Originally published in Daily Life, 6 August 2013
You know what? It’s just so gosh-darn hard to be a powerful man in 2013.
There are all these rules about how one should and should not interact with people and it’s a maze that’s near impossible to negotiate. If they followed some sort of rhyme or reason, like common sense, basic respect or literally thousands of very public examples demonstrating the legal and personal consequences of unacceptable treatment of female staff by powerful men, that’d be one thing – but now we’re at a mysterious, opaque point where what appears at first to be perfectly respectable behaviour, like telling your female employees not to wear knickers or putting them in a headlock and dragging them around the office while whispering sexually-themed comments to them, is seen as somehow “inappropriate” conduct for someone in a position of authority.
That’s the sorry situation in which San Diego’s mayor Bob Filner has found himself in recent times, with nine women having come forward as being victims of sexual harassment at his hands.
Poor Bob is a 70 year old human adult who spent two decades in Congress before becoming San Diego’s mayor last December, and is undergoing an “intensive therapy” program in order to curb himself of these workplace impulses. He is is also laying blame for his behaviour firmly at the foot of the responsible party: the City of San Diego, who failed to provide him with a training program that educated him as to what was and wasn’t suitable Mayoral behaviour.
It’s an ambitious defence, since the city are countersuing on the grounds that they didattempt to provide him with exactly that sort of course in January, but Filner cancelled it and refused to reschedule. Furthermore, the City of San Diego has also declined to pay Filner’s legal expenses in suing the City of San Diego. Say what you like about Filner: at least he’s consistently brazen.
And heck, we understand that everyone is time-poor and can’t necessarily find the time to work out how to walk that blurred and ambiguous line between “professional respect” and “sexual assault”, and so if there are any other mayors out there looking for guidance, allow us to present some instructive tips and handy memory-jogging mnemonics to help bring clarity to these hard-to-interpret situations.
1. When one’s deputy campaign manager is complimented for having “worked her ass off” for the campaign, should one pat said deputy campaign manager’s behind and say “no, it’s still there?”
Correct answer: no. That’s where Bob went wrong with Lara Fink, who subsequently demanded an apology from Filner over email, cc’ing in his chief of staff (who was subsequently to resign in disgust at Filner’s behaviour). The bottoms of your staff are not considered company property and, much as you might ask before taking an employee’s calculator from their desk, you should always get explicit permission before getting you start playfully pressing bits of it. [http://edition.cnn.com/2013/07/23/politics/california-san-diego-mayor/index.html]
Handy mnemonic: “Good rule of thumb / don’t stroke the bum!”
2. Should you demand your director of communications not wear panties to work?
Correct answer: no. It’s reasonable to expect a certain degree of professional dress within a work environment, but this is limited to the visible levels of one’s attire. Underwear preferences are, within office-based places of employment, very much up to the individual, and the use of the term “panties” adds a creepy infantilism to the situation if the addressee is a grown woman like Irene McCormack Jackson. “I had to work and do my job in an atmosphere where women were viewed by Mayor Filner as sexual objects or stupid idiots,” she said in an illustrative statement after becoming the first woman to publicly accuse the mayor of harassment.
Handy mnemonic: “Her dack choice is / Just not your biz.”
3. Is it OK to publicly hit on a woman at a church fundraiser for African refugees while holding her hands and preventing her from leaving?
Correct answer: no. First up, if you’re there as a representative of the people of San Diego it might be considered gauche to also be visibly on the pull, but asking someone who has come up to say a nice professionally-motivated hello “Do you have a husband? Are you married?” might make them a little confused and uncomfortable, especially if you’re holding both their hands at the time. This is what one Renee Estill-Sombright discovered in June at the breakfast event at La Jolla Presbyterian Church, according to her claim.
Handy mnemonic: “For refugees / Quit macking, please.”
4. Headlocks and sexual threats from your employer: playful fun, or terrifying invasion of personal space?
Correct answer: terrifying invasion of personal space. Again, Ms McCormack Jackson’s patience for being dragged around the office while Filner whispered sexual comments in her unwilling ear was not as boundless as her boss assumed it would be. As a rule, unless your office is collpasing in an earthquake or suddenly invaded by swarms of killer ants, it is not considered appropriate to grab your employees in any way without their freely-given consent. A firm handshake is almost always acceptable, although note that this does not include the go-ahead to explain to the recipient what you would like to do to them with your penis.
Handy mnemonic: “Are you a dope? / Headlocks? Nope.”
Keep those handy rhymes in your head and you might be able to not only govern a large municipal area but also create a pleasant and respectful work environment in which the female staff who rely on you for their rent to be paid each week will not be terrified of your presence and/or end up suing you for harassment. Mayor Filner, by taking on these guidelines we are confident that you could sleep easy in the knowledge that you won’t, say, attempt to feel up a Marilyn Monroe impersonator performing at a fundraiser for your campaign while she’s just trying to do her j…
What’s that? Pardon? Emily Gilbert?
Ah. As you were.