Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jon Stewart, Sexual Harassment, and Double Standards

Here's the video of the latest Daily Show with Jon Stewart talking about Missouri defensive lineman and SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam coming out about being gay:



Most of the bit is good and funny, but one part irked me, the part about New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma saying in an interview that he would be uncomfortable being naked in the shower or locker room with an openly gay player.

Stewart goes on to mock Vilma for finding himself irresistibly attractive to gay men. But that's not the point, and Stewart is way off the mark here for mocking him. Vilma may be a homophobe. I have no idea, but he does have a legitimate complaint.

I worked in corporate training for several years, during which I worked with and developed a lot of sexual harassment training. The central tenet, beat into your skull over and over, is that harassment is about the perception of those being harassed. That means if the conditions of the workplace make an employee feel uncomfortable due to the sexual nature of those conditions, the employer has an obligation to investigate and attempt to remedy those conditions.

Nobody would argue for a millisecond that a workplace should require men and women to share a common shower and locker room, or that a female employee would be unreasonable for saying she felt uncomfortable undressing in front of a male co-worker. Would Stewart mock her similarly? "Hey, what is it with all these women they think they're god's gift to heterosexual men? Hey, I'm sure every guy wants to bang my brains out, because face it: I'm hot."

Yeah, that would go over well. The intent or sexual identity of the other party is irrelevant. What is relevant is the state of mind of the employee who is feeling exploited or exposed in some way. Either that's a legitimate complaint for a male employee to lodge about gay male co-workers, or employers get to force men and women into the same bathrooms and showers and nobody gets to complain.

You could argue that similar objections could be raised about race, that a co-worker could complain they didn't want to share space with a co-worker of a race that made them feel uncomfortable. But that argument breaks down pretty fast. One, it has nothing to do with sexuality, and the complaint here is specifically dealing with situations where the complaining employee is naked, not just some general dislike of the other party.

Vilma is being perfectly open and reasonable (at least from what they showed) in saying he would feel uncomfortable in that particular situation. To say otherwise is to admit to a double-standard, and a particularly noxious one at that.

1 comment:

Philip said...

I agree. The players are mostly saying no more than "as long as he helps us win, that's all that matters", but Vilma's the first I've seen being honest about what are bound to be some challenges in locker room culture.