I am more and more troubled by how male and female roles in our society have evolved. Clearly, I may just not fully understand and accept these changes, but I want to understand for the sake of my boys. I’m trying to teach them to be men, how to treat women, and to prepare my sons for the current social environment and workplace that we live in. And, frankly, I need to learn and adjust for myself, as this column will show.
I was raised in the fifties and sixties, where men and women had casual conversational fun with each other, both in the work place and out of it. It was fun and not harassment, to be clear, and included healthy banter and even occasional flirting. But, today this is forbidden and larger companies have seminars on proper work behavior that, I believe, limits camaraderie and rapport between colleagues. As communication often is via e-mail, the chances of misunderstandings are only enhanced.
Recently, I sent an e-mail to a female editor of a website that carries my column, asking about a change I’d noticed in how my column was presented. It happens to be a mom’s website and I’m the only male blogger. I asked the question about the change and then said, “I am your only man, after all.” To me, it is true and was completely innocuous.
The reply I got from the editor was a stern missive affirming her status at the website and asking that I stop this unprofessional behavior and flirting. It reminded me of when Barbara Boxer reprimanded a general in the army, in Congress, for calling her “Ma’am,” instead of “Senator.” Can you imagine a male senator doing the same when called “Sir?”
I was stunned at the editor’s criticism and immediately sent her an apology for any misunderstanding and said that my intention was solely humorous, and in no way flirtatious. It was, yet again, a reminder to me of the dangers of e-mail.
She replied, “Apology accepted.” Now, the fact that she had changed our agreement about how my column was to be presented was minimally addressed as I did not receive any acknowledgment or apology for her breaking our ground rules. Instead, an off-hand remark I made left a bad taste for both of us and I still didn’t get satisfactory resolution to my original question. I thought proper business etiquette required communication before a change is made to an existing agreement.
To this editor’s credit, she said she showed my e-mail to several male colleagues who all agreed it was in poor taste. While I didn’t ask, I wondered how old they were as there’s no doubt that younger men are growing up in a work and social environment whose rules are quite different from when I grew up. I think we had much more fun and, given that the most of my career was in showbiz, there was certainly plenty of healthy, and innocent flirting that regularly went on and, many times, it resulted in good business dealings.
To be clear, I am not talking about any casting couch sort of behavior as I never experienced it in the form of an actress offering me “special privileges” nor did I ever engage in asking for it. I was raised to treat women with respect well before sexual harassment handbooks and seminars became important business tools for employers.
I actually experienced some sexual harassment early in my career. A top female studio executive invited me to her home to “discuss business.” I was fighting her off the entire evening. My male bosses at the time thought it was hilarious and that I should have given in for the benefit of the company. Needless to say, I wasn’t amused so I obviously understand the difference between innocent flirtation and harassment. We often define sexual harassment as a man harassing a woman, but the reverse can be harassing as well.
I am trying to raise Will and David to be men who respect and treat women well. I expect them to be sensitive without being wimps, and hopefully still possess a twinkle in their eyes, and enjoy engaging the opposite sex. Flirting can be a kick but, of course, it has to be in the right situations.
I am stuck in my ways and obviously somewhat dense and/or stubborn--as this incident with the editor illustrated. Hereafter, I’m going to be extra careful with all of my future interaction with women. Frankly, it’s the clichéd point of being better safe than sorry, though I know that some of the interplay I’ve always enjoyed will be diminished.
Will and David have been taught other behaviors that I believe in, although these behaviors may be somewhat old fashioned. They know to open and close car doors for their girl friends or any woman or older adult. My teen knows we expect him to pay for any date that he may go on, though presently he’s doing the contemporary group date thing, so he’s off the hook. When we went to the recent Outside Lands music festival, he knew even though I did remind him, to look after his two female friends and, because of his height and gender, to take care of them in the crush of the crowds. They appreciated it and I was proud of his actions.
A friend of mine suggested that my generation might actually have the opportunity to learn from our kids about these kinds of behaviors. Growing up in a politically correct culture all their lives, they’ve been socialized and taught certain behavior and, like their comfort with technology, it may be second nature to them. Is it better? I don’t know.
Still, I think it’s a very confusing time for young boys and men. Some of the so-called progress that has allowed women to enter otherwise limited areas for them professionally, are clearly welcome. But, I question all these rules for gender interaction. Doesn’t it, to some degree, only infantilize women vs. teaching our young women to know proper boundaries and stand up for themselves? I’d rather any daughter that I had should know when to slap a guy, kick him where it counts, and otherwise not run to a boss or the government. And, conversely, she should know when it is time to seek intervention by a superior. What do you think?