Men vs. Women: Sexism, Perception, and Reality

Category: Men vs. Women Series

Cartoon about sexism

I love writing this blog series. Why? Because I get to poke holes in the conventional, contemporary politically correct stereotypes. And, I sincerely believe that the differences between men and women are genuine and trying to conflate them to fit some academic model of humanity simply denies our humanity. And, for those that know me, I like to provoke…discussion. I’m still waiting for some ardent feminists or Women’s Studies students or professors to weigh in with their comments. So, shall we take on Sexism? Yeah, let’s go for it and I’m going to reveal an embarrassing story along the way!

Advice on How to Handle Women - Sexism

The irony of this blog series is how often I’m actually blasting men for being men, while sort of celebrating women for their good traits and minimizing the degree of their worse ones. Perhaps I’m displaying my own form of sexism? But, I suppose it’s all in the eye of the reader, since we all tend to bring our own prejudices, beliefs, and politics to most discussions like these where the issues are so nuanced.

I want to share a sort of an embarrassing story from my former career in showbiz, in the years before Anita Hill brought sexual harassment way out of its closet and perhaps ushered in an over-reaction that I sincerely believe has changed the work-place for the worse in so many ways. HR departments now have gone overboard with their seminars, occasional disciplinary actions, while most workers – men and women – can really handle the minor infractions themselves.

Sexism comic

And, to be totally clear on where I stand on sexual harassment, it’s my belief that it should really only be a major issue when a subordinate is asked to perform any sort of extra-curricular activity out of fear of losing his or her job or on the promise of advancement. That is what sexual harassment always was but it’s now expanded to include the unacceptability of a man having a tool calendar in his private workspace if it offends a woman who might happen to see it.

But, what I’m revealing that I did is not by my definition the least bit of sexual harassment, but it was disrespectful and I’ve always carried some small amount of guilt over it. Thankfully, I had the chance to apologize to the woman involved much later and, as it happened, she barely remembered it or was even the least bit offended.

Men vs Women comic - Sexism

This particular woman was my associate’s secretary. Her cubicle was next to my own secretary’s workspace. My associate’s secretary was a bawdy woman with a bawdy figure, much like that aggressive secretary in “Mad Men.” She enjoyed dressing to show off her curves, without a doubt.

One particular day, I saw her sitting at her desk and the way in which she was sitting and the outfit she was wearing made it look as if the upper half of her body were resting on the desk in front of her. It made quite a sight and, before I could even help myself, I made some comment about how interesting “those” looked sitting there on the desk. The moment the words came out of my mouth, I realized how inappropriate they were.

Comic about how women think about sexism

She looked up at me. There was a moment of silence. And, then she promptly broke out laughing. I skunked away, red-faced. And, as I said prior to laying out this story, many months or years later, I saw her and told her how mortified I was at the words that came forth from me at that moment. And, again she just laughed, clearly not bothered.

Had that been post-Anita Hill and had she not been who she was, I literally might have been fired that day for that comment. So, what is the lesson? Obviously, don’t stay stupid stuff like that. But, ironically, it also is a reminder of how much we bring our own sensitivities to the male-female intercourse.

Men are Such Jerks cartoon

If men and women are indoctrinated to believe that any such behavior constitutes sexual harassment, perhaps instead of having some fun banter, he or she is ON the lookout for the slightest infraction.

Later on in my showbiz career – post-Anita Hill – I actually stopped hiring female secretaries out of fear that I might let out another short burst of inane words and embarrass myself at the least or get brought up on charges at the worst.

Sexism cartoon about halloween costumes

Rather than provide my usual list, alternating between men and women, this column will just convey some of my general beliefs that are essentially an expansion of the story above.

While there’s no doubt my words were inappropriate, I fear that sexism and perception have become one and the same today. Too many men and women are simply too darn sensitive about any comment. When there’s no coercion or promises on the table, wouldn’t we be better off simply teaching our young boys and girls how to stand up for themselves rather than running off to HR with a complaint about a comment such as, “You sure look beautiful in that dress.”

Don’t we all grow and learn by the banter between he and she? Isn’t that banter often fun? And, if it isn’t, aren’t we mature enough to say something to stop it ourselves?

Sexism perception cartoon

The reality of this idea is that much of such banter is simply fun. After we’ve graduated from college, assuming we are still single, the opportunities to meet potential life partners diminishes considerably given that the majority of our time is usually spend at work. What is wrong with flirting with a colleague, as long as it’s done with respect and as long as it’s not unwanted? How many marriages – despite HR – still come from workplace interactions?

Sexism is kind of like racism in that it is declared a reality far more often than it is reality. It’s a sensitivity bred in many of us because of what they’ve been taught, perhaps some bad experiences, and possibly our upbringing.

I’ll close this blog with another short story from my workdays, pre-Anita Hill. I had met a secretary at another company altogether and we began dating. She was a sweetheart and we had a lot of fun but soon realized we’d rather be friends – mutually. Later, when she lost her job, I needed a secretary and hired this ex-girlfriend. It worked out beautifully. Think there’s any chance that could happen today?

Please read and/or comment on any of the other columns in the Men vs. Women series.

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Dealing with The Empty Nest

  • Courtney

    This is funny. Women are sensitive, and give men a hard time, only because they know they can get away with it these days. Any victimized group has all of the power, and they use it. They end up hurting themselves, because in our country, every victimized group has a legion of lawyers ready and waiting, and all employers run away from them;) Love your blog!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      You hit in ON THE NOSE @600e12d83ef744e2de9ffb563e2de9f3:disqus

    • Guest

      It’s the politicians pandering to and toadying for these PC pigs who are really dangerous because much as we’d like to we can’t seem to run away from our politicians or run our politicians away from us. For instance, VAWA feeds tyrannical local law enforcement programs and the reverse sexist local feminist DV, rape and child abuse racket with federal dollars. Our tax dollars are being used to destroy us as males…thanks to the FALSE victimization that feminists farm for female supremacist power and profit

  • Guest

    Daphne Patai’s Heterphobia published back in 2000 is the bible on yet one more kind of ugly form of feminist tyranny…that is this one. Notice no one every confronts the nearly naked sluts on the street or in the office for harassing males using the ‘oppressive’ vice power that all ‘hot’ women hold over men but heaven help the man who dares to look the wrong way at said hotties or say something the least bit honest about their blatant sexual harassment. Look what happened to Obama, the top traitor to all males in America, when he dared to call CA’s Atty General the best looking one in the nation. The only thing better than seeing him go down so ironically as a confirmed feminist gender bigot himself would be to see his bloviating VAWA ‘boy’ Biden suffer an even worse fate.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I really don’t want you to hold back how your feel, @0003e358a89867db100bf246375feacf:disqus

      • Guest

        It’s how I think, actually. So much of this stuff happens because men don’t think through the obvious or dare to challenge common nonsense. When one does begin to dig, the reality becomes utterly appalling. Mainstream feminism is a worldwide hate movement that does grave damage to males, to females and to society. There’s nothing academic in the model because feminist activism in education makes a mockery of academe too. Thanks for opening Pandora’s Box for us all. Where I can, I’ll help show you what’s inside. And FYI, the latest mainstream news clip on the PR battle from A Voice For Men is must viewing. One day, the NewsPress might start reporting the truth too but I’m not holding my breath.

        • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

          There’s much in academia to criticize…I would suggest that all forms of “ethnic/gender” studies has a political vs educational agenda…and it often disseminating propoganda vs. knowledge @0003e358a89867db100bf246375feacf:disqus

  • Guest

    Another way to look at this is to consider the weapons that men and women bring to the battle between the sexes. Men have one weapon, generally. That is status, with which we ‘starving’ animals buy sex from the ‘No’ sex. Women, until recently, only had one weapon too…that is superior sexual power with which to trade for superior male power. In the old days there was some sort of equitable balance between the utterly unequal Sexes…false feminist ‘gender’ victim mongering notwithstanding. But today, thanks to fascist feminism women have (mostly false) social status and still hold the biological cards sexually. Since men as the ‘harassers’ have pretty much played deer in the headlights sexually speaking…and have not even bothered to battle back when fascist feminist rape male status in the most underhanded of ways, (Jessica Lynch anyone?), the Disposable Sex is left with one rapidly weakening weapon…that is status…while women are gaining strength in both sex and status. Omnipresent feminist misandry when added to this already crushing imbalance means the End of Men (according to chortling feminist haters like Hanna Rosin) and is absolutely crushing boys before they even become men. Not a pretty picture…unless one is planning some sort of happy HERtopia where men have no manhood or masculinity at all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dtadgh Di Tadgh

    I think a lot of the problems I have with the ideas presented here stem from this whole thing being framed as a sort of “battle”. Men/masculinity and women/femininity are not fighting for, or at least shouldn’t be fighting for, dominance in our society. There isn’t even a clear definition that can be made between the two. Yes, men and women have biological differences, but that doesn’t mean either should be treated any different than the other. One shouldn’t have power over the other in any respect. Traditionally, in most cultures men have held a power over women, and this is what gave birth to a feminist movement. There was a need for an ideology to stand behind in order to fight the very real oppression that was occurring in society.

    Today, sexism has lessened a lot, but there is still a great divide between the sexes and how they are treated. The battle against sexism should not be equated as a battle against men. Both men and women are equally guilty of sexism, in often different but sometimes similar ways. Sexism, like other -isms, is about oppressing one person or group of persons, to empower another. The fight against it is one for the respect of all individuals and groups regardless of who they are or what they stand for.

    You seem to have a problem with HR in the workplace for preventing any sort of romantic advances in the workplace. I understand the bad rep an overly sensitive HR department can get, but the intent is to give power to those that would otherwise have none. Yes, we should all be able to deal with unwanted advances ourselves, it should be a private affair. But what about when, despite many requests, unwanted advances keep coming, and things reach a level of harassment? What about when the victim has no avenues to reject advances, because of blackmail or otherwise? HR is there to protect people in the workplace who have no other way to defend themselves. And please remember that it works both ways; men can be victims of sexual harassment just as much as women. Romantic pursuits are still as viable as ever, they simply require that the person you have interest in be shown the same care and respect as you want to receive. Blatant flirtation and sexual advances are not the only way to show interest in a person.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dtadgh Di Tadgh

      Also, feminism does not mean “anti-masculine”. Feminism isn’t a movement against males, despite there being proponents of such a thing. Feminism, as I choose to interpret it, is a celebration of femininity, insulated from any definition exclusion, i.e. whatever masculinity isn’t. The two can be harmonious, and any given person can possess traits from both.

      • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

        Sorry, I disagree about feminism. Its roots may have been noble, but WHERE are feminists when there’s so much true sexism in Africa and the Middle East (except Israel). It’s not politically correct to fight forced clitorectomies?

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      @facebook-561925616:disqus – I actually speak from exactly that experience – I was a victim of sexual harassment pre-Anita Hill. It was NO FUN and my (male) bosses thought it was funny and encouraged me to “go along!”

      Yes, I frame these columns in a sort of conflictual way – but that is simply to be provocative and get a dialogue going. As you can see from ANY in this blog series, it’s also VERY tongue-in-cheek!

      And, YES, I do have a problem with MOST HR departments – especially those in government offices where it’s gotten completely out-of-hand!

      I appreciate your thoughtful comment! Thank You!

  • David W.

    Reading this article as well as the comments, I’m having a difficult time inferring what the desired conditions are for Bruce, Guest and Courtney.

    In other words, what sort of environment are you hoping will emerge regarding the issues you address? In particular, what are you not so much hoping will happen, but are WORKING INTENTIONALLY TO CONSTRUCT, OR BRING ABOUT?

    I too dislike the excesses you three describe. At the same time, I feel neither satisfaction nor disappointment that the green light is no longer on for making comments in the workplace that are flirtatious or charged (however weakly) sexually. And from that basic point–recognizing that things have changed, and will likely not revert to what they were–I ask myself: What do I imagine would be an ideal set of conditions from this point forward?

    I am not detecting that sort of pragmatic, solutions-focused thinking on your parts…your contributions here come across to me as ventilation. Fair enough, ventilating (or, more informally, “ranting”!) is good and I am certain I am at present doing some myself. At the same time, I work intentionally to contribute to conditions I desire (which I will BRIEFLY describe below)…ventilation is, in my opinion, only as good as the hard work it generates when the ventilating is done.

    Whenever I hear or read comments such as appear here about feminists, feminism, gender or sex relations and related matters, I always recall something enunciated by Rebecca West, a British author, at about the time of World War I. In many ways, she departed from the Victorian and Edwardian behavior women of her elite social class were encouraged to favor. West was outspoken, frank about her appetites and promoted women’s suffrage as well as other reversals of the era’s convention. Through and through she was a feminist–a term that had been relatively recently coined and carried more or less the meaning we today would recognize. West once wrote, “I have been asked if I am a feminist. I don’t know if I am. I know only that I am called one by others whenever I refuse to be treated like a doormat.”

    And that, in a nutshell, is what I would like to promote: a sensibility about feminism, relations between the sexes and so forth that calls upon each of us, across the sex or gender divide, to refuse to treat one another as doormats. I’ll leave it at that because I have “ventilated” too long! But I can unpack the first sentence of this comment if requested.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I get a kick out of @0003e358a89867db100bf246375feacf:disqus @disqus_dU5ulU60s7:disqus though I don’t respect the anonymity he has chosen…I’m way OUT THERE and therefore I think I earn a bit more credibility with my rants which are also less angry, I hope?