Men vs. Women: Sexism, Perception, and Reality

A Dad's Point of View by Bruce Sallan

I love writing this blog series. Why? Because I get to poke holes in the conventional, contemporary politically correct stereotypes. And, I sincerely believe that the differences between men and women are genuine and trying to conflate them to fit some academic model of humanity simply denies our humanity. And, for those that know me, I like to provoke…discussion. I’m still waiting for some ardent feminists or Women’s Studies students or professors to weigh in with their comments. So, shall we take on Sexism? Yeah, let’s go for it and I’m going to reveal an embarrassing story along the way!

The irony of this blog series is how often I’m actually blasting men for being men, while sort of celebrating women for their good traits and minimizing the degree of their worse ones. Perhaps I’m displaying my own form of sexism? But, I suppose it’s all in the eye of the reader, since we all tend to bring our own prejudices, beliefs, and politics to most discussions like these where the issues are so nuanced.

I want to share a sort of an embarrassing story from my former career in showbiz, in the years before Anita Hill brought sexual harassment way out of its closet and perhaps ushered in an over-reaction that I sincerely believe has changed the work-place for the worse in so many ways. HR departments now have gone overboard with their seminars, occasional disciplinary actions, while most workers – men and women – can really handle the minor infractions themselves.

And, to be totally clear on where I stand on sexual harassment, it’s my belief that it should really only be a major issue when a subordinate is asked to perform any sort of extra-curricular activity out of fear of losing his or her job or on the promise of advancement. That is what sexual harassment always was but it’s now expanded to include the unacceptability of a man having a tool calendar in his private workspace if it offends a woman who might happen to see it.

But, what I’m revealing that I did is not by my definition the least bit of sexual harassment, but it was disrespectful and I’ve always carried some small amount of guilt over it. Thankfully, I had the chance to apologize to the woman involved much later and, as it happened, she barely remembered it or was even the least bit offended.

This particular woman was my associate’s secretary. Her cubicle was next to my own secretary’s workspace. My associate’s secretary was a bawdy woman with a bawdy figure, much like that aggressive secretary in “Mad Men.” She enjoyed dressing to show off her curves, without a doubt.

One particular day, I saw her sitting at her desk and the way in which she was seating and the outfit she was wearing made it look as if the upper half of her body were resting on the desk in front of her. It made quite a sight and, before I could even help myself, I made some comment about how interesting “those” looked sitting there on the desk. The moment the words came out of my mouth, I realized how inappropriate they were.

She looked up at me. There was a moment of silence. And, then she promptly broke out laughing. I skunked away, red-faced. And, as I said prior to laying out this story, many months or years later, I saw her and told her how mortified I was at the words that came forth from me at that moment. And, again she just laughed, clearly not bothered.

Had that been post-Anita Hill and had she not been who she was, I literally might have been fired that day for that comment. So, what is the lesson? Obviously, don’t stay stupid stuff like that. But, ironically, it also is a reminder of how much we bring our own sensitivities to the male-female intercourse.

If men and women are indoctrinated to believe that any such behavior constitutes sexual harassment, perhaps instead of having some fun banter, he or she is ON the lookout for the slightest infraction.

Later on in my showbiz career – post-Anita Hill – I actually stopped hiring female secretaries out of fear that I might let out another short burst of inane words and embarrass myself at the least or get brought up on charges at the worst.

Rather than provide my usual list, alternating between men and women, this column will just convey some of my general beliefs that are essentially an expansion of the story above.

While there’s no doubt my words were inappropriate, I fear that sexism and perception have become one and the same today. Too many men and women are simply too darn sensitive about any comment. When there’s no coercion or promises on the table, wouldn’t we be better off simply teaching our young boys and girls how to stand up for themselves rather than running off to HR with a complaint about a comment such as, “You sure look beautiful in that dress.”

Don’t we all grow and learn by the banter between he and she? Isn’t that banter often fun? And, if it isn’t, aren’t we mature enough to say something to stop it ourselves?

The reality of this idea is that much of such banter is simply fun. After we’ve graduated from college, assuming we are still single, the opportunities to meet potential life partners diminishes considerably given that the majority of our time is usually spend at work. What is wrong with flirting with a colleague, as long as it’s done with respect and as long as it’s not unwanted? How many marriages – despite HR – still come from workplace interactions?

Sexism is kind of like racism in that it is declared a reality far more often than it is reality. It’s a sensitivity bred in many of us because of what they’ve been taught, perhaps some bad experiences, and possibly our upbringing.

I’ll close this blog with another short story from my workdays, pre-Anita Hill. I had met a secretary at another company altogether and we began dating. She was a sweetheart and we had a lot of fun but soon realized we’d rather be friends – mutually. Later, when she lost her job, I needed a secretary and hired this ex-girlfriend. It worked out beautifully. Think there’s any chance that could happen today? the end

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