Medium’s female writers spare no reserve in expressing their indignant rage about receiving unwanted sexual proposals and worse from men. I noticed a comparative vacuum of men’s stories of being recipients of unwelcome or uninvited advances. I propose doing my part to fill it.
But even as I begin, I feel myself hesitating and not for lack of examples. I feel as though I am violating a code of silence that men live under, not just in matters like these. For to do so, is to expose yourself as having been vulnerable, stupid, or naïve.
It is this exposure that many men fear worse than death. The bubble of silence and fear that men live in is filled with myriad forms of peer pressure. One of these is the pressure of assumed knowledge. As men, you are simply supposed to know certain things without having been formally taught.
You are supposed to know which models of car are 4, 6 and 8 cylinders. You were supposed to know your way around a toolbox and to use its contents to fix things. You are supposed to know how to fight and how to be intimate with women.
In sports, you are supposed to know how to throw a football and baseball or if, you are Canadian, to shoot a hockey puck. For European, African, or Latino men, I suppose that your list of assumed abilities in sport revolves around soccer. The list goes on and changes as you get older.
If you live in a culture or household where there is no transfer of inherited knowledge, you run the risk of being exposed as something less than a man. This is the psychological box that men occupy. Many men’s lives are lived in mortal terror as a result.
One of life’s cruel ironies is that we reach peak attractiveness when we are too young to understand its effects. Nor have we developed the life skills to deal with the onslaught of attention that accompanies it. Further, if you work in an occupation where your physicality is on display, you are deemed fair game.
Like most people of my generation (born 1965), the sex education I received as woefully inadequate. Looking back, it wasn’t really education at all. Instead, it was a bureaucratic exercise for the education system to say that you had received training on the jurisdiction’s module. It was akin to a corporate training where you are given a manual, a cursory quiz and deemed certified.
Not only was there little that would be of practical use later, there was virtually no discussion of the possibility that adults in positions of authority may have sexual designs on you that were not in your best interest, or worse, of harmful intent.
Further, there was no orientation or education around the notion of body sovereignty. People understood that if someone attacks you violently, you have the right to defend yourself. But this logic was never extended to teaching us to defend our person from unwanted sexual proposals or contact.
Before the sex scandals of the church were exposed, I attended an exclusively male Catholic boarding school. One of the clergymen invited three of my adolescent dorm brothers for a weekend at an offsite Catholic retreat center. It turned out at that the sleeping arrangements had my schoolmates in the same quarters as the clergyman.
Thankfully, the guys were together so that they could, as a group, fend off the clergyman’s demand that they disrobe in front if him. As the clergyman was of advanced age and posed no physical threat to overpower them, they politely rebuffed his requests.
The dorm was a tight community within the larger school campus. As most of us were from out of town, our detachment from the urban day students was pronounced. News of the weekend’s happenings with the clergyman circulated through the dorm.
The events of the trip became dorm lore and were the subject of running jokes. Afterward, whenever we greeted the dorm brothers on the trip, we told them to “get those goddamned pants off!” as commanded by the clergyman.
The clergyman died during my graduation year. In his posthumous letter to the school community, he apologized for anyone he may have hurt over the years. Several members of the religious order that ran the school were later prosecuted for sex crimes against minors.
Photo by Megan Bucknall on Unsplash
My first foray into the job market after dropping out of university was as a lifeguard and swimming instructor. One of my first shifts was at a therapeutic pool. It hosted specialized swims for participants with chronic diseases and patients in recovery from head and spinal injury. I was about to learn that working in public in a bathing suit brings out the unseemly.
I was nineteen years old and in peak athletic form with a swimmer’s body. As a new employee, I wanted to make a positive impression. I engaged with the participants and volunteers and made efforts to learn names, build rapport and understand this specialized form of recreation.
As the head and spinal injury swim was ending, a female participant in her late thirties approached me as I was putting equipment away. “How can I help you, Jaclyn?” I asked. In her stilted, head injured parlance, in front of my colleagues and members of the public, she asked me if I would have sex with her. She did so in terms that left no room for misinterpretation.
My supervisor was nearby and saw my face turn beet red. As I was new, I was caught between not wanting to alienate a member of the head and spine injured community and needing to make it clear that I was turning down her invitation. The supervisor stepped in and, with the help of a volunteer, had Jaclyn escorted to the women’s changeroom.
My supervisor came back to offer support, adding that I was not the first staff member Jaclyn had approached and that situations like these are part and parcel of working with special populations. While embarrassed, I did not feel especially aggrieved and saw the incident in a humourous light.
Another lifeguarding assignment was at an adult only facility. Again, I got to know the regulars and maintained the lane swim speeds for their intended purpose. It was in a downtown neighbourhood, and we had to be watchful that street people did not enter the changerooms to steal.
As I am oriented to the opposite sex and grew up in heteronormative small-town environment, I had little experience socializing with gay or bisexual people. I became friendly with a retired man who I joined for coffee one day. I remembered that he was married with grown children from our conversations in passing.
After some small talk, he asked if I got asked out frequently by people I met at the pool. I sheepishly replied that I had gone on a few dates. Out of the blue, the subject turned to sex, and he asked me if I had ever been with men sexually. Embarrassed, I answered that I had not as I was not so inclined. He informed me that while his wife was working or at their rural residence, he came into the city to cruise for men.
He accepted my disinterest in pursuing anything beyond coffee and conversation well enough. Then he began to tell me of his sexual adventures with men. These were educational, if lurid, and a world I had never been a part of. Yet, I didn’t find him threatening or offensive.
I have always looked older than my age for better or worse. I eventually dated among the professional women who frequented the adult pool. Most were about ten years my senior, single and professional husband hunters. Once they learned I was a university drop out surviving on lifeguarding, they saw me as convenient arm candy who was nice to have around until Mr. Right showed up.
If I were a little more calculating, I might have parlayed those situations into a Sugar Mommy scenario. Frankly, I found these women unlikable, nor did I aspire to be their Boy Toy. Their dismissive condescension toward me and my economic status left a bad taste in my mouth that would later influence my choice of spouse.
In a later land-based recreation assignment, I supervised a crew of guys who worked a youth basketball program. All were in their early twenties, very athletic and in their physical prime. Two were on a collegiate basketball team and another was a high-level coach.
While they supervised the participants in the gym, Mary, a single mom in her late thirties worked the front counter and took registrations. The basketball crew eventually left to pursue education and full-time jobs. I happened to work with one of their mutual acquaintances in a later assignment.
As my job was administrative, I worked mostly days. The youth basketball program ran at night after I had gone. Apparently, watching these young athletic guys sweat it out in the gym had a profound effect on Mary, leaving her in a sexually charged state.
Their acquaintance informed me that when the basketball crew went into the office to sign in for their shift, Mary would often touch them on the leg or plant an unsolicited kiss. No one complained. I never learned whether Mary’s overtures were their reason for leaving the job.
I have had two male friends who were bartenders. Both told me that the job is like being an actor on stage. The sense of almost spiritual authority from being behind a bar is not unlike that of a priest at a pulpit. There is considerable social obligation to make people feel welcome in the hospitality field. Living on tips requires mastering a give and take relationship.
It is probably news to no one that alcohol makes people lose their inhibitions. Even more so when there is an element of familiarity and attraction. If you are a good-looking man working around intoxicated women, you will get propositioned.
Both friends were handsome guys. Both told me it was a regular occurrence to have women toss them their keys at closing time and ask to be taken home. No, transportation was not what was on their mind.
My late memoir client was a pharmaceutical sales representative and marathon runner who kept himself in impeccable shape. His female manager was a strikingly attractive woman who had used her sexuality strategically to advance herself in her career. As a sales rep, she had landed big accounts by sleeping with the right decision makers.
She had received promotions after sleeping with key executives including the married owner and founder of their company. When she landed an assignment managing the sales force, she sexually harassed my memoir client. She was a control freak, and this was one of her tactics to rule her sales force.
When my client refused to capitulate, she set out to ruin him professionally. She tried to run him out of the company with tactics like reducing his expense account — a key tool to entertain clients and bring in business. He eventually originated a petition detailing her harassment and bullying and she was reorganized out of the company.
Men are on the receiving end of unwanted sexual propositions far more than reported. Doubly so if they work in a profession where they are on public display. Just because they aren’t screaming abuse or filing formal complaints doesn’t mean they are any less harmed by it. The codes of silence men live under simply make it less likely to ever be talked about.
Bouncer: I’ve been sexually assaulted by female patrons ‘countless’ times
This bouncer might need his own personal security detail. A teenage security guard said that he experiences…
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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