Saturday, September 22, 2018
Delray Beach, FL– We were talking about sexual harassment. Sally and Leslie and I. Sally said, “At my age, I could use a bit of it now and then. Leslie laughed, agreeing. “I’m way short on that kind of attention,” I admitted.
“Bernie used to harass me,” Leslie said seriously. “He used to come up behind me and rub my shoulders as I worked.” Bernie was her boss. And my partner.
“He did that to me too,” I said. “I took it as a fatherly thing. He did it to lots of people, including his kids.”
“It felt creepy,” Leslie said.
So there you have it. I have no doubt that it felt creepy to Leslie. I’m sure she was subject to various levels of sexual harassment during the years she worked for us. This was 30 years ago.
But I don’t believe Bernie was sexually harassing her. I believe he was doing to her what he was doing to me. I believe he saw it as an avuncular gesture, one of warmth.
I could be wrong. He could have had different motives depending on whose shoulders he was rubbing. I just don’t believe that.
Many would say that what he meant doesn’t matter. It’s how she felt that counts. And it does count. But that doesn’t mean it’s true.
These days, I wouldn’t think of rubbing a woman’s shoulders – any woman’s except K’s. But I’d have no compunctions about doing the same thing to a man. And what if he felt it was creepy?
Leslie never said anything to Bernie. And that was probably at least in part because he was her boss and, as her boss, had a certain “power” over her. But that power didn’t extend to prohibiting her speech. Though it made it more difficult. More risky.
Bernie is gone now so I can’t ask him about it. Neither can Leslie. We will never know. Leslie will carry that creepy memory with her. And I will live with my doubt.