Harasser Flasher: Giving red light to wrong signals


November 11, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

The question, again, is what do women want. This time, I think I've found the answer.

It's a nifty (that's my nostalgia word for the day) little technological advance that will fundamentally and forever alter the relationship between men and women. Not only that, it accessorizes.

The name of the product is the Harasser Flasher. It's a small pin worn fashionably on the lapel that warns would-be harassers, especially would-be sexual harassers, they have crossed the often murky line between innocent flirtation and civil action.

This is accomplished so simply, so clearly, so obviously, that it's a wonder the Japanese didn't think of it first. On the pin are three lights -- red, yellow and green. Yes, like a traffic light. The pin wearer simply flashes on one of the colors to say with lights what is often so hard to say with words.

I'll give you an example of how this might work.

The boss (male) approaches the employee (female, not armed with Flasher). He starts making polite conversation, maybe about this new water bed he's bought that he wants someone to help him "break in." The employee responds with a look of contempt. The boss, thus encouraged, says he'd like to imagine her doing a backstroke in said water bed. The employee says, "Shut up, you disgusting, filthy pig." The boss, further encouraged, says he loves it when she talks dirty and could they have lunch (wink) together.

You see the problem. The look of contempt could easily be misconstrued as a look of interest. The "shut up, you disgusting, filthy pig" might easily be understood as an endearment. This is how we get into trouble; words can be so, well, imprecise.

But, say she had the Flasher. Once the words "water bed" are spoken, she flashes the yellow -- a warning, meaning "Slow down, or I'm getting my lawyer." If the warning is ignored and the boss continues, she hits the red button. There can't be any confusion now. Red means stop in any language, and it does so without hurting anyone's feelings or costing anyone's job. The only problem you might have is with a color-blind boss, and what are the odds?

There are a few potential problems, though, as with any new product. For some people -- and you've seen them -- a yellow light means hitting the gas to reach whatever speed necessary in order to beat the red, even if a little animal and/or school bus is pulling out onto the road. And what if the wearer goes directly from green to red, and by the time the harasser hits the brakes, there's a collision?

I've told a number of women about the invention, and each said something along the lines of: "I've got to have one immediately. I can wear it instead of my 'Men Are Scum' button."

Men seem to have a slightly less enthusiastic reaction to the product.

"They don't get it," says Sandra Weintraub, the Flasher's amateur inventor, who is a management consultant in her real life. "Men tend to say things like, 'Huh?' They usually don't see any need for it. I was showing the Flasher at this meeting the other day, and a guy, maybe 60, came up to me and said, 'Is this what the world is coming to?' I figured you could take that in a couple of different ways."

This is what the world has come to. And no wonder. If you're of a certain age, you were raised to see things differently. When I was a kid, Doris Day was always resisting the big-screen advances of Rock Hudson, who would inevitably lift her off the ground, her legs kicking in anger, until, again inevitably, the pair melted into a long, lips-only kiss. And you know the look on her face. Wasn't this what women wanted?

Sure, some men don't get it. I mean, I'm sure Judge Thomas has every Doris Day movie on tape. No wonder, given that background, he couldn't understand that Anita Hill might find a discussion of pornographic films offputting. The Flasher ends the confusion. If Hill is wearing the Flasher, Thomas never gets past the Coke can gambit.

There you have it. So simple, and yet so revolutionary. And for only $19.95, the price of a Veg-o-matic, which, though invaluable, will not change your life, only the shape of your vegetables.

The Flasher will be on the market soon. A stocking stuffer to show your loved one just how sensitive you can be? A gift for your favorite senator on the Judiciary Committee? And batteries are included.

"It's good for 100 hundred hours or a 100 insults," Weintraub says.

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