Shifting mores, sexual harassment, insults, and knowing when to change.
Our first experience with the shifting relationship between men and women was just before the publication of The Seven Steps to Personal Safety (You can download a copy free at http:www.lubrinco.com/). The book had been sent to a professor at a Midwestern university, who passed it on to someone in the Women’s Studies department. This person wrote a scathing critique which started by stating categorically that the book was worthless because it quoted no women as primary sources, and went on from there, including making a number of suggestions which we considered to be more related to political correctness than substance. Some years later, after giving a seminar at a university in the DC area, a woman came up and introduced herself. When we didn’t recognize the name, she said that she was the one who had written the critique.
We apologized for not recognizing her, and explained that we hadn’t noticed her horns, tail, or cloven hooves. She apologized for having written the original letter, which she said was unwarranted, and noted with some astonishment that, in spite of the hostile tone of her missive, we had apparently included most of her suggestions. We explained that we were not willing to put people at risk by having them refuse to read the book due to issues not related to the subject, and so chose to be a little more sensitive to the perceptions of others. She was delighted, both at our changes and our lack of rancor, and went on to recommend the book.
This was brought to mind recently in a sexual harassment case in which several women in a club filed complaints against one of the male members. The case was interesting in that the man, an actor, singer, and artist, came from a milieu in which being touchy-feely was the norm, and hadn’t done anything that seemed, to him, to be untoward. Several women didn’t agree.
As frequently happens, all the women wanted was for him to say “I’m sorry if anything I did inadvertently offended you or caused you any distress, and I’ll be more careful in the future.” The women didn’t need a confession of guilt, or punishment for his sins. They just needed recognition that there was, from their perspective, a problem, and some assurance that it would stop. As of the time of this writing, the situation was fairly ugly (the usual denials, blaming of the victims, countercharges, ad nauseum), largely because there was no recognition that the women on the receiving end might have considered his behavior inappropriate.
Along similar lines, some time ago we were with a driver who inadvertently blocked the road while parking. Eventually enough space was made so that an angry driver could pull next to us and hurl an insult. We rolled down the window to say, “Sorry, we didn’t realize that we were blocking traffic,” which would have made the problem go away. But before we could say anything, the driver of the car we were in shouted his own insults back. It was only the flow of traffic that prevented the two of them from leaving the safety of their cars and slugging it out.
It is always better to avoid causing bad situations. If you can’t avoid them, you should at least try to end them without things getting out of hand, and without leaving all the participants upset and hostile. Frequently a simple apology, or quasi-apology will do. As an example, someone we know was in a cowboy bar out west, and was looking at a very attractive woman. The woman’s large boyfriend noticed, marched over, and said “Are you looking at my woman?” While this editor would have probably said, “Yes, she’s really beautiful, and you are very lucky to be with her,” the actual participant said, “No, I was looking at you.” Slightly flummoxed, the thus-complimented bruiser turned and walked away. Google-eyes prudently left the bar.
However you resolve minor conflicts, it is better to resolve them before they become major conflicts.