers have the right to fiile a harassment claim, not on your behalf because you are supposedly 'weak' (which is ridiculous), but on their own behalf. If his remarks were made in a public setting where other co-workers could hear them, then they affect everyone, not just you.

I really respect you for letting the issue go, and I think you've done the right thing to move on. You're not responsible for what happens next. If asked, tell the truth, and let the chips fall where they may - it's ultimately the employer's responsibility to determine how such behaviour is handled.

toyfoto said...

My understanding of harassment is an ongoing, hostile work environment. A person who made a mistake, owned up to it and changes their behavior isn't harassing another.

We all make mistakes. It seems as if the harassment you now face is coming from the people who think they are protecting you from yourself.

I'm not sure if you can stop it, but you can certainly tell the truth as you see it. Hopefully the person who's job it is to sort it all out will see things more clearly.

Best of luck to you.

flutter said...

The definition of harrassment lays a large piece of real estate in the victim feeling harrassed. If the people who overheard the comment feel offended, then they can take it up with the appropriate people.
I would flatly tell them that you won't be bullied by him, or by them.

m said...

You definitely did not set feminism back. You acted in a way that was exactly what the previous generations of feminists had fought for: you spoke with him as an equal, telling him it was inappropriate. He, in turn, treated you as an equal by appologizing. If he had been "aw, baby, you know you liked it" then I'm sure it wouldn't have played out how it has.

As for your coworkers, I like what flutter said.

Sarah said...

It is laughable that they are calling you "weak" -- that, in and of itself, is anti-feminist!


You should be the one to decide how you want to proceed. I'm not sure I think that their overhearing this man is reasonable grounds for claiming that they have been harassed.

MARY G said...

Something ver similar happened to me, except that in my case a 'paternal' male superior took the ball and ran with it, against my wishes. This sounds much the same, and I agree with the other commenters that they are not respecting you and your choices.

Ms Porter said "Now if other people feel the need to raise this issue, you haven't got any control over that, and I suppose it's their right as well..and the person who said the inapporpriate thing(s) will have to deal with the consequences that he said something that offended people who heard it."

I don't agree -- the people who overheard it are overreacting. They should have come to you and respected your right to deal with it your way, which you did, and appropriately, too.

You may have to end up protecting the guy from discipline. And watch your back, because what happened to me eventually was that the guy who got disciplined set me up and got me fired.

liz said...

The thing with sexual harrasment is that it doesn't have to be an overt sexual comment or quid pro quo. There is a grey area called "hostile work environment."
Because this comment was overheard now makes it an issue of the general population, so to speak. So, good for you for addressing the issue with the dude. You're over it, and it is what is now. But because others heard the guy, he's now created what some co-workers will find to be a hostile work enviornment.
And even though the two of you have resolved any issue--there's now the issue that others heard him and are likely concerned that if it happened once, it'll happen again and THAT is what creates the hostile work environment.
Refusing a charge does NOT make you the anti-feminist. I think it's important to remember that feminism is also a personal cause. And because of the feminist cause, you are able to speak your mind and resolve your issues without filing a complaint.
Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Here's my "thing" with hostile work environment...
I think it has to be on-going. Comments that offended OTHER people who overheard them on one occasion do not, IMO, attain that status.

I have to say, I wish people would mind their own business on some of these issues. If you weren't offended, and you handled the situation, then who are other people to be offended? Unless the comments were directed at them, I don't buy the "I was offended on someone's behalf".

gingajoy said...

no you're not. Not at ALL. Though I ight for your right to go foward with this is you chose to, language has meaning only in context. Some male colleagues and I joke about the most crass of things--anyone listening out of context could imagine that I was being harrassed. And truth is, if my boss or another male colleague said the same things it would make me uncomfortable.

If you seriously don;t think it's going to impact how you do your job, and that he does respect you as a colleague, then I think this is the right decision.

Kristi said...

Wow. That is just insane. I'd also say your rights are being violated by being forced into something you clearly did not want to get into. You are not setting the feminist movement back. You are acting as a human being forgiving another human being. I would be so irate at other people thinking they have the power to speak for you, make claims for you, telling you what you should and should not be doing and claiming you are too weak? I'm sorry, but that is just B.S. I'd bring whatever claims you could against those who are forcing your hand.

Mama Sarita said...

Okay, if you work for a large company maybe there are resources available to you to 'talk it out' to find out what your options are here. Could you talk to someone from human resources or an omsbudsman?
I agree with all the other people who said that the harassment/hostile work environment stuff would need to be on going for this to go anywhere. I suppose it depends upon the context of what he said, if he has been obnoxious to others in the past, if it was in a work related environment.

At a bar relaxing and having some drinks....doesn't sound like a hostile work environment. Were you on company time? I think all of those things matter.

The bottom line is that people do screw up. You made peace because that was right for you. That makes you a good person. You could extend forgiveness, presumably because that is what was warrented, not b/c you are weak. Throwing the whole bad feminist thing at you just sucks.

I hope you can find a way to make this a livable situation. How crappy for everyone.

Mimi said...

Feminism has truly made gains when gaffes like this ... can be recovered from. When you can talk to him and he can own up to it. Mistakes are going to happen, and this one sounds like a mistake, and a mistake that both parties have subsequently and soberly addressed, and moved on.

A lot of organized feminism's reliance on explicit structures and policies is based in women's historically being shut out of the informal processes of the world of work. All we really wanted was to have a level playing field--and to get this, we had to push for explicit and transparent processes adn policies. But if you have access to informal means, if you are in the network, and you have good communication with your peers, then you don't need to go all Letter of The Law on it.

You're a good feminist for dealing with this openly and to your satisfaction. You are a worker, not an emblem. Do what feels right to you.

Good luck

Jaelithe said...

I think that these co-workers of yours who are pushing a sexual harassment case are the ones treating you in an anti-feminist way-- like they can't believe that you can take care of your own problems.

That said, there is something to the earlier comments that perhaps these co-workers are really pushing this issue on their own behalf. Maybe they really do feel threatened by what this man said to you. If that is the case, it is highly unfortunate that they won't just say so.

Mom101 said...

I don't think anyone has any obligation to do anything for a cause that goes beyond their own comfort level. You may choose to, but you are not obligated to.

Speaking out in any situation depends on how committed you are to the cause, and to what degree you are willing to put your own self (family, job, reputation, etc) on the line. I'm guessing there are causes for which you'd do this but perhaps this is not it.

Don't let anyone bully you. It's always easy to tell the murder witness to testify against the mafia when you're not the one dealing with the repercussions.

Terrible analogy, right?

Anonymous said...


While I would never call you "weak" (like someone else said-- that comment is itself anti-feminist) and I respect your right to choose to be fine with the situation (you know the guy, the statements and the context, and I don't) but, I agree with others that the problem is that it was overheard and offended others.

This may sound harsh but this isn't only about you. It's about unacceptable workplace behavior. What if he made those comments to someone else and it did affect her ability to do her job in a professional manner? What if another male employee was influenced by this guy getting a pass on this and modeled his own behavior on the belief that this kind of behavior is ok? Yes, many stupid thing is done while intoxicated and maybe the offenders shouldn't be crucified for them, but I don't believe a pass should be given just because he didn't offend you.

That being said, it sucks that in order to deal with this situation it is having a negative impact on you-- sometimes life sucks and it certainly isn't fair.

Christine said...

Wow. Just reading that made me LIVID. Your last sentence said it all, "Now that this is over my head and I am the unwilling victim how do I stop it?"

THEY made you a victim, not this guy who made an inappropriate comment *while drinking in a social setting* (not during work hours).

I hope that you show them how weak you aren't and stand up to them. Tell them being a feminist isn't about following or being told what to do by a man OR a woman, but taking control of your own destiny.

Frankly, IMO, they are the ones setting the feminist movement back by stripping away your humanity; their very actions are subjugating you...bring out the smelling salts, this poor woman was exposed to something *nasty!*!