This is a Reckoning

“This, ladies, is not a witch hunt. It’s a reckoning.”

I love this quote from Annmarie Lockhart because it sums up the current situation so perfectly. There is a lot of angst and faux outrage about men suddenly being held accountable for their behavior. There are concerns about “good guys” being accused without evidence and that men are losing their jobs. There are concerns about “revenge” accusations getting men fired. And you know what? Oh well.

One: Despite all of the high-profile firings, let’s be clear. Most women STILL are not believed when it comes to the sheer volume of harassment we experience of a day to day basis. We are still being told that we are imagining things, or overreacting, or “I was only joking,” or “don’t be so uptight.” There is no benefit, personal or professional, to any woman to level an accusation of sexual harassment against a co-worker.

Because even if it is 100% true, the woman will still be viewed as a troublemaker in the workplace. Even if there are witnesses, the woman will be made to feel guilty for “ruining” his career. Even if there is video evidence, the woman will be reminded that “he has a wife” and maybe she should think about his family. Even if he admits it, the woman will be accused of “asking for it” or “leading him on” because of the way she dresses, or walks, or smiles, or smells, or because she choses to wear make-up to the office.

Get it through your thick skulls. There is NO BENEFIT to women to bring false accusations against a co-worker. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. We suffer when we bring real accusations against a co-worker. We gain nothing by making false ones.

Two: Even if there is a false accusations, the system supports the accused. Do you have ANY idea how hard it is to actually get someone fired over sexual harassment accusations? Companies are loath to fire high performers over accusations of anything short of embezzlement (yes, they are much quicker to move on the misuse of the petty cash account than sexual assault allegations). Human Resources, which will usually handle such complaints, answers to the very managers who the complaints are brought against in most cases. You really think all it takes is for one woman to make an accusation and companies just fire men? What planet do you live on?

Sexual harassment complaints are often long, drawn-out affairs that involve lengthy interviews with not only the accuser and the accused, but other co-workers who may have been witnesses…which means your “confidential complaint” becomes known throughout the company, ensuring that your co-workers start to pick sides. Often, the person who leveled the accusation is the one who is ultimately punished. She gets moved to another department with fewer advancement opportunities. The accused will be required to do remedial sensitivity training and told to avoid the accuser…effectively harming the accusers ability to do her job if the accused is in a decision-making potion. Male co-workers are “warned” to watch what they say around her and may avoid her entirely, leaving her out of important networking opportunities. Meanwhile, the accused finishing his online one-hour training course and signs a disclosure that he understands the company’s sexual harassment policy and goes about his business.

I assure you, if a man was fired over one unsupported accusation, it is because the company was already looking for an excuse to fire him and just used that as an easy out. For a company to fire a person over sexual harassment, there was too much that came out in the internal investigation for them to risk this person on the staff. And the definition of “too much” is very generous in favor of the accused, particularly if he is a high-performer.

Three

: Contrary to your beliefs, these “nice guys” really ARE harassing women. Just because you personally don’t see it as harassment doesn’t mean anything. Just because “I wouldn’t have reported that” doesn’t mean it wasn’t reportable. Let’s all remember the definition of sexual harassment: harassment in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.

Some women curse like sailors. Some women flirt at work. Some women actually enjoy the attention male co-workers give them. And that is fine. They have the right to make those choices. But not all women want to flirt at work. Not all women want that sort of attention at work. And that is fine, too.

”But how am I supposed to know? Why is it okay to tell Carrie she looks hot but not Donna?”

It is actually very, very simple. All you have to do is shut your mouth and listen. Period. When Donna says, “I find that offensive” or “I’m sorry, I’m not interested in you that way” there is one, and only one, correct response. You say, “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

And then it doesn’t happen again.

Because you have been informed that the behavior is UNWELCOME, and thus the behavior needs to cease. This is not up for discussion. This is not a “Well, she should just deal with it.” This is not a “It shouldn’t be my problem that she is cold.” Yeah, it is your problem, sunshine. Because she has told you she has no interest in you sexually and just wants to do her friggin’ job. And you have an obligation to do your job and not treat the workplace like your sexual hunting ground.

”But Donna went on a date with George so why is it harassment if I ask her out multiple times? That’s not fair!”

Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances. Your advances were unwelcome. George’s were not. There is no “fair” here. No woman owes you a date just because she dated someone else. Why this is so damn hard to understand is beyond me. If I buy my friend Paul lunch one day, that does not mean I owe you a free lunch tomorrow. If I loan my car to Sarah so she can go pick up her kid from school, that doesn’t mean I have an obligation to loan you my car the following day. You are not owed one…damn…thing.

Four: Yes, you should be worried about being accused for things you did years ago. You really, really should. This “concern” is my personal favorite. Because apparently it isn’t “fair” that men are being called to the mat for things they did five or ten years ago. Saying “It was okay then” doesn’t actually make it okay. See point one above. That is why Annmarie called this a reckoning, not a witch hunt. Your behavior was NEVER OKAY. You just got away with it. There is a difference.

It was never okay to slap a co-worker on the ass. It was never okay to make lewd comments about co-workers. It was never okay to hold that business meeting at Hooters even though you knew it made the women in the office uncomfortable but you thought it would be funny to watch them squirm (true story). It was never okay to spread rumors about a co-worker being a slut after she turned you down. It was never okay to take that picture of your co-worker on all-fours trying to unjam a piece of paper in the copier and then sharing it with male co-workers with an obscene caption (true story).  It was never okay to imply that you would advance someone’s career if they performed certain favors. It was never okay.

Your female co-workers suffered because of your behavior, but until now they didn’t feel safe to bring it up because they feared for their jobs. Your female co-workers spent years “just dealing” with your bullshit because they didn’t feel they had a choice. They avoided after-hour business meetings because they didn’t want to give the impression of “leading” you on. They got overlooked for promotions because they weren’t “team players” when they did complain.

The time has come that we stop saying “Well, if she didn’t want that picture shared, maybe she shouldn’t have been crawling around on the floor in that skirt” and start saying “Well, if you didn’t want to be accused of sexual harassment, maybe you should have been focused on doing your job instead of humiliating your co-worker who was just trying to unjam the copier.”

The time has come that we stop saying “Well, if you didn’t want the attention, maybe she shouldn’t have worn that outfit” and start saying “Well, if you didn’t want to be accused of sexual harassment, maybe you should have been focused on doing your job and not fondling your co-worker.”

The time has come that we stop saying “Well, she’s just too uptight” and start saying “Well, if you didn’t want to be accused of sexual harassment, maybe you should have been focused on doing your job and behaving like a professional in the workplace instead of acting like this is a bar on Saturday night.”

To every woman that finds herself feeling sorry for men being outed: don’t fall into that trap. Society has conditioned us to blame our gender for anything that happens to us. We have spent decades being conditioned to blame ourselves, and by extension, each other, when men get caught. Beware of the misplaced empathy that has made it possible for men to get away with this behavior for so long. No, it was never okay. We just felt we had no choice but to deal with it.

To every man worried that he might be accused of sexual harassment, ask yourself WHY you are worried. Are you worried because, despite the fact that you have always treated all women as human beings, someone might have it out for you? Or, as I suspect, you are worried that the proverbial chickens are going to come home to roost and that your past behavior might actually catch up with you?

And to the men that have come forth and admitted to their past misbehavior or perceived misbehavior, not because they were accused by anyone but, because of the #metoo movement, felt the need to reconcile their past behavior with the person they want to be: bravo. Because in some ways, you were victims, too. The behavior was never okay, but you were surrounded by people that encouraged it. Toxic masculinity demanded that you act like “one of the boys” on occasion, even when it went against your better nature. And now you want to make amends. That, gentlemen, is commendable. More importantly, it is desperately needed.

Because, ultimately, that should be the focus of this current reckoning. The awareness that this behavior was never okay and should never be tolerated. That such behavior creates a toxic environment for both woman and men. That we should be accountable for the things that we do to other people and should be able to admit to it and take actions to change the behavior, not look for excuses to ignore it, cover it up, or explain it away.

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