Sexual Harassment – Where’s the Line?

Posted by on December 5, 2017

by Marcia Simon, APR

Skeletons in the closet can shatter a career in less than a week.

How many men are now holding their breath, hoping they don’t get outed for sexual advances they knew were wrong, or for unintentional innuendo or physical nuances in communication style that were acceptable before millenials were born but are not tolerated today?

Sexual harassment is never okay. Invading someone’s private space or making that person feel a gut-level discomfort in a workplace is never okay. Putting politics above morality is hands-down NOT OKAY.

Our trusted news sources are doing the right thing – NBC fired Matt Lauer. CBS fired Charlie Rose. FOX fired Bill O’Reilly.

Hollywood yanked careers, egos and reputations from the likes of Louis CK, Kevin Spacey and numerous director and producers who subscribed to casting couch tactics.

Where do we draw the line?

If Senator Al Franken (D) touched the fully clothed butts of women during a public photo shoot when he was a Saturday Night Live staffer, does he get a pass?

Does Congressman John Conyers (D) get a pass for asking a staffer to touch his genitals because now he’s old?

If eight women tell their stories about being harassed and physically abused, in some cases as young teenagers, by senator wanna-be Roy Moore (R) when he was in his 30s, does he get a pass?

An American President, himself accused of sexual misconduct in numerous cases, supports “winning” at all costs through a notion that it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you get what you want. More upsetting is the fact that voters have shown that it’s okay to support creepy men for the sake of politics in total hypocrisy about true ”Christian” values they say they believe in.

For the most part, I believe the women, and applaud the momentum for women to FINALLY say enough is enough.

But I feel for some of these guys, too, who bear the brunt of individuals jumping on the bandwagon and not fully understanding the “me too” concept. (Any woman who has been harassed knows without a doubt the way it makes her feel.)

In my mind, harassment is not Garrison Keillor touching a woman’s back and maybe letting his hand linger a moment too long. And it’s a gray area when invited to a large party at Richard Branson’s private island and having the host give a blubbery face plant in a woman’s bosom upon departure when surrounded by a roomful of party peers.

We’ll never know what really happened in many of these cases. What we need to decide is what type of society we want to be. Each of us has a choice to call out the hypocrisies and ethical debacles that take place around us.

A Generational Gap?

In this new age of sexual “correctness” (which happens at a time when people withdraw into their digital screens with more online communication and less face-to-face interaction) perhaps we have become a less affectionate culture. The human touch has magical power. It can be comforting, it can make you feel safe. Having spent much time visiting elders in nursing homes, I know that people feel starved for human touch. Compassion comes with handholding and a pat on the shoulder.

Are we becoming afraid to touch each other for fear it may be misconstrued? It would be a shame for a socially awkward employee to misinterpret friendliness for flirtation.

So, where does it end?

I have hugged strangers.

I have physically embraced work colleagues.

I have laughed at dirty jokes.

And I have silently admired the bodies of good-looking men.

In 30 years working in and with media, I have often wondered why intelligent women feel pressured to have great hair and great makeup while their shlumpy-looking male counterparts outpace them in the climb up the ladder of financial success. Granted, this may be more obvious in the broadcast media space, particularly in the USA, and yet this sets a tone and a standard for younger women everywhere.

Look, don’t touch. Is that it? Everyone has his or her own level of tolerance. If it gives you an ache in your gut, it’s wrong for you.

Perhaps a zero tolerance approach to enforceable “hands off” policies is the first step toward true gender equality in the workplace. Maybe this will open some eyes, and trigger a bigger movement to get women the equal pay they deserve.