Goddamit, I really didn’t want to write this entry.
I’m pissed at me, I’m pissed at her, I’m pissed at how much-needed social movements always seem to get derailed.
Let’s do this as a “Play in 9 Parts”, starting with some tedious, but unfortunately necessary, background:
Part 1: Radio
I’m a radio network announcer. I don’t have my own show, but rather appear on shows all over the NYC region – and sometimes country – in various capacities. Sometimes I’m the news guy, sometimes the traffic reporter, etc. In effect, I’m a professional sidekick.
Sullen misanthropes, introverts, and monosyllabic cretins tend not to take up radio announcing as a profession. This is a field populated by gregarious, effusive, often overly effusive, blunderbusses with good vocabulary skills. If your job requires you to talk for 8 hours a day, 5 or more days a week, it damn well better come naturally to you or you are in for a long, painful life. Or a short career.
I’ve been with the same company for exactly 25 years this month (not even a goddam card). Many of the announcers who were there when I started are also still here. Stable radio gigs are pretty rare, so when you’re lucky enough to land one you usually stay if you can.
Needless to say, after all this time few of us stand on ceremony then when it comes to addressing one another. For about a decade, “Hey dickhead, get any last night?” was the default morning greeting to anyone arriving for their shift, man or woman. Hardly anyone uses anyone else’s proper name. It’s either a term of affection (“honey”, “buddy”, etc.), a mock insult, or just “Yo”.
Part 2: Chicks
I think it’s pretty well established by now that I love women. Not to belabor the point, but I love women so much that I’ve even let several of them have sex with me. Not every guy can say that.
I also actually respect women. So much so that I will not entrust anyone, including myself, the critical task of doing my laundry other than my wife. And she’s a woman.
I also respect that many women take fierce pride in their physical attributes. And unlike men, they can apparently gather in large numbers without starting a war (unless there aren’t enough Port-a-Potty’s).
On top of that, I can be platonic friends with a woman – and not just the fat ones. I’m talking about women I’m even sexually attracted to. I know, I know. I’m expecting a call from the Pope any day now, too. “St. Dangerspouse“. I like it.
Part 3: Radio Chicks
In the mid-2000’s our privately held company was taken over by a large network. Overnight the beer in the company fridge disappeared, a dress code was instituted (no more tutus) and a memo was issued regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. It read in part, “There will be no off-colored jokes told in your place of employ“.
Immediately the women on staff revolted.
I have never worked with, or even known, a more foul mouthed, dirty minded group than the women I worked with back then. I swear to god, almost all my best filthy jokes were first told to me by some of those august ladies. I once got into a half hour long argument with one about whether YouPorn or RedTube was the better service.
So that memo caused a real uproar amongst the distaff side, and most indignantly ignored it. Still do.
Part 4: Ch-ch-ch-changes.
Over the last year or so our company has been undergoing an expansion. We’ve added a few new studios, installed new computers in the old ones (running WINDOWS FUCKING 8 for some reason), built out the Producers Bullpen, and even purchased a new microwave for the kitchen(!).
Of course with more studios and a larger production facility comes the need for more personnel. So they hired some. Mostly young, mostly eager, and mostly with unreasonable expectations about becoming a star. Sorry to burst your bubble, kid, but….
Now I happen to like Millennials. (Of course, I like everybody. It’s one of the reasons I went into radio in the first place. I love talking to people.) I also think Millennials (and their admittedly harder to stomach cousins, the Hipsters) get a bad rap in the larger population, in the way that Gen-X’ers got a bad rap before them, Yuppies got it before them, Hippies got it before them, and on and on and on. Millennials are people. But like all people, they are products of their time. And time always changes.
One thing I love about Millennials is their ability to identify things their elders got wrong, and use all these new digital tools at their disposal to try to change them.
The one I’ll mention is probably the most famous, and also the one most pertinent to this story: the #MeToo movement.
Now when the #MeToo movement broke onto the scene I literally cheered. Despite my (as usual) inappropriate “humor” back there in Part 2, in reality I am a devout, unalloyed, unapologetic feminist who has long railed against gender based inequalities. I’ve written here before how I feel America’s inability to pass the Equal Rights Amendment is going to be one of those things that, like slavery and Georgie Dann, future generations are going to excoriate us for. The #MeToo movement addresses something even darker, and perhaps more immediately urgent to address than passage of the ERA.
Part 5: The Past.
Previously I’d written an entry about being accused of sexual harassment. I won’t link to it – it’s long and overwrought, much like this one – but in a nutshell if you haven’t read it: I was the traffic reporter on a show in Central Jersey, and while music was playing over the air and I was waiting to go on, the man and woman hosts would usually chat with me behind the scene (“in cue” as we say).
This one day we were talking in cue about adult beverages. The male host said he liked whiskies, particularly bourbon. I mentioned my ongoing love affair with wine. And the woman chimed in with, “I like beer, but because I’m pregnant I haven’t been able to have any in months. It’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to after I have the baby!”
I then said, “The beer will have an added benefit. In addition to tasting good, I understand alcohol passes into breast milk. My mom always told me that when I was crying as a baby, she’d sometimes sip a beer then give me a feeding to help me fall asleep.”
When I got off the air I had an urgent email from my boss to call him.
The girl filed a sexual harassment claim against me as a result of our conversation. Why? “He referenced my breasts.”
I was put on paid leave while they did an investigation. There were lawyers, phone conferences with the independant investigator, and several sleepless nights. Finally the investigator pronounced I had done nothing wrong, and I know it shouldn’t matter but the investigator was a woman. I was cleared to go back to work.
But the incident will persist on my permanent record forever now. I also had to sign a form acknowledging I’d said “something that caused another person discomfort”.
However…what if the investigator had ruled against me? That would have been it for me, professionally. Do you think any radio station would be eager to snap up a middle aged perpetual support player who was let go after being found guilty of sexual harassment?
I still have nightmares about it. And don’t get me started on how NewWifey(tm) feels about that young lady and her precious breasts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her that mad in my entire life. And she’s Irish.
Two weeks ago I got off the air one day and had an urgent email from the head of HR for the entire network saying she needed to talk to me about a “work incident”. She was gonna call me at my home number later.
I wracked my brain. Was I talking about breasts again? I didn’t think so. But…wait a sec. I do talk about cooking on some of my stations. Did a female host object to “chicken breasts”? Sounds ridiculous, but I though “breast milk” was safe at the time also, and look what happened there. So who knows?
I ground my teeth almost down to the bone on the drive home.
“Hello, Mr. Spouse? This is Natalie, head of HR for the network. How are you?”
“Frightened, and about to start a drinking habit. What’s up?”
She told me.
Without any embellishment, this was the “workplace incident”:
I addressed a woman I work with, a woman whom I’ve known for at least 20 years, as “babe”.
“Hey babe, how ya doin’?” was probably what I said, since that’s what I always say. Even to some of the guys.
But this time when I let fly with that greeting, another woman overheard me say it.
And SHE got offended.
That’s when the trouble started.
Rather than tell me she was offended, even rather than tell our general manager, which is the normal course, she leapfrogged right to the top of the command chain.
This is what the top of the command chain told me during that phone call, “In this age of #MeToo….”
I don’t think I need to tell you what the rest of the sentence was.
Of course, I made a feeble attempt at defending my hideous act. It went something like, “Who was the little bitch? I’ll kill her!”
Actually, it was more along the lines of “I’m awfully sorry. Please convey my apologies to whomever it was who was so aggrieved by my thoughtless action, and assure them that that word will never be uttered by me again.” I still have a mortgage to pay, you know.
(I do want it noted here that I did not in turn throw my female coworkers under the bus for calling me “Honey”, “Sugar”, “10-Inch”, or, yes, “Babe” on a daily basis. Yay, me.)
Fortunately Natalie assured me that this was just a warning, and would – this time – feature no repercussions. But it would be noted on my record, and any future instances if reported could result in my termination.
So now in my permanent file it notes I’ve been accused of sexual harassment, and verbally demeaning women. That’s great. In a lot of peoples’ minds, to be accused is to be de facto guilty. The word “acquitted” afterwards means nothing. I better not ever need another job….
You know what bothers me almost as much as being accused of something so heinous, over such an obviously innocuous act? It’s the fact that I thought of everyone at my work as my friend. We all get along GREAT. When I heard someone not only ratted me out, but ratted me out for something so innocent, I literally turned cold. It still hurts to think about it. (I don’t know who it was, btw. The HR head would only say it was a “young lady”.)
Part 7: The Aftermath.
In the very first sentence of this entry I said I didn’t want to write this entry. But the reasons that might be different that what you’re assuming.
I’ve always hated the guy who runs to a woman – his wife, girlfriend, family member, pet, whatever – to explain his side of the story after being called out for doing something chauvinistic. It’s like he’s looking for a female to validate his actions, to agree he’s being persecuted by an unreasonable woman. If he can find a woman to do that for him, he won’t have to lower his opinion of himself. He also won’t have to change his behavior.
This happens a lot. I see it. all. the. time.
And now I worry that by writing this in a public space, I might be that guy. Am I? Am I putting this out there because I want to read comments from people (women) assuring me I did nothing wrong? I don’t think so, but…
But more importantly, I worry about the #MeToo movement.
The #MeToo movement is needed, and needed badly. It is long past due that physical and emotional
exploitation devastations women suffer at the hands of men who have power over them be brought to light. Whispering in the shadows because you’re afraid of repercussions has to end.
But of course, since this is something both needed and requiring change, there is backlash. This story from the Huffington Post gives an excellent overview of the sort of ammunition anti-feminists immediately brought to bear once the movement began. A salient excerpt:
“This was the moment women had been predicting for months, ever since the national outcry against predatory men began in October. “All it will take is one particularly lame allegation … to turn the tide from deep umbrage on behalf of women to pity for the poor, bullied men,” warned Rebecca Traister in November.”
And that’s what I worry about. That some will hear my story, agree with me that I have now suffered two “lame allegations”, and use that to argue against all of #MeToo. “See? This whole movement is just a way for men-hating women to stick it to us!”
Women need to be able to discriminate.
Here’s the thing:
The woman who got upset that I merely mentioned breasts. The young lady who got upset when she heard me call another woman “babe”.
They were both genuinely upset. Whether or not I think their consternation was justified, I recognize that their consternation was real. And real consternation does need to be addressed.
My concern is how they chose to address their consternation, when viewed in a larger context. I’m sure both those women realized at the time that I was not a man in a position of power using that power to coerce them. They could have spoken to me directly, or barring that they could have gone anonymously to my immediate supervisor and asked for guidance on how to handle things. Instead, they both immediately pulled the trigger on hitching their claim to a movement expressly formed to address the problem of men in power coercing women.
They weren’t able to, or perhaps willing to, discriminate between “he’s being a jerk!” and “he told me I wouldn’t get overtime if I didn’t give him a blowjob!”
And that’s how movements end.
If “#MeToo” starts being used for any and all grievances involving women, it will become so watered down as to become meaningless. People, even well intentioned people who really, sincerely wish for an end to the horrific, entrenched treatment of powerless women, will roll their eyes whenever that hashtag is paraded out.
This movement is too important, too long overdue, TOO IMPORTANT, to die out. It has to keep going. #MeToo seeks to eradicate horrors visited on too many for too long. Don’t risk ruining it for everyone every time some thoughtless guy called you “Honey” by claiming that very specific victimhood. You may end up throwing out the Babe with the bathwater.
Part 8: The Chilling Effect.
I am now afraid to talk to any of the women I work with. I like them equally, I trusted them equally. But one of them has potentially put my job in jeopardy, and since I don’t know who it was, and what else might set her off, I can’t risk talking to any of them any more. I’m keeping my studio door closed between mic breaks, I won’t go to the cafeteria to grab a sandwich with any of the women if we’re snowed in, I won’t offer a lozenge if I hear one coughing. And maybe women outside work now, too. I’m at least marginally in the public’s eye – ear, anyway. Ya never know when a Facebook post is gonna go viral.
Part 9: Conclusion.
(Sorry about the length and serious tone. At least one will be rectified next episode. Stay tuned!)