During the early days of my multiple careers, I was often deluded that I was capable of doing jobs that required me to sit for long hours. In a little walled box, playing with words or numbers. If you know me, even now, sailing out for my farewell voyages on the seas of gainful employment, you know that was a very silly delusion indeed. I gots me the ADHD, bad. I am tolerable only as a free-range sort of beast.
To survive my various terms of imprisonment, I utilized massive amounts of caffeine and nicotine. Yes, nicotine. I smoked in my office. Like a chimney. Can you even imagine that? I did it, and I thought it was not only my right, but no small evidence of my prestige. Cool people smoked. All the movie stars did it. All the tough guys did, too.
In my rather limited defense, I last smoked inside an office building in about 1984, when a co-worker took the time to gently explain how my air pollution negatively impacted her, rather than throwing it onto a laundry list as though it was yet another entry in my encyclopedia of annoying characteristics. Things like wearing hideous ties, or driving a junker car. But if you want to go back in time and revile that man, or even revile me today in a very different cultural climate for who I was then, feel free. You will never be happy with the explanation that it was a different time, but it was, and that has now changed for the better. Your ire now won't change the past, but if it makes you feel better, run with your hearty condemnation. beige wedding dress
I mention that because I feel it's important to say that it was pretty universally known by males in that era that some men coerced their female employees for various "womanly duties." Sex or ego-building adulation, yeah. Not dodging that. But also "pick up my dry-cleaning." "Find me a present for my wife." "The coffee pot is empty. And once you've made some more, could you bring me a cup?"
Old guys. Smelly, fat old guys. That's who did that stuff, thought young men I knew. Pathetic men who were bullies and petty tyrants to all those underneath them, but especially/differently to women. It was not a cultural difference like smoking in the office. It was fully understood as Not Right.
A lot of the behavior was probably viewed as somewhere around faux pas territory, like bringing ham to a potluck at a company with a lot of Jewish employees. But the actual groping, or demanding sex in exchange for employment or for advancement? That was disgusting. Yes, even then, in the seventies. To decent young men.
The idea that peers could harass one another was a great deal more novel. People who married a high school or college sweetheart might not follow this, but I never quite figured a way out of the dilemma that, even much later, the office was the place most single people met other single people. So, like... How does one meet nice young ladies to court at the advanced old age of 25?
Nice guys, though, who comprised the vast majority of the young demographic, did not need the employee handbook to proscribe aggressively pursuing romantic attachments on the clock. Or anywhere else. "I'm having my knee-caps polished on Friday night" meant "no, thanks, I am not and never will be interested." Okay. Bummer.
I met a woman I used to work with in that era many years later, and after a little chit-chat, she questioned why I had never asked her out on a date. I told her I was not aware she was interested. She found that hilarious. "I hung on every word you said. I stood really close to you all the time. I baked you brownies!"
What she had no way to know was that at the company we'd worked at together, at almost that exact time, an executive had been reprimanded and was relieved of part of his duties because he had harassed one of my co-workers. In his own defense, he'd said things like "but she baked me cookies, and she was always standing close to me. I read the signals!"
It could be very confusing.
And, anecdotally, we heard women who were our friends list all the "nice guy" characteristics they deeply desired. And watched them shoot down all the nice guys at happy hour. Then go home with the aggressive jerk. Possible a nicely-dressed, good-looking jerk, but nonetheless a fella who clearly did not stop at the first "no" like the nice guys did.
That same willingness to bend and skirt propriety served an awful lot of those aggressive jerks well in business, too.
We all do that quite a lot in our society. We proclaim what we value, but then we reward what we actually want. Political correctness that manifests itself as "we want our professional athletes to be good role models" sounds nice, but the evidence suggests we mainly want them to score many points. Oh, and also, we'd really rather they did not get caught beating up their girlfriends.
I'm not suggesting that all of us (or even many of us) intentionally reward bad behavior. But the clear truth is you will find more jerks in the halls of power, today, and fewer of the nice men who knew, way back in the dark ages, that women should not be treated the way they were.
Many have achieved success by hard work, of course, with ever-improving skills and diligent attention to detail.
And some have succeeded with a generous dollop of luck. Including having the right look, going to the right schools, being the right color.
But some have reached the top by intentionally cheating. By screwing people along the way, literally as well as figuratively.
I need to be clear I am not speaking out of legend, lore, or cliche, here. I was standing around the old office cooler back in the seventies and eighties. I was an executive recruiter for at least a portion of the nineties. I knew the people of whom I speak, up close and personally.
Many men, I feel compelled to say again, knew what was happening. We lacked no clarity about what was wrong with that picture. Yes, there were a few future "good old boys" among our number, but they attempted to bully the nice guys in pretty much the same manner as they did women, minus (usually) the groping. We all tried to dodge it rather than confront it. Troublemakers don't get promoted.
If it got really bad, we assumed HR and/or the EEOC was handling it. Or the police. Who would know for sure? "For the sake of all concerned," such matters were handled discreetly. Or, more likely, not handled at all. But, publicly, we just didn't know.
The lack of loud, overt revolution against the system can easily be criticized, just as my smoking in my office can. Women we knew were no more adamant, for the most part, than any of the men. Did you see what happened to Anita Hill? Standing up now is hard; I do not minimize that. But if you are really still asking why so many of these women waited so long to come forward and tell their stories, I will gladly go into case after case in gory detail.
People who have never been without electrical power for more than a few hours, or even a day or two, do not honestly have a clue regarding the full implications of being in Puerto Rico right now. If you were not around as an adult a whole lot during the 20th century, you can try to imagine from what you now know and how you now think what it must have and should have been like then, but your impression is doomed to incompleteness.
I do not know where we are headed today. I am afraid to hope for a giant culture shift. But I do wish everyone knew that most Americans are on the good and noble side of almost all the controversial social justice issues of our time. And have been for much longer than you might imagine. They might not, right now, fully understand the scope of the problems from gender to economics to race, or own their own participation, but that will not be improved by yelling. What will make real change is reaching the hearts of good people.
We need to continue to work together to advance the standards most of us truly believe we stand for, and stop letting the opportunistic jerks pit us against each other.