Speaking of sexual harrasment, don’t read this if ..

Speaking of the allegations directed toward Mr. Cain, do not read this if you don’t have a crude, childish sense of humor. This is your last warning, don’t go below and then come whining to me in comments or email that it was insensitive, or caused your emotional pain because you were involved in the real deal.

Excerpt from a quasi-book project, the full chapter actually reviews a brutal case of sexual harassment that almost drove a good friend of mine to suicide. This is a shortened version of the intro to her story — DS

Back in the go-go 90s, after Judge Clarence Thomas dropped the concept of sexual harassment on innocent corporate America like a bomb, large corporations scrambled to cover their ass. Mine was no different.

The dreaded day arrived when I and dozens of other executives and secretaries were rounded up in groups of ten and solemnly marched into a conference room to learn how to not be a tit gazing asshole. For some incomprehensible reason, the groups were intentionally made co-ed. Women had to take the training also, with the men, maybe to make nice with the Equal Opportunity Act, or maybe to know how to recognize a tit gazing asshole and report said asshole to HR.

The training consisted mostly of a video showing various encounters in the work place. The star of the show was “Larry” a paunchy middle-aged exec who kept hitting on his mousy secretary “Beth.” Larry was oblivious to Beth’s repeated rejection and body language. I couldn’t understand what it was that supposedly propelled Larry to try and try again, thinking that even though last time Beth said “No,” even though she stiffened up like corpse at the mere sight of him, maybe, just maybe, this time things will be different. Maybe, just maybe, if Larry runs his finger down her arm just right, Beth won’t recoil in horror. Instead she will swoon, fall into Larry’s flabby arms, and fuck him right on the desk. It was one of the worst such tapes I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen plenty. Words can’t describe how bad it was. It was utterly terrible in every way.

A senior HR director named Sean had flown all the way from HQ to run this Very Important Meeting. He would periodically stop the tape to make the point that “there was nothing funny about sexual harassment” and encourage audience discussion. No one wanted any part of that, we all just sat there mutely, examining the table in front of us trying not to giggle. Just Sean saying it wasn’t funny in his solemn voice made it all the more hilarious, and that unintentional source of comedy gold wasn’t helped by a video that made cheesy after school specials look like cinematic genius. On top of that, Sean kept using words with double meaning. He would talk about the right way versus the wrong way to touch another employee, and then thoughtlessly use the same word, ‘touch,’ as in “Now, another sensitive area we should touch on is …” The tension was mounting. It was murder.

Less than ten minutes in, the guy sitting directly across from me was in an audible struggle to control his laughter. I knew if I so much as made eye contact with him we’d both blow up. ‘Don’t look up’, I told myself, ‘look away, look down; Just Do Not Look Up At Him’.

I looked up at him.

His face was contorted, paralyzed in mid grimace. His eyes were bulging. When they met mine I thought they were going to pop out of their sockets. A sort of strangled yelp, something a medium-sized dog might emit when excited and choking against its chain, worked up his Adam’s apple, fought past his lips and burst into the quiet air. His body shivered ever so slightly as he tried mightily to regain control. It looked as if a seizure were coming on. Tears of laughter started pooling in my eyes, but I still hadn’t made a sound. Director Sean sensed the inevitable and rode to our rescue.

“OK folks, I know it’s a difficult subject to talk about professionally, but we need your participation …. who’s going to be the first one to jump in and get their fingers wet … feet! I mean feet wet!”

Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one that lost it. The entire room exploded like a crowd bellowing at a Chris Rock show. My table mate was racked with it laughter so intense that no sound was coming out; it was just an airy hiss. The poor man’s body was bent in two, he damn near fell out of his chair. We quickly adjourned and ran out of the room.

That’s a true story, and it highlights the funny side of the corporati and sexual harassment. The real McCoy isn’t nearly so amusing. It does indeed occur in the workplace, every day, in a thousand ways big and small, and it can wreck lives. What sucks is the people who perpetrate it rarely get hung out to dry in my experience, it’s mostly the lower ranking employees who suffer in every way. They suffer if they get harassed, and they suffer even more if they report it. I’ve seen it happen to a very good friend. …


  1. david says

    I have worked in several large corporations. At each one, there’s periodically a required “respectful workplace” training session, just like you described above, complete with cheesy re-enactment videos. Each session is “coached” by an HR rep in an expensive suit, and the attendees have to sign in at the beginning and sign out at the end, to prove we sat through the whole thing. Both men and women are required, because if HR only required it of men, they’d be accused of workplace discrimination.

    I’ve discovered that HR people trot out these perfunctory show-trials whenever the CxO gets accused of harassment. The more flagrant the harassment complaint, the more often the ‘proles are subjected to “respectful workplace” training. They seem to think that offering these courses to the rank-and-file magically protects them in court when a senior exec gets his hand caught in the cookie jar.

    Oops, I didn’t mean that.

  2. lordshipmayhem says

    David, I’ve been working in the wrong places. Usually, rather than an HR weenie in an expensive suit, the suit’s been as cheap and cheesy as the acting in the video.

    I must start working for a better class of company.

  3. Aliasalpha says

    Are your workplace safety videos as bad as the sexual harassment ones? The last OH&S video I saw was clearly made in the 80s and I had endless amounts of fun taking the piss out of the antique computers in the “office”

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