Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Something For The Kiddies (ages 14 and up)

Like any overblown story, the Mount Lebanon High School Top 25 list refuses to go away quietly. I expect at this point that the stigma will follow these kids around until they're old and gray, largely because of the media coverage. As long as the media wants to tell us what's going on, however, we might as well follow the latest developments.

This morning we learn that the district is mandating a sexual harassment training program. Well, good. The best way to make teachers and students aware of sexual harassment law is to explain to them what not to do. Yes, that's just fine until you consider that many people come away from such meetings having learned what they can get away with. Outrageous, you say? If you're outraged about that, then you're as clueless as the Lebo parents who reeled back in horror upon learning of the existence of The List.

For one thing, there is something called the One Free Grope rule. This came about during the Clinton Administration when Slick Willie was getting frisky with the ladies. One such object of his affection received one grope, told him not to do it, and left. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem opined that, because President Clinton "took no for an answer", he had not committed sexual harassment -- even though he had already touched the woman in an "inappropriate" manner. The One Free Grope rule appears in the sexual harassment training course that I had to take at work, so you know it's become public policy. Try explaining that to a room full of teenaged kids. The girls will have no peace until each boy has touched each object of his lust once. (And the boys, too, since the rule presumably works both ways.) Unless the school district takes care to set a stricter policy that makes even one grope a violation, the Clinton legacy will have made girl's lives hellacious at Mount Lebanon High.

Another thing is the potential backlash. My current workplace requires all employees to take an online sexual harassment course about every two years. A colleague of mine told me that he hadn't taken the course (which was flawed anyway) because he considered it an invasion of his privacy. In order to complete the course, you have to login and give your name (to prove that you took it) and print out a certificate with your name on it. This fellow didn't want to be treated like that; he felt it was demeaning. I suppose that one could argue that being forced to take such a course is in itself a form of sexual harassment.

Then there is the "equal and opposite reaction" result. The same colleague pointed out that, in the past, whenever the employees took the sexual harassment course, sexual activity among co-workers increased. Not that this was taking place on company property or during work hours, but the course did stress the dangers of forming sexual relationships with your co-workers. But, in addition to telling the workers what was against company policy, the course also defined the boundaries of what was acceptable. Some people got away with what they were permitted, and formed lasting relationships. I hadn't noticed it happening there, but I did notice it happening at my former workplace in the mid-1990s, mainly because I did it myself. After a couple of years of being made "aware" of what constituted sexual harassment, some of us just gave up and behaved like human beings anyway. By strict definition, I sexually harassed one of my female co-workers and by the end of this year, we will have been married over eleven years and have five kids. Take THAT, sexual harassment policy enforcers!

Another problem is an unexpected reaction from those whom sexual harassment policy is most expected to protect -- women. My former employer instituted a new sexual harassment awareness initiative back around 1999. An assistant manager would meet with us in groups of about 4-5 people and play a 20 minute video about what crossed the line into no-no land. I was a little nervous about it because I was the only man in my group. So I kept quiet and let the ladies critique the video. Based on their reactions, you would have thought that they were watching a racy comedy show. We were treated to scenes of men harassing women, women harassing men, and men harassing men. That was a "celebrate diversity" kind of workplace, and in a way it was good to see that the politically correct corporate establishment recognized the fact that Gay Bob was a much of a potential predator as I was. The ladies in my group were pretty pleased to see it, too. They were so pleased, in fact, that they couldn't stop laughing. They thought that the video was a complete joke. And it was. The "stars" of the video were real employees at another location, and were taking direction from whatever module of corporate bureaucracy initiates these "awareness" programs. I couldn't help wondering if the actors didn't take their assignment seriously, either. What good is a sexual harassment awareness program if no one takes it seriously?

Finally (because this is getting long), there is the problem of increased incidents of sexual harassment because awareness courses can turn a potential harasser into an active harasser. This goes beyond the One Free Grope rule. Another former colleague of mine actually touched a female co-worker, as a joke, during a harassment awareness meeting. That was his one free grope. But he became more active at that point, as if someone was daring him to push the proverbial envelope. He hit on most of the available women at work, he imagined himself being intimately involved with women who barely thought of him as a friend, and he didn't take sexual harassment policy seriously, except as applied to people who worked directly under him. It was as if he felt the policy didn't apply to him. And there was an air of sexism about him. One time, I told him about some female co-workers' concerns about a job applicant who was known to many as a potential harasser. He replied that it was no big deal, because women take that kind of thing too seriously. One of the valid points made in every sexual harassment course is that if the one who feels that he or she is being harassed takes it seriously, then so should the alleged harasser. But this guy didn't feel that way. It is no wonder, then, that he gave his notice and left rather abruptly after telling me that he wanted to quit "before I get fired". It took a couple of years for me to learn all of the first- and second-hand accounts of his activities that resulted in a number of reprimands.

Now go back and re-read everything in the previous five paragraphs, and consider it in the context of hormonally charged adolescents. That is what the Lebo administrators, teachers, and parents have to look forward to in the coming weeks, with just a smidgen of media coverage tossed in. Good luck with that.


jipzeecab said...

In forty years of working I never got my "free grope" but I must admit that every relationship except my last involved a fellow worker.
I was suddenly "team teaching"(in the same classroom)with my then wife 18 months into my marriage. I wonder if that would be "harrassment" today..?.. lol

Nicko McDave said...

It's harassment if the woman says it is, from what I can tell. So if you're working wife your wife, and you grab her butt, and she doesn't care, it's not harassment. If you grab her butt, and another co-worker sees you and is offended by it, then it is harassment -- possibly on the part of your wife as well, if she is going along with it. If you grab you're wife's butt and she doesn't want you to, and complains, it's harassment. If you grab her butt and she doesn't want you to and a co-worker sees you and is offended by it, they could both raise complaints.

That would really stink, if you got in trouble for harassing your wife because she complained about it. "You got your free grope on our honeymoon, buddy boy. Now, hands off!"