Corporate Sexual Harassment Training is a Hamfisted, Poorly Thought Out Necessity

Corporate Sexual Harassment Training is a Hamfisted, Poorly Thought Out Necessity

By Don Hall

As I sat through yet another awkward HR sexual harassment presentation, a few key phrases stood out:

“Harassment does not have to be intentional.”
”The victim’s perspective is inviolable.”
Both “terms of endearment” and “facial expressions of a sexual nature” are considered sexual harassment.
Anything on your phone that is seen over your shoulder can be considered sexual harassment.
“The people doing it often don’t even know they’re doing it.”
Labels —
all labels — are demeaning.
This is all a generalized policy of enforced empathy.
Much of what is said further emphasizes that HR exists to protect the Corporation rather than the Employee.

Yes, we watched another video of clueless idiots harassing each other with a dumbfounded obtuseness that defies how actual humans behave. In my time in the workforce, I think I’ve seen five of these videos and none of them are repeats which begs the question: how many fucking Sexual Harassment Training videos are in existence and can we have a mini-film festival featuring the best or worst ones?

In so many ways, the pendulum is swinging too far. I have never been one to believe that the impact of behavior is more important than the intent. The only people who truly espouse that are those seeking nothing more than the power than comes with being victimized. The very idea that intent doesn’t matter is disputed in the degrees of murder charges when someone is, well, murdered. Did you plan and execute the murder? First Degree. Did you kill someone in the heat of the moment? Second Degree. Accidentally killed someone? Manslaughter. Intent is at the very heart of these distinctions and, while sexually inappropriate behavior is grotesque and harmful, it ain’t quite on the same ball field as murder.

Terms of endearment are considered over-the-line? Are you fucking nuts, sweetheart?

I don’t even want to know what qualifies as a “facial expression of a sexual nature” but I’m pretty certain that Chris Churchill makes the same face whether he’s orgasming or dropping a deuce. “He made a sexually explicit face at me!” “Uhm…sorry, I just sharted.”

The “believe all victims” mantra is in direct conflict with the reality that all victims are also all human and humans will lie and perform their asses off for power, sympathy, retribution, money, you name it. It’s as if, in fear of the possibility of being sued by misandrists, corporations have simply agreed to a de facto sainthood of anyone claiming harm.

I dread these things. Most men do. I’m guessing most women do, too.

Heading in to this one, I caught sight of at least four different groups of dudes talking about things related to this required training but in hushed and low tones. Don’t want the women to misunderstand anything. Even the trainer, when talking about a class action lawsuit against a bunch of cooks who made a sex room in the back of kitchen (yes, this is shitty and punishable) reacted with a horror reserved for either witnessing the drawing and quartering of another human being or high school plays.

It all feels a bit performative and over-the-top. As if questioning the logic of reporting someone for complimenting your sweater or your obvious loss of baby weight is grounds for termination is suddenly verboten and subject to the same reaction you’d get if you openly admitted to enjoying jerking off to amputee porn. Moreover, it never feels so much as a call for men to be more empathetic to the many slights and diminishment’s felt by women as it does a corporate attempt to limit getting sued for allowing an employee to have pictures of Mr. Skin nudes of celebrities on his smartphone.

According to the EEOC, accusations of sexual harassment have to pass what they call the Reasonable Person Standard meaning that if a reasonable person would find it offensive or inappropriate, it is. This is so ridiculously out-of-whack given that I personally find anyone who claims actual harm from overhearing someone talk about an Instagram Bikini Model’s “luscious tits” to be completely unreasonable and so overly sensitive that they’d fold in 0.2 seconds under any sort of interrogation. I’m also certain that those who would claim their self diagnosed PTSD was triggered by my compliment on their jeans would find my insensitivity to their rice paper-thin skin to be unreasonable. Reasonable is a completely subjective thing like offense.

Something about today’s training session was different. It turns out for all my frustration with the horror show of flaws and abuses in this draconian set of measures, I had changed.

In my notes, at the end of the training, I wrote:


And that is the question. Are we as a culture better off with these changes than we were before them? Absent who wins or loses, any emotional pain felt by women or men, do these awkward new rules about our behavior in the workplace make society as a whole a better one?

The paradigm is making a shift and that’s never easy. In this new perspective no apology will ever be enough because admission of guilt is not the goal. This is a fight for power, for retribution and, ultimately, for replacement. Men are right to feel under attack because we are the obstacle to the pursuit of that power, the object of that retribution, and the very thing sought to be replaced.

At a time when our celebrity heroes are being exposed for acting like scumbags and rapists and our president has been accused by twenty-two women of a variety of forms of sexual harassment (and none of them as silly as a “term of endearment” or making a face) any reasonable person would agree that, no matter how flawed, how abused, and how unfair this new exemplar may be, it is better than the norms of the past.

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