Dear Annie: Recent revelations regarding sexual harassment have prompted me to examine some of my own behavior and actions as they relate to women.
I have never raped or knowingly sexually harassed any woman. I have always held women in high regard and tried to treat them with respect and decency. However, I have said some things and acted in certain ways that may have been questionable, though they have been combined with both humor and sincerity. I would like you and your readers to comment on them.
I have, on many occasions, told women in my workplace that they look attractive, most often citing their outfit. On other occasions, I have done the same with women I don’t know. But I have always prefaced my remarks with a qualifying statement, such as “I hope you won’t be offended or take this the wrong way,” and then added, “But I would like to say how lovely you look.”
Also, on other occasions, when I have discerned that they are not offended, I have added in a very clearly humorous voice, “Are you married?” If the answer is “no,” I might say, “If you are not busy this weekend, then can we elope!”
If the answer is “yes,” I might smilingly and humorously ask, “Well, do you fool around?” Usually, it provokes a laugh and smile.
Now, with the emergence of “Me Too” and all of the awakening consciousness of women -- which I wholeheartedly support -- I am wondering whether my remarks have been inappropriate or may be interpreted as a form of unwanted sexual advance. I want to do the right thing. Comments from you and/or your readers would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. -- A Woman Lover
Dear Woman Lover: Yes, these comments probably make the women you work with uncomfortable, and if they laugh, it’s probably because they’re not sure what else to do. Everyone wants to get along with her co-workers, after all; no one wants to be perceived as harsh or humorless.
Try fostering camaraderie in the office without sexual innuendo. Ask about women’s families, pets, movie recommendations, upcoming vacations, holiday plans, etc.
Though the rules are less strict outside the workplace, err on the side of caution, and don’t linger after paying a compliment as if you expect something in return.
One final word to the wise: In any context, if you preface a remark with “Don’t take this the wrong way,” it will most likely be taken the wrong way.