Thursday, October 21, 2010

That Little Anita Hill Thing

The absurdity of the Virginia Thomas phone call to Anita Hill this week has had me recalling many of the times I was harassed in the workplace, or witnessed harassment, mainly during my restaurant years. It's quite possible that Ginnie Thomas has never been sexually harassed, but for a good number of my friends this isn't the reality. My own experience of being harassed nearly twenty years ago left me having an uncomfortable conversation with the owner of the restaurant I worked in; I remember it like it was yesterday. I felt I should tell him that his manager had informed me he wanted to -- well, let's take one of those "dime store donkeys" and leave the rest to your imagination. I had just moved to New York, and was mortified, poor, and felt powerless. It was probably thanks to Anita Hill that I had the courage to speak up about it and a) be left alone, and b) keep my job. It didn't hurt that the owner was Geraldine Ferraro's husband, and when I told him what had happened he slammed his fist into his wooden desk and hollered something along the lines of, "That sunofabitch, it's a good thing for him Gerry's in Geneva!" I knew I'd be okay, then (even though I was making roughly $2 an afternoon in tips for awhile working the least lucrative shifts; hmmm...).

In an earlier job, a friend was informed (in front of me) that our boss had had a dream about her nether regions, and that she'd resembled Rapunzel (I understand that years later, said boss was sued by a group of brave waitresses who banded together after they couldn't take it anymore). Others have been groped in the walk-in. Others have had affairs with their married bosses, and I've wondered what their lives were like leading up to these arrangements.

Naturally, there's a difference between a sexually-charged environment and a hostile one where power is systematically chipped away in the form of undesirable daily nuances. We're human, and I've also witnessed relationships blossom in the workplace that are completely successful and healthy. These situations shouldn't be a part of the harassment conversation, because there's a difference between love and violence. I think it was Andrea Dworkin who referred to these little jabs as "the little rapes." You're victimized, and in order to not make it worse you keep your head to the ground and move along. You don't create a scene; you don't make it worse. Apparently, in Ginnie Thomas's world, you even have to apologize.

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