Notes From My Journal:
This Actually Happened
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.
From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket
In his book In Pursuit of Elegance, Matthew E. May tells a story about Drachten, a Dutch village that had a serious problem with traffic at its main intersection. The village hired an expert, Hans Monderman, to help them reduce congestion and accidents.
The conventional way to do this is to implement various measures to get cars to slow down. Unfortunately, such measures – including stoplights, radar-controlled equipment, and a beefed-up police force – are expensive. Since Drachten had a small budget, Monderman was forced to do something different.
He realized that this was an opportunity for him to test a theory he had been developing about human behavior: that the more controls you impose on people, the less self-control they are likely to exhibit. In his words, “Treat people like zombies and they’ll behave like zombies. But treat them as intelligent, and they’ll respond intelligently.”
So instead of increasing traffic controls in the middle of town, he reduced them to a startling degree. Instead of adding regulations, he suggested repealing most of them. No speed bumps, no speed limits, no signs, no mandates about right of way.