When I was a young lad of 22 I graduated from college with what I refer to as a useless college degree. I had not done the work during college that would lay the groundwork for a job in the field in which I got my degree. But I had a marketable skill. I was a brilliant typist, typing at a speed people rarely saw. (I blame genetics, to be honest — I got the skill and my good looks from my mother.) In addition, I had several years of office experience via an on-campus student assistant job.
After graduation, I looked around for a job that required my special skills and landed in the Faculty Office at a law school. I was a front desk receptionist and word processor. I actually enjoyed the job. I got to interact with all of the professors and law students who filtered through. And it was a relatively low stress job.
My years working in college and then in this job put me into environments that were almost entirely female. Yes, there were plenty of male professors that I worked with, but the actual office staff itself in both offices were all female. Back in the 1980s, it was pretty unusual to have a male receptionist or secretary. I was a revolutionary. And a one man show.
Probably about six months after I started at the Faculty Office, my immediate manager, a really nice woman named Pete (her real name was Petra, but she went by Pete) left to move with her family to Houston. She was replaced by Michelle. I’m not sure anymore exactly what age she was, but I’m going to guess she was in her 40s.
Somewhere along the way, she started to engage in sexual harassment. Of me. What became a somewhat regular occurrence was a conversation in which she would make “joking” statements about what might happen if we were to get together. If you know what I mean. It wasn’t graphic or outrageous. She didn’t accompany these statements with any kind of physical aspect — like touching me or hugging me or anything like that. When it first started, I think I played along with it a bit, but eventually it just got tiresome. And oppressive. I couldn’t do anything to get her to stop. I don’t know why I didn’t talk to her supervisor, who was the office manager, about the situation, but I don’t think I did.
Instead, I moved to a different job on campus. It was a promotion and one that the law school’s dean supported me for. I became the executive assistant for one of the school’s assistant deans. I took the new job for the promotion, the increased salary, and because it got me away from Michelle.
That’s my tale. I acknowledge that what I experienced doesn’t come close to some of the horror stories we are hearing about in the news today. One of the stories being told in my city is of an assemblyman who forced his way into a bathroom with a female lobbyist and then masturbated in front of her. We have Roy Moore and his attempts at “dating” teenage girls when he was in his early 30’s. A President who thinks nothing of forcing himself on women because he can. Michelle never tried to force her tongue down my throat or pull me into the ladies restroom. Although she probably “joked” to me about doing it.
But I tell this tale to explain that I understand how this can happen and how the victim of it can feel. Why the victim might not say anything and instead try to get away from it or ignore it or just … let it go. I get all of that, but here’s my problem.
What is righteous outrage about there being a lot of sexual harassment and poor treatment of men by women is turning into a witch hunt, where any allegation is believed. Because it must, every woman must be believed. And men are being drummed out of jobs and positions and careers based, in many instances, on nothing more than allegations.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe many of these allegations. I believe that many of these men are worse than scum and should be driven away from those careers and the opportunity to take advantage of women (or in some cases, men). Absolutely believe that, but I also believe that there are good men who are innocent who are being swept into this dragnet.
An element that rarely gets discussed is that for something to be actionable as sexual harassment is that the conduct has to be unwelcome. One can look at some of these charges and understand that the accused may not have realized that what they were doing was unwelcome. In my situation, I never told Michelle that the things she was saying made me uncomfortable. If I didn’t do that than how could she know that those comments were unwelcome and that I was feeling harassed.
As I said, I understand why women aren’t necessarily going to say something. It has to do with the power dynamic, go along to get along, don’t make waves, maybe it will just stop if I ignore it, he’ll quit, I’ll get a different job. It will just go away, but if I say something it will only get worse.
I get that.
But if the man (or in my case, the woman) has no idea what they are doing is unwelcome, that it is not mutual and consensual, is that really sexual harassment? Yes, there are some stories coming out that it is hard to imagine any reasonable man would believe were consensual even without any communication from the woman. But not in all.
The other problem I have is that men are being forced to resign without being found guilty either civilly or criminally. And in many situations without any investigation of the merits or truth of the claims even being conducted. This is where I feel like we have turned this into a witch hunt, to a modern day version of Joe McCarthy’s anti-communist activities of the 1950s.
There are certain principles we are supposed to hold dear in this country. Innocent until proven guilty is one of them. We are losing sight of that principle and accepting as true just about any allegation somebody makes now. As long as it’s about sexual harassment or assault, the truth of the allegation is accepted without investigation and the accused is sent away without due process.
I have a serious problem with this. I want the men who engage in sexual harassment and assault to be disciplined, punished, and held responsible appropriately given the nature of their conduct. But I want it to be done after appropriate investigations and findings are made. To do so based solely on allegations is wrong. Just wrong. In this country, even the guilty have a right to certain protections. We have lost sight of that concept.
(Side note: Read One Night in Bridgeport for a fictional presentation of why.)