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hardly working: it’s not harassment if he looks like george clooney

Last week I earned myself a certificate on fancy fake parchment to certify that I attended and completed a three-hour course in Workplace Bullying, Discrimination and Harassment. As a Gender Studies student, it was an easy course to blitz. My supervisor radiated with pride when I pulled out the big guns (“heteronormativity” got me an early minute). It got me thinking, though, as these things often do. Is three hours really enough to educate people who have never studied the ins and outs of equality in what constitutes harassment? I left thinking, well, no, it isn’t.

A guy at work and I have these really interesting conversations on our smoke breaks. He’s gay, and today he was telling me that “homophobia” isn’t a great word. It legitimises bigotry and hatred by allowing people to pretend that they suffer from a psychological condition. Phobia is, after all, an illogical fear of something. He knows where it’s at. But a lot of my other workmates weren’t so sure. When asked by the educator what constitutes sexual harassment, the general consensus was that if you haven’t been touched, you haven’t got a case. If a workmate stares at you or asks you personal questions about your sex life, you just put up with it, because that’s just a creepy workmate. And there’s no need to complain to your supervisor about somebody who catches you in the tearoom and tells you you’re looking particularly sexy today, because that’s just some people’s idea of totally normal office banter – or maybe they just want you to process their files faster.

It really went downhill when the educator brought the hypothetical Fred into the fray. Fred is a valuable employee at X Services Pty Ltd. The only problem is that he greets all his female co-workers with a kiss on the cheek at the front door every morning. There’s no way to escape him, unless you come to work late every morning. Is Fred sexually harassing his co-workers? The discussion at the table quickly descended to ‘is Fred hot?’ and ‘I’d let him kiss me on the cheek if he looked like George Clooney’. I looked to the educator, expecting her to lead us all back to the topic at hand. Instead, she told us we’d been a great group, and that we must have a great workplace because we were so relaxed with one another. Wait, what?

The course was, if I’m being honest, no more than what I expected it to be. We watched a couple of video scenarios and identified the forms of discrimination taking place in them (cue cries of ‘racial!’ ‘age!’ ‘care of dependents!’), had a round table discussion about Fred which was quickly and decisively cut off after we entered George Clooney territory, and applauded ourselves perhaps a little too appreciatively as we were handed our fake parchments. A week later, my co-workers are still joking about it, telling our supervisor they were late back from lunch because they had to avoid Fred, or asking to leave early because they’re feeling sexually discriminated against.

I had not realised things were this way. It’s a far cry from the Gender Studies classroom where, safely ensconced in the familiar glow of political correctness, it’s all too easy to forget that there’s a world out there and it’s full of people who ask me at lunchtime whether I want a banh mi from the “nip” place down the road. Where people proudly tell their Bullying, Discrimination and Harassment educator that the only (gay) man in the workplace is ‘just one of the ladies until we need him to do man stuff, like kill a spider’. Where men are from Mars, women are from Venus and god forbid anyone should ever try to switch planets. Where I would keep my mouth shut rather than telling the payments lady that she’s being racist or asking my quippy gay co-worker whether he feels belittled by his categorisation as “one of the girls”.

I hadn’t thought about it until our Workplace Discrimination course. I just figured that at work it was okay to swallow my progressive student idealism and indulge this office full of people who I genuinely like in their unintentional small-mindedness. So I guess, in that sense, the course actually achieved something. Not only do I have a certificate, I have a reference point. Next time someone makes a get-me-a-sandwich-woman joke, I’ll pull out the big guns. If I’m lucky I might even get another early minute.

By Emma Jones

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One thought on “hardly working: it’s not harassment if he looks like george clooney

  1. Pingback: hardly working: it’s not harassment if he looks like george clooney « emma marie jones

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