The Not-So-Innocent Butt Slap

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I used to do this thing. I would slap people on the butt and say “good game”. I did it in a joking way. I did it a lot. I know it made some people uncomfortable and I still did it. I would follow the butt slap by joking that “ Human Resources allowed one per shift before they considered it sexual harassment”.

I work in sports. I am surrounded by fun, fit, pretty people often and regularly. I take advantage of my casual, sometimes “locker room” work environment. I use it to get away with wearing athletic (soft and comfortable) clothing. I use it to gain access for my daughter and I to sporting events, clinics and athletes. I use it to flirt.

One day, I got the look. I made someone (a victim) uncomfortable and they shot me the look that told me without question that I had crossed the line and that my joke may not be funny.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. Are we still talking about that? Yes, and we need to. Twenty-five years after the Anita Hill case, sexual harassment in the workplace is more prevalent than ever.

Workplace sexual harassment is defined and monitored by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission which was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Last year, the agency received nearly 7,000 complaints of sex-based harassment, 30% of total complaints. Of those sex-based complaints, 17% of those were filed by men. Yes, men.

 

The day I got the “look” heard ’round the world, I remembered working at a pizza and video store in the 90’s. My boss was a bald guy with a huge belly who only hired young college girls, no guys, only girls. He used to cover his hand in flour and then slap us on backside leaving a ghostly “good game”. He didn’t say good game, he didn’t say anything. He just did it. He always made it seem playful and he never took it farther than that, with me anyway. But I never liked it, and I always wished that every time, was the last time. Eventually it was, I quit. I was quickly replaced and I can only assume that the cycle continued.

The cycle.  That ominous force that keeps us stuck in unhealthy patterns of engagement and awkward interactions with those we work with.

Eldridge Cleaver said that “You’re either part of the problem, or part of the solution”.

I have been both. I wonder if I perpetuated the good game slap in some backhanded feminist effort at reclaiming power?  Because while Human Resources definitions of sexual harassment may vary, at the root it is about power. It is the daily reminder of who has it and who does not. My intention was never to exert power over the people I slapped on the butt, but I do want to be considered “one of the guys” and I do want to “fit in”.

That’s the real plague of sex-based harassment in the workplace. The small boundary pushing gestures that keep you just a little bit uncomfortable. The little ways you justify your comment as a joke, or worse, you become immune to indiscretion, and even perpetuate it, like I did.

It’s time to leave the butt slapping to the real athletes and instead engage in a workplace appropriate high-five, complete with respectful eye contact.




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