Sunday, February 2, 2014


just the sky over our garden. nothing to do with the story

At a dinner party last night, a gathering which was full of great conversation, much laughter and song, a friend seated next to me turned and whispered in my ear, during dessert.  Evidently someone had made an off color remark to our hostess. I couldn't quite hear what she whispered, didn't know what was at stake.

"What? Whose nipples?" I asked.

"Shhh," my friend responded. She then repeated her words, sotto voce, meanwhile trying to wave down the look of surprise on my face. "shh, Amanda, shhhh...." she said.

"What do you mean? Who said that?"

"Amanda, stop repeating every word I say!"

An hour or so later, when half the guests had left, we found ourselves in the living room - Ben and me, our hostess and her husband as well as two other couples, including the friend who had recounted the offending nipple anecdote.  Together we mulled over the off color remark, heard the whole unpleasant story from start to finish, and concurred it had been in very bad taste.

Then I brought up Tootsie, that 1980's film where Dustin Hoffman plays an out of work actor who dresses up as a woman in order to get a TV part.  Disguised as a woman, he realizes how much sexual harassment women routinely put up with from their bosses - and as a result becomes a role model for women in the workforce. I maintained there was a cut off point in terms of attitude to sexual harassment - Pre-Tootsie and Post-Tootsie.

"And in post-Tootsie days people aren't sexually harassed?" Ben asked.

Everyone laughed. But that wasn't it, I said.  It had to do with how women reacted to off-color remarks and innuendo. If you were Pre-Tootsie, I argued, on a certain level you tolerated such behavior - but might also have had a rejoinder up your sleeve to put the offender in his place without making too many waves.  As a survival tactic, your best option was to keep things running smoothly - to discourage the offender while at the same time moving forward with your own objectives.  I, for one, as a younger woman, had dismissed many such remarks.  I wouldn't have even considered passing them along to other people.

But Post-Tootsie women are much more self assured. Confident that public opinion is on their side when it comes to rude sexual comments, they take the offending men to task and hold them accountable. And with time, men who might be prone to such comments, gradually catch on. They don't harass so freely - and women become more shocked when they do.  But they also don't have practice defusing  these off color comments.

You have to understand that our conversation took place after we'd been plowing through the vino, so that a lot of it was rather flippant and probably not entirely thought through.  Nevertheless although my friends laughed at my theory, I think I have a point worth considering.

 I grew up in an era where you pretty much learned to put up with sexist remarks. I dealt with one boss who asked repeatedly about my sex life, and another who said he wanted to spank me and one time thrust his tongue down my throat.  I never considered reporting these men to Human Resources. Shame on me.  Instead, my instinct was to pass the incidents off as best I could - and to do some serious back peddling, in an attempt to tread the thin line between not insulting the offender's pride and discouraging future advances.  It was quite a trick which many of my generation had to learn, but we paid a price whichever way we turned.

Another woman at last night's party who was maybe ten years older than me, couldn't imagine what the problem was.  In my day she said, people often said this kind of thing. It was either accepted or rejected.  Nobody made a fuss - they might even have been flattered!

But last night, I also told a different story to illustrate the Pre to Post-Tootsie shift.  I guess I was still a bit Pre-Tootsie while my then boyfriend Ben, who is now my husband was Post-Tootsie.  Anyway, we were in our twenties and at a party, and at one point I went to the toilet.  After I peed, I had the strange feeling that I wasn't alone in the bathroom.  I flushed, crossed the room and drew the shower curtain, only to find two young men crouching in the bathtub.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

They looked a little sheepish.

"Jeez," I said  in my pre-Tootsie manner. Oh, I probably said something else too, along the lines of get a life, but basically I left, letting them off scot free.

But on the drive back home to my apartment, with other friends in the car, I mentioned what had happened. Aha... I mentioned it - so I must have be trending towards the Post-Tootsie direction.

"WHAT?" cried my then boyfriend Ben.  He was absolutely outraged.

"Oh, please don't make a big deal about it," I pleaded. Nevertheless, he turned the car around and drove us back to the party.

"OK, who was it," he wanted to know.

I pointed out the guys.  They were drinking beers or smoking weed or something of the sort, deep in the mix of the party.  Then one of them made things easy for us. "Hey!" he cried. "I just saw you pee!"

And boy, did Ben let him have it.

I remember the altercation well. "Hey man. No offense," said this guy.

"What do you mean by no offense..." cried Ben.  "It's nothing but offense!"

I loved that line.  I still love that line, thirty years later.  I guess you could say it was a turning point for me and Ben. And as you see, reader, I married him. 

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