I had two odd transactions with customers at work today. The first was with an older woman who although she doesn't come in that often is known to be a challenge. She's the sort of human that really doesn't think any of us are capable of doing our jobs correctly. I was helping her with a rather menial task, no big whoop, and we were exchanging small talk. Our entire encounter lasted less than five minutes, and during that time she insulted all my people as being too new to know how to do their jobs well (2 of the 3 working today have more than 20 years apiece with the company and the other one has 10 years), told me that one of the former male managers was so intelligent and so beautiful that she would frequently feel a need to tell him, and finally, she said that it was interesting how a young woman such as myself would have such an important job as manager at such a young age. Because clearly I've used my extreme sexual prowess to work myself all the way into middle management in a slowly dying seaside community. Nothing says success like feeling your brain atrophy while you order checks for octogenarians.
The second odd transaction took place with an older man who also needed to order checks, because nobody can figure out how to do this through their computers apparently. I was touching base with my assistant manager in her office when he strolled in and asked for help. I told him we'd be happy to assist and was preparing to leave her to it, when he said he wanted to ask us a question, as well. Honest to God, this is as close to word for word as I can recall:
Client: He's my question. Let's pretend that the three of us work in an insurance company together.
Me: I'm sorry. What did you say?
C: So we're all working in an insurance company together.
M: Ok ...
C: I'm the boss and you ladies are the secretaries. Every day I come in and say please and thank you and we get along just fine. And one day, I call you a little girl when I'm talking to you. You don't like it and complain, and then I get fired. I mean, how is that fair.
M: Wow ... ok. (My assistant and I look at each other.) In my experience, there's usually more to the story. One "little girl" isn't going to get anyone fired.
C: Well how is that sexual harassment? He didn't even touch her.
(Clearly, we have moved from the hypothetical at this point.)
Assistant: Sexual harassment isn't just about touching someone. It's often about how you make someone feel.
C: That's ridiculous! Come on. If you're not touching anyone, you're not harassing them. A man should lose his job over that? If you called me a young boy, I'd be happy.
M: I'm sure there's more to the story. Companies have to be super careful to not fire someone without just cause. They'd investigate, bring people in to interview the employees, really cover themselves before anyone would get fired.
A: I have to agree. That's my experience as well.
C: (throwing his hands in the air) I don't know what I expected talking to the two of you! Of course you're going to think he should be fired.
M: I didn't say anyone should get fired. You asked our opinion, and I think there's more to the story.
I then excused myself to answer the phone in my office. When I got off, he was still belaboring the point with her. I heard her say, this is a different time now, sir. You can't say whatever you want to people without thinking about it first.
I know that I don't need to tell any of you reading this that there is a world of difference between calling a grown woman a "little girl" and telling an old man that he's "young." The first is a demeaning phrase used to talk down to someone and remind her to stay in her place, akin to calling a black man "boy." It's also incredibly demeaning to suggest that the surest way to advance on that old job hierarchy is to screw your way to the top. Unfortunately, some women far too easily buy into the bullshit they've been fed, too. Age doesn't excuse harassment or make behavior acceptable.