Sunday Extra: Knowing what lines not to cross is key

Sunday Extra: Knowing what lines not to cross is key

By PETER T. TOMARAS

The present revelations by "the silence breakers" illustrate the endemic abuse by men in positions of power, and rightfully dismay us. Focus on the downfall of prominent men sidesteps the broader problem of rampant sexism in the workplace that affects millions, especially women. It's high time to address this widespread mistreatment of vulnerable people.

Suddenly, our enlightened legislators think their members need training in sexual harassment? Give me a break. Can we pretend that today's adults don't understand the issue? Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 spelled it out clearly, and the EEOC enforces prohibitions against discrimination in any form including sexual harassment, defined as (condensed):

"... unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when: 1. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a...condition of... employment, or 2. submission to or rejection of such conduct ... is used as the basis for employment decisions; or 3. when such acts, comments or innuendoes of a sexual nature ... create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment."

In short, such conduct is illegal, and anyone pretending not to understand is playing dumb. Still, the reality is that men and women engage in dating/mating interplay everywhere from the workplace to social venues to the internet. Fashion and cosmetics exist to enable women to look their best: for self-satisfaction, for the eyes of other women and, yes, to attract men. If men and women didn't pursue each other, humanity would disappear.

That said, there is a line not to be crossed. The key words in the above definition are "unwelcome" and "hostile." Where men (or women) persist in words or actions that create an uncomfortable situation, they cross that line. Where they leverage status or power to force sexual compliance, they move from harassment to abuse and criminality. I don't think men — or women — need training to understand these parameters.

Women draw the line, but is there elasticity? Complexities exist. Had I not virtually stalked a teenager in Greece when I was 17, we would not today be married 62 years. Initially, my clumsy approaches were unwelcome. I persisted, but always with respect. Yes, I saw her as a target, but not as prey. That's a guideline, men: Be ye suitors, but never predators.

Why women are so devalued (it's much worse in other cultures) is puzzling and reprehensible. I believe our visual media's enthrallment with the lurid and the sexual only abets the depiction of women as sex objects. Two long-running TV series primarily portray the rape and murder of women. Television glorifies the alluring female, from red-carpet galas to the annual Victoria Secret's extravaganza.

However, this pervasive emphasis on the sensual neither justifies nor excuses the hostile mistreatment of women. Women give us all life. They deserve our respect, even reverence. Let's hope the current revelations dissuade chronic harassers from their hostile proclivities. It's high time to practice kindness and to treat all people with the courtesy and deference to which they are entitled.

Peter T. Tomaras is a Champaign-based writer and hotel consultant. His email is innkeeper88@att.net.