May I have a word with the men?
Come closer, please . . . OK, that’s too close.
Super. It has come to my attention that some of you are troubled by recent stories in the Globe and elsewhere about sexual harassment. You feel as if men are under siege. And that it has become impossible to navigate the treacherous terrain of cross-gender professional relationships. You’re afraid to make a move, much less a joke, lest you fall victim to charges of misconduct.
“As a follow up to Yvonne’s screed I advise all males never to meet a female colleague or vendor without another person present,” one of you wrote.
“Things keep going the way you want, a male would be crazy to even say ‘Good Morning’ to a female,” wrote another.
I know it can be confusing. But I’m here to help. With a little forethought, it’s possible to both work with women and avoid sexually harassing them.
Clip and save this handy guide on how not to be That Guy. It’s based on actual events described by women the Globe has been talking to lately.
Our body parts
I’m starting basic here, to build your confidence. Women’s breasts — even large ones — do not exist for your entertainment in the workplace. Do not talk to a woman’s breasts. Make eye contact during conversations, even with women you find attractive. Do not talk about breasts, or use the necklaces that hang near them as Trojan horses for breast-talk. And definitely do not touch breasts. Very bad.
Your body parts
This may be hard to hear, but not everyone loves the little guy like you do. Do not speak of it to women at work or at work-related events. Do not send pictures of it to them, either. Definitely do not insist that they have any contact with it whatsoever. Do not, under any circumstances, whip it out in the workplace. For example, agreeing as a group to display your wares, and inviting a new employee to judge whose manhood is most impressive, is extremely unprofessional (Yes, this really happened).
Have at it at home, if that’s your thing. But the workplace is no place in which to consume pornography. Ever. Definitely don’t watch it on your office computer, where the IT guys will eventually find it. Not on your phone. Not even when you’re hanging with your boys on the House floor. Even women who themselves enjoy pornography will not take to the idea of you watching it as they toil beside you. And while we’re at it, do not try your hand at making porn in the workplace. Do not use your cellphone to take shots up your colleagues’ skirts or attempt to photograph their cleavage in meetings. Do not capture Snapchat images of your co-worker in a bathing suit (She knows it was you).
It is such a marvelous invention, but please use your phone wisely. Do not use it to text women (Other than those with whom you are in a fully consenting relationship) with proposals that they engage in sexual activity of any kind. Do not text compliments on her behind or her breasts (see above). She may reply “ha ha,’’ or not reply at all, but she almost certainly does not think it’s funny. More likely, she is appalled, but she knows you have more power than she does, and she has no idea how else to respond. Also, if you are making propositions via text messages, which can be saved on a screenshot and possibly shared with a reporter who has to take a shower every time she sees them, you are as dumb as bricks. Resign immediately.
Ask yourself: Does this young intern or aide or server, just starting out in a career where you hold the cards, truly find your usually much older, probably married self attractive? When you massage her shoulders at a bar near the office, or gyrate near her face in the manner of a pasty Chippendale, are you sure she likes it? If she didn’t, would she really feel she could tell you, given that doing so could imperil her career prospects, or her pay? In other words, does she have full agency in this situation? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you’re done.
We all like a good laugh, but how about not suggesting that a woman in your employ is a prostitute? Or that she would achieve her life’s ambitions if she chose to pursue them in a bikini? Or that she got to where she is because she did with her boss the things you secretly hope she will do with you? Also, do not shout, “Hey, Frank is that your niece” to the Globe State House bureau chief across a crowded Beacon Hill street as he and a younger, female reporter are walking to lunch. Do not do this, not only because it demeans the very hard work the woman did to get to where she is, or because it makes her feel like crap, which it does, but also because, years later, she could call you out publicly.
So, sometimes romance blooms in the workplace. Attraction happens. This is mostly fine, as long as you don’t profess your longing for a different woman every day, and both parties are fully consenting, and there is no professional fallout involved. But sometimes, you can misread the signals. So, if you put your heart out there — not your little friend, please — and you get the hand, that’s it. Withdraw, apologize, move on.
The new Golden Rule
Still confused? If all else fails, try this: Imagine how you would feel if the whole world, including the hypothetical women you respect, could see how you’re behaving with this co-worker right now. Not good? Then step off. Immediately.
Easy, right? You’re welcome!Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @GlobeAbraham