Who Enables (Straight, Sexually Insecure ) Men in the Workplace?
Let me count the ways in which most of us continue to enable sexually insecure men to harass and bully women in the workplace.
- Other men enable their workmates because they will be denounced or diminished, criticized and marginalized if they don’t join in the “locker room” talk about women;
- Women enable men in the workplace to survive. Think, for instance, of 1.5 million women who serve us food in restaurants, diners and fast food joints, the vast majority of whom are paid minimum wage and couldn’t survive without tips; and,
- Women in male dominated industries, businesses and professions also enable men in the workplace to survive. If they don’t their careers are put on the line.
There are others of course, but I think this covers the majority of the enablers, including myself once upon a time.
Women Enable Sexually Insecure Men to Survive
There’s a high class restaurant nearby where women serving pricey dinners are required to carry little black notebooks in which customers write reviews. One night, I asked for a look. There were a few scattered comments about the quality of the service, but the vast majority of observations were comments about how “hot” the server was. When I asked whether she found any of the comments offensive, she smiled sweetly and said “of course not.”
Then again, what was she supposed to say? She was at work and therefore obliged to behave in a manner that was loyal to her place of employment.
Work Within Work Within Work
What we witnessed on the Trump video was work within work within work. Donald Trump was working for NBC on The Apprentice and preparing to shoot a guest appearance on NBC’s Days of Our Lives, a soap opera in which Trump’s host, an actress, was appearing for NBC. Bush was working for NBC’s Access Hollywood.
What you see in the video is the way in which women handle the sexual insecurities of their co-workers and bosses on a daily basis. She mollifies them, flatters them, puts her physical body between them so that they can both touch her but on her terms. Bush asks her to let Trump kiss her and then demands a kiss for herself. When Bush asks her to choose the better date, she demurs. “Both,” she says and “I’ll take the fifth.”
The real answer is ewwwwwwww. I don’t want to hug and kiss either one of you. Nor would I date you. How dare you?
But she didn’t because mollifying sexually insecure men in the workplace is our job.
When I was much younger, I pandered to my fellow attorneys’ sexual insecurities. I listened to them boast in the same way Donald did on the bus. I listened patiently when they were encouraged by their fellows. I’m ashamed to say that I felt privileged to be treated as “one of the guys.”
I didn’t, couldn’t, participate, but the price of admission to the bars and men’s clubs where business was conducted was my ability to smile sweetly in response or throw back another straight shot of Tanqueray. Or challenge someone to a round of liars’ dice. I was “in” and the women they were talking about were “out.”
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t keep my mouth shut for long. For instance, I challenged a senior partner in the firm who was an ACLU-type guy; very involved in civil rights work. But he belonged to a club that barred women. When I asked him why he’d belong to a club like that he said “Vickie, it’s not you that we’re keeping out; it’s our wives.”
Again, I was excepted. Sort of. I was still barred from the club but was made to understand it wasn’t about me; it was about them. I let it go.
Yeah, We Made a Muff a Partner
A story went around my firm in the early to mid-eighties about our first woman partner. The story, told repeatedly and with much hilarity, was that one of our partners told a Judge our firm had made a woman a partner, the first woman in our firm to ascend to that status. Except he didn’t say “woman” and he didn’t use her name.
What he said was this.
Yeah, we made a muff a partner.
Seriously. I’d heard these men talk like this before. At the first firm party, I heard them planning a ski trip.
Are we bringing the muffs?
No, no muffs.
I turned to an older colleague who was female.
What I felt for these guys was pity and contempt. Someday, I’d be in a position to do them a favor, refer them a client, recommend them for a speaking engagement.
Would I do any of that?
Not on your life.
What some men don’t seem to understand is that the women they treat as their inferiors will one day be in a position to hurt them.
Lest you believe all my war stories are from the distant past, let me briefly tell you one from 2015. I was mediating a contested claim between two Fortune 50 companies. More than ten million dollars was at stake. Company A was represented by two partners in a top flight international law firm. One was in his thirties (like Bush), the other in his fifties (like Trump). The Trump partner repeatedly made sexist jokes. The Bush partner, to his credit, repeatedly asked Trump not to make these jokes in my presence. But Trump couldn’t help himself. Every time he made one of these jokes and was admonished for doing so, Trump reached across the table to lay his hand on mine, look me in the eye and say
Victoria doesn’t mind, do you?
No, of course not, I said over and over again throughout the day while thinking, do you not understand that I can hurt you?
I didn’t hurt him, of course, because I’m a professional and his client deserved a neutral mediator intent on helping the parties reach a deal that was satisfactory to both of them. But I didn’t go out of my way to do him any favors either.
Let me just end by saying two things:
- In a contest between a 25 year old woman and a 45 year old man, the woman will always win. She may not win today, she may not win tomorrow. But she will eventually hurt you. Just as the electorate and the GOP establishment is now hurting Mr. Trump.
- A woman’s greatest weapon is men’s (and sometimes women’s) underestimation of them. If you underestimate her, she will out-prepare you, out-perform you and out-smart you.
She Will Win Bigly
It is a particularly dispiriting time in America. We are better than this. I know we are. As Dan Rather used to say in signing off on the nightly news, COURAGE! This culture war will hopefully die with Gen-Y. We’re counting on you to put a silver stake in the heart of this particular white male privilege.