Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Don't Discredit Me, "Reverend."

Because we can't go one entire season in Detroit without two or more bizarre happenings on the political front, last Friday we were treated to the news that subliterate school board president Otis Mathis resigned after being accused of touching his penis -- and touching it, um, affectionately -- during meetings with the district's superindendent. Who reports to him. The final straw was him whacking it during a meeting discussing her employment contract.

Sounds like a massive sexual harrassment lawsuit waiting to happen, no? Especially since she says she informed other people about his behavior and documented each incident, to no avail.

Mathis' conduct is despicable and gross and creepy, of course. But what truly has me infuriated is the following, from board member "Reverend" David Murray. Who changed his first name to Reverend so idiotic Detroit voters would vote for him, and who also has had foster children removed from his home for various reasons (and, for that matter, who shares a name with the husband of a friend of mine, who's about the polar opposite of this jackhole).

Murray's been quoted locally, and of course right now I cannot find it, as saying that such behavior is something "some women" might find offensive and that "maybe he thought she liked it."

Rage. Raaaaagggggeee.

Here's the deal: I've been sexually harrassed, both in the workplace and elsewhere ('cause guess what, guys? Catcalling a woman as she walks down the street is HARASSMENT, no matter how funny you think it is). Ask any woman who's old enough to have been in the workforce for any length of time, and she'll tell you the same, I'm sure of it.

Even acts that don't rise to an actionable level are just fucking irritating because men NEVER EVER EVER have to put up with this shit just to earn a paycheck. Or, you know, go outside. We've all experienced this: Men who have entire conversations with just our chest. Men who feel the need to comment on our appearance in any way, positive or negative, because that reduces us to JUST appearance, not a person.

And when we have the temerity to stand up to it, to inform the Dick in question that their behavior is unacceptable, they do just what Murray did. Discredit us. Imply that we somehow encouraged the behavior. Suggest that maybe we liked it, and if we don't we're just too sensitive. "Hey, it was just a joke." "God, lighten up, bitch." "She has at fatal attraction crush on me and that's why she makes up lies" (Murray suggested that, too, about the superintendent, that maybe she had a little thing for Mathis).

I'm not talking about joking around here, or complimenting a friend or coworker. I've worked in newsrooms, for fuck's sake, and the easily offended and the embracers of victimhood do NOT do well there. I can unblushingly discuss my sex life and breast size with certain male friends.

But the difference between joking among people who know and like each other and creepy, uncomfortable sexual harrassment is this: The guys I joke with are seeing ME first, a woman with likes and dislikes and a whole personhood that has nothing to do with my status as a female. They're as likely to give me a hard time about my political affliations or my taste in music as they are the length of my skirt or height of my neckline -- and respect my feelings and apologize if I tell them they've crossed a line. Creepy sexual harrassers see Woman first, and it might be added "Inferior." Because to reduce us to just a place on your do-or-not-do list is fundamentally insulting. And to discredit our standing up for ourselves is just simply outrageous.

On a side note: Many people have questioned why the superindendent continued the meeting after becoming aware of Mathis's actions. Her letter informing the board of his behavior recounts her trying to block him from her line of sight.

I can tell you why, having been given The Full Mathis by not one but two random flashers back in college (yes, it's okay, you can laugh). First, there's sheer horror, just the desperate desire to have this Not Be Happening. Secondly, it's the "don't reward bad behavior" approach -- a big reaction just rewards and reinforces the behavior, and trust me, this is not a situatin you want to escalate. Also, I'm sure she was just hoping if she made it obvious she was on to him, without having to actually look at it, oops, him, he'd stop.

Finally, let's not gloss over the fact that the superintendent reports to the board, and so Mathis, as the president of the board, is her boss. That's a pretty intimidating situation, to say the least.

1 comment:

Anna said...

Ew. Appalling. I've been harassed too, never too badly, though. I know what you mean - you never want to give them the reaction they're looking for. I wonder if laughing out loud and pointing might work?