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Thursday, July 11, 2013

recalling ancient harrassment, puzzling over ancient indifference

Back in the '80s I worked as a parts runner/service manager in a garage and as a bartender/server at a small neighborhood bar. Those were male territories with male rules. I understood that even if I didn't know it.

I automatically thought about those jobs when I read a whole lot of accounts of women who are offended by male strangers who talk to them or touch them in an unwelcome manner. They are outraged and offended.

I'm struck by how offended these women (and men) are, because it back in the day it didn't occur to me to be offended by that sort of unwanted sexual nonsense I ran into. I didn't want harassment, I didn't welcome it, but my response was less ....I don't know. Not outraged for sure--and probably because I expected it.

I did deal with it. There was a bat behind the bar. I once pulled it out because a guy was asking me what I was doing after work too many times. hahaha, going for batting practice. I plan on slamming some balls, hard. hahahaha. Joke. I poured beer on at least one guy who grabbed my boob hard enough to hurt. I recall everyone around us clapped, and so my laughter was real. The boob-pinching incident became a kind of "ha ha we're all in on this great joke together" moment. Which probably didn't teach the guy to keep his hard lil fingers to himself even though that beer was cold.  

I was lucky enough to have bosses that supported me. I'm not talking about bosses who'd call the police if someone groped my ass or tried to pull me onto his lap. Fact is, unless a customer got threatening, they wouldn't take action. But they nearly always let me say "someone else deal with that customer. I won't." and "If ___ is working today, I'm picking up the parts at the other dealer. He keeps making remarks about me posing for the Snap-On calendar and it's just creepy." I wouldn't get in trouble. That felt like a lot of support at the time. Once the bar-owner caught a guy giving me a hug and said, "hands off the help. I don't pay her enough to put up with you."

I know the fact that guys could and would harass the help without getting bitch-slapped by the whole world is not a good thing. And yeah, I'm glad that people are offended by the behavior. The changes are all good as far as I'm concerned. 

Yet I'm glad I didn't have that horrified-by-harassment-and-other-bullshit mindset back then because I liked my life. Internal and external responses would have made the world much harder to cope with.
The question I keep thinking about: Why'd we put up with it? Looking back I wonder if the groping didn't feel like a huge OMIDOG experience because I was on the watch for it. It was not standard operating procedure, but it wasn't abnormal. And when it happened, I didn't lose sleep or feel particularly violated. I'm grateful for that -- because why waste all that outrage and humiliation on a situation I couldn't change?

It didn't occur to me to take drastic steps, whatever that meant. More than once I pushed a guy away, or told a patron to stop it or he'd have to go somewhere else. But there was a line I didn't cross. If I'd pushed hard, if I'd slammed my steel-toed boot against the shin of the handsy customer looking over his car.  If I called the cops, if I even made "too big a deal" of a situation, I would have gotten fired and made enemies of people I liked. I didn't have the strength of personality for that. And besides, it just didn't bother me enough to rock the boat.

Huh, yet another tangent: it's funny that I immediately recall two incidents where I felt triumphant (baseball bat and beer). There were other times when I just ignored the action, or moved away, walking off quickly. Retreating. I can't remember them as clearly. Unusual--a nice change--that for at least one aspect of my life, I don't remember the most mortifying outcomes.

Was my relative indifference because I was accustomed to assholes? I doubt it. These things didn't happen every day I went to work. Maybe it was because I never lost total control of the situation, so I didn't feel like a victim? I didn't feel endangered. I did have a three-day stint in a job that I left because my boss was too flirtatious. Yeah, I don't think even these days a three-day employee could claim harassment. In that situation I walked away rather than be under his control. If I'd stayed, I would have been his victim. Also, crap jobs were less hard to come by then.

Maybe the situations didn't feel like bullying? It did help to know it was about the guys, not me. It helped to have people I worked with who understood (even if they didn't want me to take steps we would have considered drastic). When I grumbled, a fellow bartender often told me: drunk guys are jerks. They also tip well. Huh. That line felt like solidarity back then. Now it feels cold--cold comfort, cold about the state of human relations.


 I really don't know why my internal or external responses weren't stronger. I think if I'd felt truly threatened I would have acted. Has the definition for feeling threatened changed? And maybe "threatened" is too low a threshold for taking action?

I'm torn. When I reading the accounts of what people consider sexual harassment my automatic response is to scratch my head. Really? You're going to go the authorities because of that? A slight touch? A dumb remark? Boy, when I think about the way guys used to talk to me. I used to laugh at the lines like "Hey you're kinda cute, wanna fuck?" or "You look good in that uniform. Bet you'd look even cuter out of it."  Hahahaha. Hey. Those guys taught me the value of a good comeback. 

On the other hand....why the fuck should that be SOP? I'm glad I didn't lose sleep over my life back then but I'm even more glad other people lay awake, outraged enough to change the world.

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