Sexual harassment, then and now

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I’ve been guilty of sexual harassment.

No question about it.

The final piece of evidence hit me during an interview on NPR. I was driving along Highway 41, blithely taking in this discussion, when suddenly…

Damn!

I thought: I’ve done that. Plenty of men I know have done that.

The subject on NPR was the case of a female police officer in Toronto, and she was alleging continual harassment by a male officer.

The woman’s attorney was on the air, and claimed that the male officer first began his escalation of harassment by saying: “You look really nice today.”

Presumably he went considerably further than that — suggestive emails, sexual innuendo and the whole bag — but the point being made was that his first comment about the woman’s appearance constituted sexual harassment.

Yes, I get it that this guy had plenty more in mind.

But if you can’t, say, tell a woman you know pretty well that her outfit looks good, then I’m in trouble.

I guess this is the standard in 2018: Just shut up and get on with your work.

That has to be the safe way out, because who on Earth these days can know the result of a statement — even if the woman involved offers a very sincere thanks.

Because…

You actually can be called out by yet another woman who happened to overhear the remark and says: “That talk about how she was dressed made me feel uncomfortable in the workplace.”

Hey, I am totally on the side of the #MeToo movement, and I appreciate that most women say they are only wanting to call out men whose motives and actions clearly were wrong.

When I wrote about this subject a few weeks ago, I got several emails from women who said it was sad that men would now be afraid to offer polite compliments.

It is sad, but…

I suppose my point is that women almost instantly know harassment — and they also sense what is not.

WHAT I meant back in the very first sentence was that two decades ago, I was guilty of what now could be considered harassment.

Example: At one newspaper, we had a female copy editor in the sports department. She was a colleague but also good friend.

On a Friday night, she arrived dressed up for a semi-formal party she was attending after work.

I said, jokingly: “You can really spiff up, kiddo.”

She laughed and replied: “All you have to do is throw a fancy affair.”

To both of us back then, the exchange was just fun because of the context.

Heck, I can go back further than that, to the days when there always were guys smoking cigars in the newsroom.

We can look at that now and say it was wrong, but that was a totally different era — and both sexes lived with rules from the dinosaur age.

Yes, I’m glad that times have changed, and #MeToo will move the needle a great deal further.

As a man in this new era, I applaud the overdue recognition of women’s dignity — but I’d ask only that we consider context as each of us cross paths.

Context, folks.

Please.

•••

Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com.

Facebook: BrandNewDayCDAPress.

Twitter: @BrandNewDayCDA

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