Several months ago, Helen Roush, our Executive Vice President, suggested we do a series on Male/Female/Harassment issues in the workplace. I agreed and further agreed we would do it in September, our editorial calendar month reserved for management issues. As a warning--these columns may be "R" rated in places--but since we attract an adult audience, this should not be a problem.
We'll have four weeks to cover this topic, starting right now. "...Sex and Mayhem" is likely redundant, for in my 48 plus years' experience in the workplace, sex, every use of the word in the workplace usually leads to mayhem. However, it's a good catchy title, so let's stick with it.
I want to start with a couple of issues this week that I consider absolutely basic and foundational to this subject. You may disagree with me, and that is your right. However, at least you will know my background thinking, and disagree or not, I hope you will see a connection between my background thinking and what we might say here.
Let's jump right in. First, we are going to confine these columns to the traditional two sexes--male and female. I'll admit not knowing enough about contemporary gender identities to go beyond this. Further, I contend if we can make any progress as an industry from four simple columns confined to these two roles, we will have done yeoman's (or yeowoman's?) work.
Second, I view the sexes as equal but not the same. I'll repeat that--I view the sexes as equal but not the same. I'll confirm the veracity of this statement with an engineering example. You are a young project engineer, assigned to design and install a ¾" galvanized potable water line lengthwise through the basement of your mill. Such piping is commonly of screw-joints construction. The pipe lengths are typically twenty feet and have male threads cut in each end. They are connected by couplings, which have female threads cut in each end. The sequence is pipe length, coupling, pipe length, coupling--you get the idea. One component in this system is clearly male and one component is clearly female. But they are not the same. In fact, if you order the system components all the same (all pipe lengths or all couplings) you will find you will have a disaster on your hands, maybe mayhem! Clearly the male and female components are both vitally important and both equally needed. Male and female are equally important; i.e., equal, yet clearly different--they are not the same.
Likewise, it is correct to treat male and female humans as equal but in the same breath recognize they are not the same.
My experience with harassment goes back to my first position. I started to work in industry in March 1970. To understand the era of that time and hence where I come from as I start this series, the military officers from the World War II era were in their early to mid-fifties and were our bosses. Bosses were all men and they were tough. Foul language was the order of the day. I heard the name "Jesus Christ" exclaimed more at work than in church. What does that have to do with sex in the workplace? Nothing, except to convey the coarseness of the office environment then. The jokes were lewd, and the cartoons passed around as photocopies were lewder. Industrial magazines were using nearly naked women models to sell their products.
Join us in Guatemala next summer for the 3rd Paperitalo Papermakers' Mission Trip
The little company where I worked had an old-fashioned plug in switchboard and private PBX with an internal switchboard operator (ask your grandparents what I am talking about--suffice it to say, we are not talking cell phones here). Always female, this operator was referred to, to her face, as the "switch bitch." When this tender young co-op student arrived on the scene, the current person in this role was about forty years old, seven months pregnant and single. The purported father had worked in our factory and left in a hurry, never to be heard from again. So, this was the 19-year-old Jim Thompson's introduction to the business world--and sex therein.
Ironically, my wife asked me just the other day how I got to where I am from whence I came on this subject. After all, my father was clearly a misogynist of the World War II era. When he had a malfunctioning tool in his hand, he would inevitably look at it and say, "This was obviously made to fool women and kids." I heard that dozens if not hundreds of times when I was a child and teenager.).
I'll credit Procter & Gamble's internal training for adjusting my path to fit contemporary norms. Our internal training emphasized the worth of all people and trained us in the subtleties of equality and respect for each other. I learned to use "s/he" in 1975. Today, subconsciously within my writings I interchange the pronouns "he" and "she" to make sure I am not reflecting any bias. I have, since those days, used "effort hours" not "manhours" and I am appalled that here, 45 years later, people are still using "manhours."
Harassment comes in all forms. Male on female, female on male, and same sex on same sex. We are going to dig more deeply into this in the coming weeks.
My intent this week was to set the stage and I felt strongly that I had to let you know where I have been. Your comments are welcome.
For safety this week--and I'll direct this to "guys." Activities in a female's presence that start with "Watch me do this" seldom impress and often will lead to your own trip to the Emergency Room. Think twice. The life (as well as the relationship) you save may be your own.
Be safe and we will talk next week.