If a Man Says “Darlin'” in the Woods, Does It Make a Harassment?

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The defining characteristic of our age may be the degree to which we really do live in different worlds, side by side.  Following my post about some Pew Research findings from a sexual harassment survey, I’ve found that reality to be palpable.  One can hardly discuss the matter with people who seem to inhabit a world that follows different rules for reason and standards of evidence.

I’ve been astonished, for instance, to find intelligent people who really do believe that men are the sex that inspires fear and therefore should have no say in discussions about society’s definitions of and attitude toward sexual harassment.  (Suggest that this putative ability to be fearful might reasonably make men a better fit for some jobs, however, and I suspect you’d be roundly criticized.)

A different line of thought is even more fascinating. Faced with a survey finding that women with college degrees claim more sexual harassment, some people conclude that women with less education must claim less harassment because they actually experience more.  Of course, they don’t put it quite so succinctly.  Rather, they start with the claims that blue collar workplaces are more permissive of boorish behavior and that blue collar women have less power.  They therefore become inured to the constant sexism and, though no longer conscious of it, are beaten down by it.

Ostensibly, we know this to be true because women in blue collar occupations will tell us about it… except, apparently, when asked for anonymous surveys

Let’s grant the claim that women without college experience do indeed tend to work in environments that are less (let’s say) socially conscious.  This only brings us back to mthe initial question:  How much is the blue collar environment actually festering with harassment, and how much is the white collar environment overly sensitive about benign behavior?

Imagine a diner serving a blue collar clientel.  An older man regularly has lunch there and calls the waitress “darlin’.”  In his habit and usage, “darlin'” is something like a familiar and more-equal version of “ma’am.”  That’s how he uses it, and that is how the waitress takes it, and it doesn’t occur to her that she’s being harassed.

Is she?  The man does not believe that his use of the word gives him any advantage over her, and she doesn’t see it as belittling her.  Moreover, nobody around them believes that’s the effect.

Now imagine that the man, getting on in years as he is, makes a career move to a white collar office.  Here, “darlin'” rings differently in a coworker’s ears.  She complains, and the man is reprimanded.  Did he harass her?  Where was the balance of power in this interaction?

One reason these questions take academia by storm is that they are so subtle and endlessly variable.  How is it that people come out of its influence so confident that a single sharp rule must apply in every context?  It seems to me that the most real power and the most mature attitude would be found in those who can interpret people’s language in the terms that they intend and not feel diminished by a diversity of attitudes.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    One reason these questions take academia by storm
    It seems to me that these questions appeal to emotion, rather than the intellect. Much like racism, welfare, immigration, and many others, facts are not required. A “feeling” is good enough.

  • The Misfit

    Imagine if the older man instead of using “Darlin” actually used the persons name. I think that happens more than you think. Obviously you have not been around many back woods diners. This stuff is simple. Treat people like people. Learn to trust some and maybe not others. If you have to take your measure from a survey you have some major issues.

  • Merle The Monster

    It may be the case that when surveys separate people into college educated and non college educated they are actually separating economic classes. Those reporting more sexual harassment may have backgrounds of economic security and with that a sense of entitlement as members of a group that’s expected to succeed and prosper. The problems arise because others who populate this economic group also have a sense of entitlement that includes having what they want.
    It is also possible that women from higher scio economic classes do not expect fellow member of those classes to behave in the way that can be construed as offensive and therefore more memorable when answering a survey’s question.
    It is also possible that those who do not report abuse in lower economic classes do not see any tangible benefit in doing so and instances in their experience are less memorable

  • Monique Chartier

    Yup. Intent. That’s a critical element too often left out of this discussion. Much easier for neo-feminists to make a blanket statement about certain words and behavior than to encourage women to be discerning.

    • BasicCaruso

      Exactly, we need to determine a man’s intent when he whips it out at a party. Harassment? Not if he didn’t intend it to be.

      • Rhett Hardwick

        If you do that in Mass, in a rest area, for pressing reasons other than harassment, you can be put on the sex offenders list.

        • Merle The Monster

          No one wants to see your ancient junk in Mass. The clergy has that territory

          • Rhett Hardwick

            You might be surprised, there seems to be some demand.

          • Merle The Monster

            Only question that remains is the nature of the demands and who makes them.
            When my business found me driving 195 between Fall River and New Bedford on a regular basis I avoided any stops at the infamous rest areas on that stretch, possibly the same ones you referenced

          • Rhett Hardwick

            In Massachusetts, all rest areas seem to be locally known as the “Barney Frank Memorial Rest Area” and have chain link around them. Those fences aren’t to keep children from breaking into the rest areas. I was most charmed by one that had closed on Route 95. There was a “reopening soon” sign, followed by a hand lettered “reserve your booth now” sign.

          • Merle The Monster

            I am not surprised by your homophonic response. Obviously your junk is not the only thing that is ancient

          • Censored by Justin

            Your loss, you could have met the “bishop”.

          • Merle The Monster

            That’s bad but very good

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