Friday, May 12, 2006

When is sexual harassment not sexual harassment?

This actually started out as a joke today, but has now triggered off a whole train of thought. As a woman in Paris you get used to being looked at; or rather I am getting used to it. I never used to pay any attention to it, but last summer there was one certain road that I would stumble down home and I swear every time I did some guy would start talking to me, or whistle at me. One man caught me in a particularly bad mood and after he announced that he would like to talk to me several times I turned round with the equivalent of a roar and told him that I-did-not want-to-talk-to-him. He sheepishly disappeared from sight. I’m beginning to think that to not get attention in Paris you would have to have a beard and half your face hanging off.

But where am I going with this? Well let’s focus on three particular cases. The harmless one to begin with: the Cheese Man who minces around his Fromagerie and the last time I frequented his premises told me that he was like Beaufort cheese: ‘Beau et fort’. It may sound rather cruel but I disagree with the first and strongly doubt the second. Nevertheless, I am having a delightful love affair with French cheese and unlike the other Fromagerie across the road, when I ask for suggestions I know that I’ll get a little pre-nibble just to wet the appetite. So this is an attention that I use to my advantage and therefore is harmless.

The second is the irritating kind. The kind where you know the man in question has a wee bit of a crush on you and seems to turn up at your side just when you don’t want him to. E mail exchanges have to be carefully thought out not to appear forward, and when we go out in a group I have to carefully consider the seating plan not to sit next to him. But somehow he always manages to sidle into a seat next to me the moment someone leaves. Irritating, but I know that it won’t go any further because I think I’m sending out enough ‘Keep away from me’ signals.

Then there is the last surprising kind. Yesterday as I arrived for a meeting, the surprising one came over and said hello and stroked my hair and we chatted and laughed and I thought nothing of it until my colleagues began taking the piss. “Ooh you’ve got an admirer.” In my usual dense manner I displayed confusion. I had been looking forward to the apparent appearance of the pompiers at this meeting, but they had stood us up, so who? This was a very female environment, who was my admirer? “How are you? Stroke, stroke.” They re-enacted my entrance into the building. My face froze – Celine? They meant Celine! And then my mind worked furiously over the last few months. The way Celine ignores everyone else when I am around. She’s always polite to me, but everyone else thinks she is the most dog ignorant person on earth. When I ask her to do things for me they get done. Shit! How long has this been going on? And if she feels she can stroke my hair in front of others now, what else will she do? Is this a case of sexual harassment in the workplace, or am I getting unduly het up?
My colleagues find it hysterical. One of them is even planning a campaign of misinformation having decided that the reason Celine always ignores her is because she works closely with me.

Well who knows how this will end. In tears I’m sure, but meanwhile I’ll go nibble on a bit of cheese.

1 comment:

Estrella said...

ohmyland, Celine!

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