Right now, it appears as though the United States is going through a reckoning about how people are expected to behave in the workplace. Society has turned around in what appears to be- it isn’t, but it appears to be- a short period of time, and individuals from all walks of life are paying the price for behavior that never should have been considered acceptable. Yet it was still accepted. In many ways it was the price a woman- or in some rare cases, a man- would have to pay in order to advance a career, to even have a career to advance in the first place. I am writing of course about sexual harassment in the workplace.
While we have not yet resurrected the tradition of tarring and feathering the perpetrators of workplace sexual harassment (nor should we seriously consider tarring and feathering, google that before running such an idea up the flagpole), we appear to be very comfortable bringing up instances that are years or even decades old. It appears that we are witnessing a watershed moment in American culture. This is good. But it is also a little bit scary.
It is scary for me mostly because I am guilty too. And admitting that and facing it in my own life and my own head is scary. Scary not because I am afraid that how I acted in the past will have reprisals. Even if my actions in the past came back and cost me my job, influence, or friends, that wouldn’t be the worst part. It is scary because I want to believe I am better than that. I want to believe I treat everyone as an equal and consider others’ feelings with my actions. But I don’t. At least I haven’t always. And sometimes, I still don’t live up to the standards I set for myself.
In fact, I’ve been pretty terrible about not recognizing the line where it stops being funny and starts making people uncomfortable.
In fact, I’ve been terrible about using the little power I have in the world to get what I want. Maybe never sexually, but definitely in a lot of other ways.
In fact, if we want to talk about social situations outside of the work force there are some stories that would make me blush even a decade and a half later.
In fact, up until I was 25 years old, this behavior seemed totally normal to me. Boys will boys and all.
I don’t know what changed at 25 but a lot of things in my life and the way I viewed life changed. Maybe my brain finally developed enough to have a more complete understanding of the way I interacted with my environment. Maybe it was entering a profession where I often find myself the only male in any group of individuals. Maybe it was having to interact with women who would not tolerate that type of behavior.
Whatever it was, it’s not like I got better overnight. It’s not like I am 100% better now. I still find myself glancing in the wrong directions, thinking in the wrong words, and sometimes speaking in ways that my wife and three daughters would be ashamed of if they knew. I’m not there yet. I might never be. But I am working at it. I will continue to work at it until I get it right.
Recently, when I come across questionable thoughts in my own mind or I find myself in situations where my actions or words could become questionable, I apply a thought exercise I have been working on for awhile now. I ask myself if I was someone else and the woman I was interacting with was my wife, would I be alright with the way I was acting? If the answer to that question is no, I need to explain that to myself and correct it. I’m not always there yet. I might never be. But I am working on it.
How often does it happen that I have to correct my thought pattern? More than I want it to. I’m not perfect, behavior is hard to fix, and like a lot of men I thought my behavior was normal until I grew up and started thinking differently about the people I interact with daily. So this behavior is ingrained. But also like a lot of men, I am working on changing and I won’t stop working on it until I get it right. Don’t give up on me (us) yet.
Thank you for reading.