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Jack Smith

Wielding Axes, They Line Up to Chop Away

August 02, 1988|Jack Smith

In writing that "sexual harassment" needed a better definition, and that men, as well as women, could be its victims, I did not expect universal applause. Neither did I expect my light treatment of the subject to amuse everyone. To many, sexual harassment is a sacred cow, and no humor about it is permitted.

Carol Enos of Orange warned me what to expect: "Do you really know the abuse, the indignation, and, yes, perhaps vilification you are about to endure? Sexual harassment . . . is a topic about which there is no sense of humor or perspective . . . yet . . . I think the whole topic is marvelously funny. . . . But the rest of the world isn't there. You are brave. . . . But I also believe that in real life, the boy who noticed that the emperor had no clothes had his head chopped off. . . ."

Here are some chops:

"Your column was glib and flippant," wrote Pala Pappas. "Harassment has nothing to do with romance. It is concerned with power, and power only."

This was the common theme: "Sexual harassment is about power," wrote Denise Arant of Glendale. "Sexual harassment is not a coy game played out between co-workers who are merely in the throes of infatuation. It is a terrible exchange wherein the powerful boss or superior holds a woman's job or hope of advancement as a lure to demand sex. . . ."

Pursuing that theme, Clare Maier of Northridge observed that "young men" do not in general hold positions of great power, so my illustration--in which a young man asks a woman "How about lunch?" and so on--is invalid.

She says, "I believe you underestimate the common sense that a lawyer or judge brings to her evaluation of the law. . . . A request for a date is certainly not aggression."

Seems like, in the interest of equal opportunity, she might have avoided that generic her by ungrammatically saying their , as everyone else does: "The common sense that a lawyer or judge brings to their evaluation of the law."

Several readers are incensed by my suggestion that ruling out courtship in the working place might adversely affect "young women (who) are said to be reaching a dangerous age of anxiety without marriage prospects. . . ."

"For this," wrote Catherine Ransom of Winchester, "you nearly lost all your standing as a feminist, but if you will recant, we will have you back in good standing. Who says these silly things?"

The bleak marriage outlook for women over 30 has been the subject of several recent newspaper and magazine articles.

By the way, Ransom deals with the gender problem by using s/he and him/her . "And yes," she said, "I used 's/he' quite intentionally." If she had used they or their , I could forgive her.

"I kept wondering if Jack Smith is as naive as his column," wrote Mary L. Noren of Ojai. "Sexual harassment is about power, not about some young man wanting to date a co-worker."

"Sexual harassment has to do with power and control," wrote Victoria Brown of San Diego, "not the birds and the bees."

"You state several times," wrote Joseph Miranda of North Hollywood, "that sexual harassment is something men do to women, but nowhere do you talk of how women sexually harass men."

Miranda either didn't read the column through, or missed its point entirely. All I was saying is that the crime ought to be better defined for the protection of both sexes. The last line: "Anyone who thinks that women don't sexually harass men has never worked in an office that employs both."

William Rehwald, a Woodland Hills attorney, alleges that management "has jumped on the sexual harassment bandwagon and is conducting investigations almost like witch hunts. It is a sad day in our work force when casual comments which neither party construes as sexual harassment become the basis to terminate a man and ruin his life."

A faculty member at Cal State L.A. who wishes to remain anonymous, since his case has not been resolved, writes that this has happened to him. After a 16-year career, he has been suspended on a female student's complaint of sexual harassment. It was she who harassed him, he claims. When he rebuffed her, she threatened to file a complaint against him, and she did.

Just read me my rights before you chop my head off.

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