There are moments when you just know that history is being made and the recent revelations of sexual misconduct and harassment indicate we are in such an historic time. Proof came when Time Magazine named the “Silence Breakers,” those no longer accepting the unacceptable, as Person of the Year. As Tarana Burke said, …“it’s not just a moment, but a movement.” Relationships between the sexes are deservedly changing.
There have always been examples of those in power acting badly towards those who aren’t. Having covered politics in North Carolina for many years, I’ve heard rumors about legislators, elected or high-ranking government officials preying on those of the opposite sex. The same is true in the workplace, entertainment, sports and television sectors.
More often than not, charges of inappropriate behavior have been leveled toward men, since they have traditionally been the ones in power. All too frequently victims have felt forced into silence or, when they did report improprieties, tribal or corporate loyalties forced complaints to be either swept under the rug or the whistleblower was the one punished.
History-making changes are afoot and require new understandings. It is a given that inappropriate touching or lewd and suggestive comments are off limits, but when does being friendly with a cohort become inappropriate? I wouldn’t hesitate to tell a male colleague or friend that he looked “sharp,” but can you tell a woman that you like the jewelry, fragrance or clothing she is wearing? Can a man and woman meet privately in an office without a door being left open or another person present? Can males and females not travel together to meetings without risk of gossip or accusations of impropriety? New boundaries and expectations need defining.
Most women admit they’ve had an experience with harassment or intimidation. Women must learn to stick together against bad conduct. If a female is put in an uncomfortable situation it is imperative and only fair to say directly to the offending person that she does not appreciate that conduct and ask that person to refrain from it. If the situation persists a woman should immediately report the incidence to an appropriate authority, both in writing and in person, with sufficient details so the complaint can be properly investigated. The authority receiving the complaint has both a moral and legal obligation to investigate, keep records and report to superiors all accusations. Women must set boundaries, but they must also abide by them personally.
Men have corresponding obligations. If you see a cohort acting inappropriately you should call them out directly. If the actions persist you should report to the appropriate authority. Not all men behave badly, but when men turn their heads to bad behavior it can paint all men with the same brush. Your best defense is your history of respectful treatment. A cardinal rule is “no touching from the shoulders down.” Foul language, suggestive jokes, intimidating or objectifying comments that sometimes occur in male-only settings are not appropriate in mixed company. Women must be treated with the same respect you would want for your daughter, wife or mother.
The bottom line is that in this time of change common sense and mutual respect are demanded. Since men and women may have different understandings of what is and isn’t acceptable, we must have open conversations about where lines need to be drawn and changes needed.
Can we talk?
Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC issues. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.