In the last year at work, have you …About 25% of men said yes to one of the first two categories, which I would say qualifies them as common behaviors. But context would matter a lot; you might easily tell a joke knowing that "some" might find it offensive if you know the person you're telling it to would not. These differences in style underlie many of the conflicts we have seen erupt on college campuses and the like. Some people want a polite world in which nobody does or says anything offensive; some want a world in which everybody is free to offend everyone else on an equal opportunity basis. One of my sons told me that his idea of equality is that when you meet a guy you tell a joke about his ethnicity and he fires back with an equally offensive joke about yours, and you become friends. Throw people like him into a workplace with shy, sensitive people, and there is sure to be pain.
Told sexual stories or jokes that some might consider offensive? (19%)
Made remarks that some might consider sexist or offensive? (16%)
Displayed, used or distributed materials (like videos or cartoons) that some might consider sexist or suggestive? (7%)
Made attempts to draw someone into a discussion of sexual matters even though the person did not want to join in? (1%)
Made gestures or used body language of a sexual nature, which embarrassed or offended someone? (4%)
Continued to ask someone for dates, drinks or dinner even though he or she said no? (4%)
Made attempts to establish a romantic sexual relationship with someone despite that person’s efforts to discourage it? (3%)
Touched someone in a way that made him or her feel uncomfortable? (2%)
Made uninvited attempts to stroke, fondle or kiss someone? (1%)
Offered or implied rewards if someone engaged in sexual behavior? Or treated someone badly if he or she didn’t? (2%)
The item on these lists that always draws my attention is "Continued to ask someone for dates, drinks or dinner even though he or she said no?" On the one hand, that can certainly feel like harassment. On the other, I have lost count of the number of stories I have heard from long-married couples that go something like, "I asked her out fifty times and on the fiftieth time she finally said yes." Plus, think about all the advice we give out about getting what you want in life: don't take no for an answer, don't give up too easily, keep trying, try a different approach. If you knew a teenager who was really discouraged after trying something once and failing, what would you say? Quit? Not me. So the advice we are supposed to give to a guy who has asked a woman out once and been told "no" is to give up? Even though that is contrary to the advice we would give in every other situation I can think of except suicide? I suspect that men who would only try once are a lot less likely to get dates, get married, or get anything else in life than those who keep trying.
I dwell on this example because it sums up for me how complicated this stuff is. But it is hard to have an honest conversation about, because it is a minefield of painful memories, awkward experiences, differences of style and opinion, political positions, and the partisan rancor that poisons everything in America these days. One thing I really value about my relationship with my wife is that we talk very freely and frankly about relationships between men and women, the differences between them, the cant that ideologues throw around about this stuff, and the complexity of the whole situation. There are whole areas of human life that we simply can't talk honestly about, except with a few close friends. Some people think that is only natural and are ok with it, but for others having to be dishonest causes real pain.
Bullies are everywhere, and people shouldn't have to put up with bullying to earn a living. But human interaction is too manifold to be contained within a list of rules, especially when romance and sex are parts of the equation. We can try to reduce the amount of grief we cause each other at work, but neither we nor any other social mammal can make interacting with each other smooth and free of pain.