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 A Hostile Work Environment For Males: An Everyday Example

A couple of my female colleagues at work have a nasty habit of making gratuitous snide comments about men. Matters between these women and myself came to a head one day when their words became downright vicious -- and were directed at me. One of them noticed from the sound of my voice that I was suffering from the last remnants of a cold. Chipperly she asked, "Peter, did you go see a doctor?"

But before I could open my mouth to respond, the woman declared, "My Danny won't go to the doctor!" Then, turning to the other woman, she shook her head and haughtily exclaimed, "Men are so stupid!"

This other woman smugly intoned, "All men are stupid."

Actually, I had been to a doctor -- even taking the trouble to make it an "alternative" practitioner who had administered an intravenous vitamin C drip. But these women seemed to subscribe to the notion that females hold a monopoly on nurturing behavior and that a male doesn't possess the capacity even to nurture himself -- so what was the point of even waiting for my answer? Indeed, for practical purposes, the question had been a waste of time. In their superior position as my moral and spiritual betters, they already possessed Complete, Infallible Understanding Of Males. So the appropriate thing to do, they had decided -- just to remind me how inherently inferior I am to members of The Sex Of Goodness and Loving-kindness -- was to give me a couple of swift punches, metaphorically-speaking, in the solar plexus.

I've been in NCFM for ten years now, and the camaraderie and support I've enjoyed with some wonderful fellow members -- men and women with whom it's been terrific to join in introspection, study, and discussion of gender issues -- has helped me develop courage with which to confront female chauvinism in the world around me. Thank God, to some degree I have now dismantled the programming which society implanted in my mind always to be chivalrous and always to defer to the emotional caprices of females, no matter how mean-spirited or how much my own dignity is impugned. So, feeling stung, I stood up to these women now, pointing out that not only did their words constitute unprovoked gender-based aggression, but they spoke in violation of our employer's formal "Policy Against Discrimination and Harassment."

The women responded with a stunned moment of silence. Could it really be that this other person -- a man, for heaven's sake! -- had the audacity to challenge their position of Supreme Authority in the realm of male/female relationships? Quickly, however, they recovered their footing in the encounter and laughed at me sardonically, trying to trivialize my complaint and to manipulate me out of feeling the way I did: what was I, some kind of a wimp to feel hurt by their treatment of me? On some level, their demeanor suggested that they knew they were in the wrong -- but they would die before admitting it. So instead of being honest with me and apologizing, they sought to excuse their insolence and to belittle my reaction to it. Ironically, however, even as they scrambled to save face -- and notwithstanding the dangerous possibility that I might now file a complaint against them -- they apparently found it irresistible to subtly shame me even further in the process, cloaking their artful denigration of my human integrity in the cunning guise of humor. Essentially, their attitude boiled down to that of narcissistic bullies: they had been having a good time at my expense, and what the hell was wrong with me that I resented it?

The encounter ended in an impasse. Of course, I could have filed a formal harassment complaint, but there were no witnesses to the conversation, and considering the highhanded sanctimony with which these women conduct themselves, I wouldn't have held them above lying to management and denying that they'd said anything untoward to me at all. In fact, one instance of "he said" contradicted by two instances of "she said" even held out the prospect of a formal complaint getting me into trouble. Besides, if at all possible, I prefer to handle life's everyday conflicts in my own way, unbeholden to an outside authority.

So what did I do about the situation?

I let it go. But since this encounter I've also made a point of speaking to these women only when spoken to, and I keep our conversations as brief as possible. I'm far from perfect, but I'm a decent pal to have at the office, and I figure it's ultimately these women's loss. Sadly, when women become addicted to the sadistic enjoyment of inflicting psychic pain upon men, there's just no stopping them -- just as there's no stopping an alcoholic from drinking himself into oblivion and then crashing his car into a streetlight. Moreover, just as the alcoholic will claim total innocence -- it was the streetlight that got in his way, dammitall! -- women who are compulsively driven to hurt men will adamantly insist that, regardless of the circumstances, any resultant unpleasantness is completely the man's fault. As with an alcoholic, the only thing to do with such women is to try to stay out of their way. I do so, leaving them to ponder the inexplicable mystery of why some women seem happy in their relationships with the men in their lives -- guys who treat them with kindness and compassion -- while, in these women's lives, most men don't even want to stick around.

Peter Allemano
New York, New York

May 2003

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