If only we were all sitting over coffee, after we'd read Katie Roiphe's OpEd piece, "In Favor of Dirty Jokes and Risqué Remarks" in the New York Times (Sunday November 13. 2011.)
I'd love to hear your stories, share mine.
Let's let Roiphe go first:
"In our effort to create an unhostile work environment, have we simply created an environment that is hostile in a different way? Is it preferable or more productive, is it fostering a more creative or vivid office culture, for everyone to vanish into Facebook and otherwise dabble online? Maybe it's better to live or work with colorful or inappropriate comments, with irreverence, wildness, incorrectness, ease."
She says, "The majority of women in the workplace are not tender creatures and are largely adept at dealing with all varieties of uncomfortable or hostile situations."
I've never been sexually harassed in the workplace; I know women who have experienced the range, from a lone comment to stalking. And by sexual harassment, I mean unwanted attention, usually verbal and sometimes physical.
We can't take sexuality out of the workplace. We can create and enforce policies that say certain behaviours will not be tolerated. Harassment depends on the harasser thinking no one will stop him or her.
We need to deal with the bullies and idiots who think they can intimidate someone into unwanted activity. (And even if wanted, work is not the place to make your desire known.) I've worked in organizations where a person (usually a man, once, a woman) has lost his or her job for such behaviour.
But recently I heard a man compliment a colleague on her sweater, saying, "That blue matches your eyes perfectly", then follow, sincerely and immediately with, "Oh, I hope that was not inappropriate."
I recall the hundreds of risqué jokes I've been told at work. Humour reveals what confounds and disturbs, what we love, what we hate. There are jokes so funny they crack me up two decades later and others so blatantly full of hate and meanness that I had to say, in the moment, "That's not funny to me."
Riophe assumes that, in 2011, women at work need no support in this area. I disagree. At the same time, let's be clear about what harassment is, define the line we don't want crossed and not get bent out of shape about jokes or comments that acknowledge we know about sex– and think about it fairly often, even during work hours.
RIP, Larry. Larry was an HR Vice President with whom I worked 30 years ago. His advice was, "Think first, 'Would I tell this joke to my mother'?" Apparently Larry's Mom was quite open-minded, because he told me some of the funnest racy jokes I've ever heard.
What's your story, your perspective, your take on Roiphe's thesis?