Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Sexual harassment

I've had a sexual harassment claim levied against me. Well, it was always going to happen sooner or later. Hey-o! No just kidding, sexual harassment is not cool at all. But this entire case is so ridiculous I kind of can't help but make fun of it a little. Yes, I was absolutely sent a very terrifying e-mail asking me to come to the office, and then I was led to a vacant classroom and the International Office director talked to me in Japanese while the native English-speaking guy sat off to the side, ready to translate and elucidate as necessary. So it seems that one of the Chinese girls I live with has had some misgivings about some of my behaviours. I will relate them to you in the opposite order that they were explained to me, in ascending order of ridiculousness, and – I must stress this – ascending order of the severity of treatment they were given.

  1. My desktop

No need to mince words with this one. I can just show you. It looks like this:

The facts of the case. You're welcome.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing that this isn't sexual. Because I'm, you know, not a moron. This is incredibly sexual, that's for sure. Brilliantly so in fact. And I love it for it. It's raunchy and discrete at the same time. I wish I'd come up with it.

What it isn't, though, is harassment.

This is going to become more and more clear as this blog post goes on, but in my personal opinion there most definitely IS such a thing as oversensitivity. And people, in general, would benefit from exposing themselves more to things they don't like and learning to deal with them. Fuck knows I'd be happier if I did. But, lookit, in the course of very legitimate efforts against sexual harassment we've redefined harassment. Harassment, in English, has a connotation of repetition, right? And definitely, definitely willful intent. But in Japan, we're at a point here where, it was explained to me, if somebody passively sees you doing literally anything that they don't like, they can charge you with sexual harassment. That's a bit much. And it's even worse that my home culture has an attitude of “don't want to see, don't look.”

Anyway, it's not a big fucking deal. She has problems with my background. I changed the background. Whatever.

  1. Body touch

I do this, definitely. I touch people's elbow to get their attention. Put a hand on their shoulder for emphasis. Clap them on the back as I walk by, you know, for camaraderie. That kind of thing. In Canada, when I'm talking to somebody and President walks up, I'll hug her sideways just to acknowledge her but I'll get to you in a sec because I'm a little busy. In fact if I'm in a mood for it we'll hug hello and goodbye too. It's completely meaningless in my culture. In fact it's completely meaningless in general. The only thing I do with anybody I don't know well is the elbow thing. The elbow is the least sexual part of the human body, I'm pretty sure. The feet? No, foot fetish is very common. The asshole? No, anal is a thing. See?

This is neither harassment nor sexual. But again, I can absolutely see how this would offend somebody. So that's completely fine. Want me to stop, I'll stop. That's an easy fix.

She also said that at some point I “pretended to move to kiss her,” but I flatly denied that, because it's just not true. I would never do that. I may not always respect the lines that society has set but I have my own, and I would never do something like that because I have too much respect for women. Besides, why the fuck would I want to kiss someone who didn't want to be kissed? I mean what the fuck is the fun in that?

  1. Too many high fives

I'm completely serious.

This, out of everything we discussed, was the issue that was given the most gravity. The other stuff was fine but not THAT big of a deal. Here we are cutting to the heart of the matter. This was by far the most offensive and inappropriate thing I have been doing. I dole out high fives like water at a track meet, and simply sitting and watching this has been causing this girl incredible consternation.

It “makes Chinese girls uncomfortable,” apparently. I...well I mean, what the hell? I guess I can believe that. Cultural differences and shit? Ok. No, wait a second, what the fuck? No. That's cultural relativism. That's what Soymilk said, and that's a good point. He then made an even better one, which is that these completely ridiculous accusations could cause me problems down the line. He recommends that I counter-sue, basically, maybe for spreading false rumours around the dormitory or something, just to cover my own ass. I'm considering it. Because this could REALLY burn me, and seriously, high fucking fives?

I'll take more care going forward, obviously. But to be honest, I'm not really sure how I feel about this. I'd like to say that I'm a good person and so I feel bad, but...I don't. Because as far as I'm concerned, I kind of haven't done anything wrong. I'm not angry, though. I'm not going to plot my revenge, although God knows I could. I wouldn't even have to do much, actually. People would react way worse to her calling me out than to anything she's called me out for. But I'm not vindictive. I've obviously genuinely offended her – I know she's not just fucking with me because she went to the International Office instead of the ethics board, which would have gotten me in way more trouble, obviously. That's a show of good faith that I'm happy to reciprocate.

It's difficult not to feel like I've been attacked, that my character has been called into question, but I'm a big boy, I'll get over it. Weird, and a little distressing, that she didn't come directly to me first, but apparently she said she wasn't sure how to approach me. I've never considered myself unapproachable, unless you're wasting my time with stupid bullshit, but I can be intimidating. The director brought with her some of the appropriate literature, but had enough respect for me not to make me suffer the indignity of having to take it with me, so major points there.

As for the solution, all right. No more high fives. That's a sad declaration, but if that's what it takes, I'll deal with it. Problem solved? Also I really just want to reiterate that high fives are now sexual harassment.

Basically I guess there's two lessons to be learned from this. For one: Cultural differences, man. They take time to learn, and it's very easy to walk straight into quagmires you didn't even know were a thing. Seriously, I had no idea there was any problem at all until this. And the other lesson is, be careful what the fuck you do, because even something completely innocent can be misrepresented as sexual harassment. That sounds like a bitter snipe, but it's not, I'm dead serious – watch yourself!

What's really unbelievable is, I exhibit a ton of behaviours each day that could legitimately considered sexual harassment, but nobody mentioned any of those.


  1. What is this i don't even

    The first two things I was riding along, getting both sides, thinking they were probably not really issues but that you were being solid and respectful by bowing to their wishes and being willing to change for the comfort of others (I especially get that some people are verrrry anxious about touch, even elbows I guess)...

    But high fives? High fives?! That most innocuous of things? Someone is trying to find reasons to be mad, or to meet the rule of threes. Maybe she legitimately didn't like the other things, but felt she needed something else to round it out to make it more serious, and more of a pattern? I don't know.

    When I taught kindergarten, I specifically taught my kids high fives so that they would stop hugging me all the time to specifically avoid this problem.

    1. Thanks. I was actually a little worried about throwing this up, thinking that maybe I'd missed something and was unknowingly making myself look like an asshole. So it's reassuring to hear that I seem to be taking the correct approach.

      As it was explained to me, the problem with high fives, or "high touch" as they're called in Japanese, is the "touch" part of it. It seems strange no matter how I look at it, and I keep thinking that if I had a different persona or if I were a girl or if Christmas came on Easter then it wouldn't even have been brought up, but I'm not inside her head.

      Ha! I actually remembered that story while I was writing this post. Although I guess if I were doling out hugs instead of high fives, I really would be in trouble.