DARE TO ASK: Workplace talk doesn't sound sweet
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
The male managers at my summer job referred to me and other girls working
there as "sweetheart," "honey," "sugar," "baby," etc. This escalated to some of
them leering, groping and making sexual comments. I quit because it got too
crazy, and I'm too shy to mention it to them. Are most men who call a woman
"baby" or "honey" hoping to escalate these seemingly tender remarks to sexual
behavior? Or do some genuinely feel "fatherly" toward a young woman?
Annika, 18, Tucson, Ariz.
When men use these terms to address women of any age it is demeaning. They're
trying to be cute and superior. When I was a child 70 years ago, a waiter called
my mom "honey" and she said, "I'm not your honey." This obviously has been a
bone of contention for many years.
Clifford, 76, Jacksonville
These creeps' behavior is not professional, moral or legal, and not the way a
true mentor behaves. They targeted you and the other summer students because
they figured (correctly it seems) that you would be too shy or unsure of
yourselves, or afraid of being fired, to say or do anything about it. Prove
those scum bags wrong. Start with the EEOC, tell them what happened, and go from
Ann, 38, Missouri
As long as you and women like yourself are "too shy" to stand up for
yourselves, acts like these will continue to happen.
R.O., 43, female, New York
Groping, leering, grabbing - no.
"Honey," "baby," "sugar" - no.
"It is a very nice day" - yes.
"I once had a hamster named Luther and there is an impending lunar eclipse
that will harm my garage next Wednesday" - odd, but yes.
What's important to remember here is that even if words or actions aren't
pervasive or severe enough to reach "illegal" status, they may not be OK at
work, says Susan Strauss of Minnesota, a harassment consultant for more than 20
"It really falls to the organization to prevent these types of behaviors in
the first place so that things making people uncomfortable don't rise to more
serious levels later," she said.
The men in question probably weren't trying to be mentorly (we guessed that,
too), but weren't likely seeking serious "action," either, Strauss said.
"I'd say this was not meant as flirting, which is generally done in a more
respectful way. And you wouldn't leer. Also, with flirting or putting out
feelers, if you don't get a response, you stop. These men didn't stop."
So, in her opinion - and context is everything - the "honeys" and "babies" in
this case were thrown around as part of a power move, to try to keep the young
girls in their place or relegate them to a lower status.
The best action: Get the company involved if you're squeamish about a
"And we're finding that more complaints in the courts are coming from teen
workers," Strauss said. "They are finally realizing they have a voice."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information. For Dare to Ask podcasts, go to
Jacksonville.com keyword: milano.