I started blogging in February 2006. At the time, Friendster was as good as it got in the realm of social networking (remember, back in the dinosaur age when there was no Facebook?!), and I knew nothing about the various fabulous blogging options available to me. I just wanted a place to tentatively put some thoughts out to the world; I wasn’t even sure what sort of thoughts they’d be, or in what tone, except that I knew they’d be about sex, gender, kink, feminism and sexual politics because that’s where my brain lives.
So I put out my first post, which, appropriately, was entitled “let’s see how long this will last.” And then the second. And after a few months and many dozens of posts, I started to realize that people were actually reading what I wrote, and that was exciting, so I kept going.
Eventually I realized that Friendster’s blogging technology totally sucked, and so in May of 2007 I switched over to WordPress. Cue the chorus of angels – WordPress rocks.
Recently I’ve had a number of people ask me why I haven’t imported my old blog posts so they could find bits and pieces of writing that they enjoyed reading in the past. The answer? See above – Friendster blogging technology sucks. It’s actually not possible to import from Friendster to WordPress. (Note that I refuse to blame this on WordPress. We’re still in the honeymoon stage, so WordPress can do no wrong.)
But see, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It took me a little while to find my footing as a blogger. So I don’t regret anything I put out there, but I must say, not all of it is really worth re-reading.
Some of it, though, feels worthy of posting a second time. Which is convenient because, see, life is a little crazy right now – the to-do list is long, the events are many, the speaking gigs are piling up, and An Unholy Harvest is in three weeks (eeeee!). And my posting frequency is taking a beating because of it. So I’ve decided to make a little project out of this. I’m going through my old posts to pick out the good ones, and I will be re-posting them here at the rate of one per week for the next little while, perhaps less frequently if I have more time to write originals. I’ll preface each one with a bit of context as needed, and the date of the original post. My apologies to long-time readers who may find themselves doing the equivalent of watching re-runs on TV… then again, it’s some long-time readers who’ve been asking for ‘em. Balance in all things I suppose.
Okay, done with the preamble. The following post is about workplace harassment and the gender divide. It was entitled “barbed wire” and was originally posted on February 26, 2006. Since then, two (female) friends of mine actually have been harassed by their (male) bosses, so my statement in the second paragraph is no longer true. I’d also like to add that I fully recognize that workplace harassment can come in myriad forms – colleague to colleague, boss to employee, client to employee, and any number of others. And most important, I also recognize that harassment is not only based on the male/female binary, but many other factors as well, including race, sexual orientation, religion and gender presentation. Not that any of this was any less true when I wrote the original, but they feel like omissions upon my re-read, and worth rectifying.
There it is. Enjoy. Keep your eyes peeled for future re-posts about same-sex marriage, the joy of going against the norm, and polka-dot stiletto shoes. And bug-crushing as a sexual fetish. Just for starters. Mmm. Fun.
Last night I watched the movie North Country, based on the true story of a landmark 1989 sexual harassment class action suit filed by female employees against a mining company.
Of course it was horrid to see the male characters play out all kinds of abusive behaviour towards the female ones. At the same time, my thoughts kept flipping back and forth. On the one hand, it was really tempting to think, “Oh, wow, it’s terrible what was happening 17 years ago, but that would never happen today.” Truth be told, while I’ve met my share of assholes, I’ve never been sexually harassed by a work colleague, and no friend of mine has ever told me of having that sort of experience either.
On the other hand, at the same time I was consciously resisting that logic. It just felt too easy. In fact I’m sure sexual harassment is still happening today. The existence of policies against it are not sufficient to deter it from ever occurring – much like other forms of discrimination and abuse, it’s probably just shifted into subtler forms, or is inflicted upon people who are already powerless in ways that a policy can’t compensate for.
This isn’t to say I think nothing has changed. Many things have indeed changed, if for no other reason than the aging of the population – more and more older male managers and VPs are retiring, and while a sixty-plus man is not by definition a sexist one, nor a sixty-plus woman anti-feminist, their views are perhaps more likely to be tinged with older values. And the younger people who fill their places have grown up in a society fundamentally affected by feminism.
Rather than by default seeing women as horning in on men’s rightful positions in the workplace, younger men have worked alongside women for most if not all of their working lives. And rather than being taught that they should be housewives dependent on breadwinning husbands, younger women have grown up with the idea that they have to take care of themselves and have their own careers, and as a result they feel they have every right to the jobs of their choosing.
For people in their 20s and 30s this may seem eye-rollingly simple, but the self-evidence of these things is pretty new, relatively speaking. When I was a kid reading my mother’s magazines, the agonies of a woman earning more than her husband were a regular topic in articles and advice columns. Was it demeaning to him? Would their marriage suffer? The difficulties of being a female boss of course included the fact that lower-ranked male employees would doubtless feel emasculated, and how to deal with the “understandable” threat this sort of situation posed to them. The advice was confusing and contradictory: Stay feminine. Demand your rights. Don’t be a dragon lady. Take it like a man. Bring your feminine skills to your management style. Behave exactly like your male peers.
And god forbid your man stayed home with the kids – then he’d be the butt of jokes everywhere he turned, from sitcoms to the Friday-night hockey game with the boys. I also regularly saw articles about plain, simple, straightforward sexual harassment – at the time the debates raged, and this particular incarnation of the bitter divide between the sexes seemed to be lined with venom and barbed wire. But today it’s not the kind of thing that really makes the news much anymore.
Certainly, just because twenty years have passed, that doesn’t mean everything’s perfect now. And my own experience has been relatively narrow; I’ve never worked in a particularly male-dominated field, and I’d be willing to bet that the workplace experiences of my female friends who are bus mechanics and welders have been markedly different from mine. The blurb at the start of the movie last night indicated that the mining company in question still has 30 male employees for every female one. On its own that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it at least opens up the question of what it’s like to work there as a heavily outnumbered woman. But even then, I do think that we now have a base line of awareness that simply wasn’t around before.
I had brunch with a friend today who’s a high school teacher. He was telling me that when one of his students calls another student “faggot,” he gives the name-caller an instant detention. And my friend explains that he’ll sometimes tell the name-callers they’re Betas. “You know,” he explained, “Betas, like the old VCRs. I mean, I’ll ask them, ‘They still make people like you?'”
That’s kind of where I think we might be at nowadays. At the very least I’d like to believe we’re there – that we’ve arrived at a point where, when one employee grabs another employee’s ass or leers inappropriately, the reaction will be one of disgust and surprise. And the person being harassed, instead of being cowed into the collusion of silence, can say, “Do they still make people like you?” And promptly file a complaint that will stop the harasser in his tracks. I’d like to think society will make harassers feel ashamed of themselves, rather than making their victims bear the burden of that shame.
I’d also like to think we’re in a time when harassment is the exception rather than the rule. That the sexes really are pretty darned equal, and the suggestion that they’re not is cause for raised eyebrows, rather than the other way around.
So, am I dreaming in technicolour, or have I just been lucky or blind? I hope not. I hope that we really have made progress in the last couple of generations, and that it’s not an elaborate illusion I’ve bought into because of my eternal hopefulness and my belief in the possibility of change.
Like Betas… venom and barbed wire are just so 1989.