The office sex pests

Elinor Lipman

December 10, 1991|By Elinor Lipman

CONSULTANTS will be calling your human resources department soon to set up sensitivity seminars for the men in your company.

But whom to enroll?

Despite what the seminar brochures might say, not all male employees need attend.

Save money by having the women in your company fill in the sign-up sheets. Assure them that you're doing only preliminary screening for office sex pests and are not asking them to testify; that observed behavior need only be obnoxious and annoying, not actionable.

Announce that, for once, you want to know who the jerks are; that you are ready to acknowledge what every woman on the company payroll has known for years.

Post these warning signs and pay seminar tuition for:

1. The guy who approaches women who are otherwise occupied -- writing, typing, reading, talking on the phone -- and massages their shoulders, often accompanied by the phrase, "Hey, relax!" or "You feel so tense!"

2. The guy who buzzes the extensions of female workers and says only a cocky "hi," followed by a boyish pause as if he is their high school steady calling after supper. Well-meaning men say, "Donna, this is Steve."

3. The guy who takes off his wedding ring before meetings with out-of-town reps, several of whom are women and new to the company.

4. The guy who gets nicknamed by women behind his back. The subtext is often anatomical, such as "Hands" or "The Tongue." Ask around.

5. The guy who grows suddenly solemn when female co-workers -- gracious and smiling -- approach him and his wife at the office Christmas party.

At first, the colleague wonders why the guy acts differently, coldly; she then understands that his past office demeanor was not mere friendliness. He doesn't want his wife to meet you.

6. The guy who amuses his male co-workers by blinking hard, then shaking off his speechlessness in a theatrical manner after an attractive woman leaves the room. This routine is particularly pronounced if the woman interrupts a meeting, no matter how unobtrusively.

7. The guy who winks when you walk into his office and find him on the phone. A man who is thinking of business instead of you will nod or convey in some other non-sexual fashion that he'll "be off in a sec."

8. The guy who sniffs a woman's hair at the copy machine and asks what kind of shampoo she uses.

9. The guy who fingers the knickknacks on a woman's desk while perched on it, and studies her framed photos with a smirk. He is wondering if she fools around.

10. Men who are worrying aloud about crossing this supposed new line, wondering if they'll ever be able to mentor any more babes.

Men who don't need the seminar ponder this problem for about as long as it takes them to realize they'll treat women the same as they treat men, just as they've always done. Right-thinking men have nothing to fear.

Elinor Lipman, a novelist, is author of the forthcoming "The Way Men Act."

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