Good for the gander -- and the goose

Ellen Snortland

July 30, 1993|By Ellen Snortland

NOT long ago, Sabino Gutierrez of Ontario, Calif., was awarded $1 million in damages by a Los Angeles jury for sexual harassment by a female executive in his company. A Minnesota boy is suing his school for failing to protect him from explicit sexual taunting from other boys. As the saying goes, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander."

But sexual harassment isn't good for anyone, regardless of gender -- goose or gander. Unless harassers are stopped and pay consequences, they miss out on meaningful and authentic human relating. I know: I've been harassee and harasser.

I grew up in Huron, S.D., home of the world's largest pheasant statue and more than its share of darling Scandinavian boys.

In second grade, I set my sights on Bobby. I adored him. I wanted him, and I was going to have him. The only reason I chased him was because he was running! If he would have stood there and let me hug and kiss him, I wouldn't have chased him, I swear.

As it was, I was forced to tackle, straddle and shower him with my affection.

Obsessed, I would literally lie in wait for him, behind bushes, in RTC the coat closet, and behind parked cars. It's a very good thing that children's hearts are strong because I could have given him a heart attack.

The boys razzed Bobby for not standing up to me forcefully. Bobby was fundamentally a nice kid, and I'm sure he suffered because his ordinarily sweet behavior was not a good enough defense against my aggressive tactics. He just wanted to be a nice, smart, cute kid, which is why I had a crush on him in the first place.

Finally, Bobby busted me with the authorities. He "told" on me. I was taken aside by Mrs. Schoolteacher, who told me, "Boys Sexual harassment starts young because children see how grown-ups relate.

don't like girls who chase them. If you want boys to like you, you must be gentle. Let the boys chase you."

Bobby, Bobby, Bobby! I lost Bobby that day and a good chunk of my self-confidence, misbegotten as it was. Not only was he "The Man That Got Away," but I was told in no uncertain terms that the rules were a lot different for boys than for girls. I also learned that sexual harassment cuts both ways and that, frequently, the only way to stop it is to "tattle."

Suffering in silence is for the birds, goose and gander.

Fortunately, I stopped being a bully that day. I realized that forcing myself on Bobby was wrong. Suddenly, I understood the Golden Rule. I didn't want a boy I didn't like to be doing to me what I was doing to Bobby.

Unfortunately, I was told that a boy forcing himself on me was not only normal, but that such behavior is expected. Young girls are essentially trained to expect harassment, and boys are trained to employ it or at least tolerate it in other boys if it doesn't happen to be their style.

Sexual harassment starts young because children see how grown-ups relate. It grows because attitudes and behavior that create and condone harassment are winked at on playgrounds. We haven't taught most of our girls to stand up to bullying, sexual or otherwise, when they're young, and we mess with their own instincts to protect themselves.

What could be more natural than defending oneself from unwanted attention? We are the only species that trains its females not to defend themselves from assault, be it physical or emotional. It's socialization that says "Boys will be boys" or "Boys chase, girls don't." And boys aren't "naturally" bullies.

It's important that we address gender discrimination and harassment in our schoolyards. If we don't teach kids respect for one another, regardless of race, religion, looks and gender, any attributes that make people different, we're going to have a heck of an expensive time sorting it all out when those kids grow up. As consumers and taxpayers, we pay for the inappropriate behavior of the few bullies who didn't learn their lessons when they were young.

As for the boys or men who are sexually harassed (rare as it is), it's important that men come forward and "tell." Bullying is bullying, whether the bully is a bull or cow, gander or goose. Sabino Gutierrez and the Minnesota lad have guts. The more people who stand up and refuse to take it, the better for all of us. Bobby protected himself, and I'm a better person for it.

Ellen Snortland writes from Lake View Terrace, Calif.

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