Is it possible to sexually harass someone simply by looking at them? Or, to be more specific, is it sexual harassment in the workplace if a man stares at a woman’s breasts while he’s talking to her or is that ogling just the price a woman must pay for being born into her gender?
A female “friend” of mine, who shall remain nameless, expressed a concern last night about an “old guy” at work who has the well-earned reputation of ogling breasts mainly because he ogles breasts all day long. None of the women in the office dress provocatively. It doesn’t matter if the mammary glands are bound in a sports bra or hidden behind a blazer or buried beneath a baggy sweater.
The old guy will actively leer until he finds nipples! The old guy is one of several powerful managers in a giant, nameless, colorless, conglomeration of service agencies, so my friend cannot avoid dealing with the old ogler every day. Every time he walks by her desk, he stops to say a “friendly hello” while he grabbing a drooling eyeful.
My friend shudders when he finally leaves. In the past, the old guy has been reported to superiors as a sexual harasser, but the organization’s hands are tied because leering eyes leave no paper trail and no one can serve as an appropriate enough witness to the harassment: “He’s looking at me” doesn’t translate well in sexual harassment investigations and when confronted with the more specific charge of breast-staring, the old guy blames it on his lazy eye.
The system can’t punish someone for the perceived detrimental effects of their disability on others even though everyone in the system knows the disability is being used as a cover for deceit. The old guy has been successfully prowling boobies for decades at his current job and he now has seniority and power and cannot be touched in any substantial manner because he can look without looking when he wants to and he never says an inappropriate word. The old guy is also highly religious and that is another barrel of monkeys unleashed in this circus of inappropriate behavior.
The women in the office have given in to putting up with him because he is untouchable and is supposed to “retire soon” but that rumor is now in its seventh year. One fellow female worker goes to the bitter end of dramatically crossing her arms over her giant breasts every time the old guy is within eyesight. That doesn’t stop him, though: He will still dig into the crevices of her arms with his eyes for any kind of glance to fulfill his boobage thrill. He is immune to dirty looks, cold shoulders and hateful energy.
I advised my friend to cold-shoulder the old pervert anyway and to not be so Midwestern-friendly with him when he so obviously disrespects her. She is willing to try that approach, but she also fears the subtle retribution that is certain to follow and that will make her job, and her work life, even crueler and harder. My friend is not interested in suing or making trouble or calling attention to herself. She just wants her breasts to have some peace and quiet at work.