I’ve been thinking lately about equality. It seems a fairly simple concept. Everyone treat everyone the same. Then there is the Golden Rule – treat others as you would like to be treated – with its variation – do not treat others as you would not like to be treated. Basically, equality is about reciprocity – a mutual exchange of respect.
Question: Why is it so difficult for everyone to respect each other? Because you are wrong! might be the answer for some. In order to receive respect and, thus, equality, we all have to agree? Well, that ain’t gonna happen on several subjects.
Let’s go back a few steps and talk about treatment because therein lies what I believe to be the hitch. I’m a woman, so I’m going to speak from that point of view (go figure).
Fact: Women want to be treated equal to men. (Back to that in a minute.)
Fact: Women want to make the same amount of money for the same job as a man, based on similar experience.
Fact: Women want to be considered for promotion based on our capabilities, not our gender.
Fact: Single women want to receive the same financing as a single man for their house, car, boat, or whatever without all the hoops or having to ask Daddy to co-sign.
I could come up with several more facts, but I’m not attempting to write a list of demands. I’d rather talk about the first fact. Once again, a simple concept. Women want to be treated equal to men. That is not to say women want to be treated like a man. Men treat men differently than they treat women. Women treat men differently than they treat women. Women treat women differently than men treat other men. And so on and so on. You get the picture.
The next question is, do women want to be treated the same way men treat other men, or do women want to be treated as a woman as if she were a man? Ah ha. Got you scratching your head, don’t I? I do not believe it is realistically possible for a man to treat a woman the same way he treats a man because we are not the same. Don’t scratch my eyes out. Just because we aren’t the same does not mean we can’t be equals. But are we really equal?
Men can do things women can’t do, and women can do things men can’t do. In general, men are better at some things than women, and women are better at some things than men. Do men’s talents and women’s talents cancel each other out to make us equals? Sure, why not?
Okay, so now for the sake of this blog, men and women are equally qualified to go forth and treat each other differently. Ha ha! Got you again. There is thought and there is action. A man can think of you as an equal, but he is still going to treat you differently. He can’t help it. You’re a woman. Maybe he’s attracted to you. Maybe he’s not. Maybe he thinks you’re cool. Maybe he thinks you’re a drag. Maybe he knows you’re smart. Maybe he knows you’re smarter than him. Looks. Personality. Brains. These are the attributes truly separating us.
Some men consider all three attributes while some only consider one of them (I think you know which). The men who judge us on all three (I mean judge in the way we ALL judge each other) are the ones who treat us as equals – or as equally as their brains allow. Let’s not pretend that niggling difference in the sexes doesn’t impact equality. Then there are the other men who cannot see beyond the looks attribute. Let’s face it. If they don’t like what they see, they don’t care about the personality or whether she has a brain. I’m not trying to be a b*tch here. I think there are a greater number of men out there who see us as a whole and not just eye candy. They think of us as equals and even think they are treating us as equals, but they still open the door for us and pull out a chair. Men still do that, don’t they? You could call that being a polite human being, but I doubt many guys out there are pulling out a chair for their best guy friend. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve never seen it. Has anyone else?
I’ve gotten off track with all this door holding and chair pulling out, so let me get back to this spectacular treatment we are receiving from men. No, I’m not being sarcastic, but I am being facetious. Men treating women as equals, or at least with respect, do not make the news; I’m sad to say. Wouldn’t we all love to read about Joe Schmoe, that guy who never sexually harassed anyone, always treated everyone with kindness and respect, never cheated on his wife, always made equal opportunity decisions and never got caught in a compromising position of any kind?
Instead, we get salacious stories of the “other” kind of men who have this thing called power which they use on vulnerable women, men and puppies (Trying to keep levity alive). I haven’t been paying too much attention because it’s all a bit sensationalized for my taste. Lines in Hollywood get crossed all the time. (Doesn’t make it right. Just a fact.) Personally, I find the outrage pouring out of the movie industry all about timing. I was never in a position to hear anything about HW, but I find it difficult to believe ‘everyone’ didn’t already know about it. Movie executives are some of the most powerful people in the world. Some of them misuse their power in different ways – belittling crew members, masquerading as someone better than they are, disregarding rules they set down for everyone else to follow (like talking on their cell phone while two actors are in the middle of a dramatic scene or standing in an actress’s eyeline because they are the producer and, apparently, invisible unlike the rest of us) and, of course, trying to put mileage on the casting couch.
I was usually one woman among many men. I worked with a wide variety from Hollywood elites to the lowest crew member on the totem pole (I include myself in that category). The interesting thing to note is the most powerful men I came into contact with were friendly and professional; the men with the middling power often treated me like a youth, which in itself bothered me because I was a professional; and the men (or boys) with the least amount of power were the most disrespectful (on occasion). Perhaps it was their way of trying to gain power.
During my time in the biz, I put up with men coming up behind me to give me an unsolicited neck massage. Did I look like I needed one? I put up with pats on the head—not sexual but very annoying. I put up with hugs which made me a little uncomfortable, but when I saw the hugs being dished out to everyone – including men, I got over it. I was hit on, asked out and asked personal questions—all behavior we see inside and outside the industry.
As we all know, bad behavior is not restricted to the entertainment industry. I was sexually harassed in both industries in which I have worked. Depending on the situation, I complained to my immediate supervisor and moved along. I never attempted to have anyone fired, and I don’t regret my actions or inactions. To be fair the incidents were not physical (except for those mentioned above), or my reaction would have been very different.
At one company (I won’t say which or which industry), one particular man was well known among the women as being a bit of a barracuda. He was smart in that he skimmed the line but never quite crossed it with his comments. However, it was his body language that gave most of us the creeps. We all steered clear of him. His behavior was also known among the men. One man, with whom I am still very good friends, was uncomfortable with our co-worker’s behavior and kept a polite distance. I wouldn’t call the man in question a sexual predator, more a sexual fisher. I doubt any of the women at the company responded in such a way as to encourage him. At least, I hope not. I worked on one project with him, then went straight to my boss and told him I did not want to work with the man again. That was all I needed to say.
The worst of my experiences happened at a younger age, from grade school through college, where boys and men had no qualms about inappropriate touching. One particular experience laid the groundwork for how I would treat myself in the future. I stayed late after school one day to try out for the basketball team, excited because it was my first time with team sports. After the tryout, I went to my locker and found myself confronted by a group of four or five boys. They shoved me up against the lockers and groped at my body. I fought back and threw my books at them, then ran to the gym for my coach. Of course, by the time we returned, the boys were long gone. I don’t remember crying, but I do remember being freaked out by the incident. I was especially sensitive at the time because of an encounter I had had in the fourth grade with a stranger at our backdoor. I’ll never forget the look the coach gave me. He made me feel as if I were making a big deal out of nothing. Nothing was ever reported, and the matter was never pursued. I was 14. He was thirtysomething. I believe now he should have helped me report the incident to the school. Back then, I moved on; did not join the basketball team; and never again allowed myself to be caught alone in the hallways after school.
My most heartbreaking experience happened a few years later, involving one of the school’s most popular teachers. While lecturing, he pressed himself against my knee, essentially mounting it. I sat motionless, shocked and uncertain what to do. Afterward, I said and did nothing. The one thing I did do was never prop my foot on the book rack beneath my seat during another one of his lectures. Like the incident at my locker, I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.
Unfortunately, I think that’s where a lot of us still find ourselves. We don’t want to make a big deal out of nothing. But when does nothing become something? Mostly, I believe it’s defined by what you personally consider acceptable behavior. There are laws and there are rules, then there’s everything in between.
Have I digressed from the subject of equality again? Well then, let Professor Henry Higgins get us back on the right track to solving this vexing problem. Here he states in Act V of Pygmalion (or My Fair Lady, whichever you prefer):
You see, the great secret, Eliza, is not a question of good manners or bad manners, or any particular sort of manners, but having the same manner for all human souls. The question is not whether I treat you rudely, but whether you’ve ever heard me treat anyone else better.
He’s right and he’s wrong. Professor Higgins is right to treat everyone equally, but he’s wrong to treat everyone like crap. He never does learn how not to be a boor because Eliza gives in to his behavior in the end. However, her final speech to Henry’s mother tops the Professor’s because she has learned something:
… I should never have known how ladies and gentlemen really behaved, if it hadn’t been for Colonel Pickering. He always showed what he thought and felt about me as if I were something better than a common flower girl. You see, Mrs. Higgins, apart from the things one can pick up, the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated. I shall always be a common flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me like a common flower girl, and always will. But I know that I shall always be a lady to Colonel Pickering, because he always treats me like a lady, and always will.
This is a lesson we have all had to learn. So, do we want to be treated like a lady – with respect, or do we want to be treated like a flower girl – with equality? Those seem to be our only two choices at the moment. Being treated with respect does not necessarily ensure equality, but it might darn well inspire it. Luckily for us, there are a helluva lot more Colonel Pickerings out there than Professor Higginses.
I mentioned a mutual exchange of respect at the beginning of this ramble and wanted to share with you the one time I was called out for ‘inappropriate behavior’ from a male subordinate. I was a supervisor at the time and was working with this new artist at his desk, showing him the ropes and teaching him the studio’s pipeline. Apparently (I say apparently because I have no recollection of doing so at the time), I touched his arm. I am sure it was a tap to get his attention or point something out; I honestly do not know. I can assure my readers it was not a caress or long-held touch, but it was enough to freak him out. He said nothing at the moment of contact but came to my desk later after stewing about it for quite some time. He told me he did not like being touched by anyone other than his wife and did not want the incident repeated. Do I think he overreacted? At the time, yes. I did think he was overreacting, but I apologized and promised never to let it happen again. We worked together for the rest of the project with no problems. Do I think he was wrong? Absolutely not. He decided what was acceptable behavior and stood his ground. Something we all need to do.
Whether you’re a woman or a man (or a puppy) reading this, I’m sure you have similar, if not worse, stories than mine. I have more, but I’ve shared enough. I gotta get back to my book now. Thanks for reading. Carry on, and may you all have an equally super terrific and sexual harassment-free day!