Say you’re a twenty-something-year-old male, married a few short years, and you have a brand-new job you really like. Now suppose that during your first summer with that firm, you and your wife are invited to the company co-founder’s house for a backyard pool party.
What do you do?
You pack your nicest bathing suits and head over to a shindig that’s already underway because, well, you don’t think it’s cool to be the first one there when you’re the new guy, and because melting into a ready-made crowd is a whole lot less intimidating when you’re still learning all your coworkers’ names.
So, you park your car in front of a house that’s larger than you can ever imagine owning, trek up a serpentine slate path that bisects golf course–quality landscaping, ring the doorbell and are warmly greeted by a pleasant young lady (the cofounder’s daughter, as it turns out), who directs you to a guest bath where you and your wife are encouraged to change into swimsuits.
Time to face the music, literally. A rock band is performing poolside, right next to the seafood-filled sailboat.
The two of you exit the back of the house onto an expansive deck, accept a couple of drinks from the uniformed waitstaff and head down the stairs. At that point, the cofounder — your boss’s boss — with whom you’ve barely exchanged a paragraph’s worth of sentences since you were hired, saunters over, drink in hand, greets you like a long-lost friend and asks to be introduced to the “lovely young woman” who has her arm reassuringly wrapped around yours.
You make that introduction, your wife extends her hand, which he takes in his and…knocks her backward in his arms, says that she has the most beautiful blue eyes he’s ever seen and plants a kiss. Fully, on her lips.
What do you do?
Workplace sexual harassment is finally attracting the attention that it deserves, thanks to the women and men who at long last are courageously sharing their stories — terrible stories — about people who use their positions of authority or influence to a perverse advantage. In this instance, though, I wasn’t the one who was touched inappropriately. Yet my reaction was eerily consistent with that of those whose stories I continue to read.
I relaxed the fists I had initially clenched, calmly took my wife’s hand from his, excused ourselves from his presence, walked back into the house to change and returned to the party to mingle for ten minutes more before we discretely made our exit.
Once in the car, my wife was incredulous. “Did that really just happen?” she asked. I just shook my head.
I was ashamed.
I did nothing when another man took advantage of my wife.
Because he was my employer.
Because I liked my job.
Because we needed the paycheck.
Because, because, because, because.
People who do despicable things like that to other people are predators. They don’t deserve our pity. They don’t deserve to play the rehab card. They don’t deserve to have their apologies accepted either.
What they do deserve is to lose their positions of authority and influence. To suffer no less humiliation than that of their victims. And in circumstances that are more extreme than my own, to go to jail.
Several years later, the company’s board canned the cad, but not for sexual harassment. Let’s just say his duplicitous behavior caught up with him in other ways.