I've been ruminating over many ideas, but there's one that seems stuck in my head over the last several weeks. I have talked in the past about the harsh comments and dare I say abuse, that many in the retail and customer service related fields receive daily. What I've become more keenly attuned to since I've changed professions, and now have an office, is the heightened level of sexual innuendo and outright inappropriate forwardness that many men, and in particular older white American/European men exhibit.
I'm not talking about casual flirtation, or even comments about my firm handshake - those more often seem to come from men around my age or younger. And I certainly have no problem with being told that I look nice or my hair looks pretty. Those statements always seem weird though, like would they say that to a man they're working with ... "Thanks, for getting those tires rotated so quickly, Bob, and I love what you're doing with your hair."
No, the closed office door seems to bring out the crazy comments from the older men. I've been asked if I was married and then told that if they were just 20, 30, 40 years younger they would give my husband a run for his money. There are several assumptions wrapped up in that concept that I don't have the energy to address, but I will tell you that the comments come from single and married men. I've had men get up from their seats across from my desk and either sit on the desk to my right or come stand behind me and lean on my shoulder. That's led to either me quickly standing up or a "coughing fit" and excusing myself.
There is a part of me that would very much love to tell these guys off and kick them the hell out of my office and my store, followed by calling their wives - but we get customer service surveys like everybody else in the world now. It's my word against theirs, and if I want to hope for a smooth interaction, I have to find ways to make it seem like they're joking with me. I say this knowing full well that I'm in charge and have been in various work places for a long time, which gives me certain latitudes that others don't have. I've also had the luxury of having female bosses for most of the last 15 years, so I haven't had to worry about sexual harassment from the top down.
My most recent example is more over the top than most. A well known client in his mid 70's came in to add his son to his account. He's always pleasant, but often very flirtatious and will do so in front of his long term girlfriend. The last time they were in together, he said something outrageous, along the lines of clearing off my desk (i.e. implying in order to have room for sex on said desk), which caused me to gasp and look at her. She laughed, said he was harmless, and that if she thought otherwise, she'd set him straight. Somehow this was supposed to excuse his comment. When he came with his son, I thought he'd be more reserved, but alas, this seemed to free him more. He called me his girl, his sweetie, etc, to which his son said, "great, another person I have to send a Christmas present to this year." I had to leave the room at one point to get some paperwork, and I said I'd be right back. He said before he departed he wanted a kiss goodbye, but "this time, use less tongue." He called that part out with my door open for all the world to hear.
I've never had a younger man talk to me in such a disrespectful manner behind closed doors. I've had my intelligence and leadership skills questioned, but that knows no age or sexual identity boundaries. I've also had people beg me for help, cry, laugh and invite me to listen to the most amazing stories about their lives. It's those stories that do more for me than a 70 year old man's sweaty ass on my desk.