It's not that I'm uncomfortable in the 1990s. I am much more comfortable with this decade than with the '70s, because I didn't like bell-bottoms or high-heeled shoes on men. But there are some things about this very last part of the 20th century that I have a little trouble getting used to, such as the idea that there is little if any basic difference between the sexes.
I'm still caught in the old-fashioned belief that when a woman fights off her male boss' advances it's definitely sexual harassment, but when a man fights off his female boss' advances it's probably a crock.
In the 1955 movie "Picnic," William Holden as a swaggering drifter tells his rich buddy (Cliff Robertson) about a hitchhiking escapade in which he was picked up by two young women who demanded repeated sexual favors in a motel to "pay for the ride," then pulled a gun on him and robbed him of his entire stake of $200.
"And when I went to the cops, they wouldn't believe me!" he says indignantly. "They said it was 'wishful thinking,' can you beat that? I tell you, women today are gettin' desperate!"
Most guys would have agreed with the cops.
In the early 1950s (the Age of Unenlightenment) when I was a very young man, we could not have believed a story such as the one told recently in a Los Angeles courthouse, where a jury awarded $1 million to a man who said he fought off his female boss for years before finally going to bed with her.
We couldn't have believed it for a couple of reasons. In the Age of Unenlightenment, which had dragged on from the beginning of history until the Age of Aquarius in the late '60s, there had been far fewer female employers of male employees. Ina Rae Hutton led an all-girl dance band, for example. So the subject of female bosses putting the moves on male employees just never came up.
And the second reason such a story wouldn't sell in Olden Times is that men who got hit on by women could be divided into two groups: gentlemen, who wouldn't discuss it with anybody; and ungentlemen, who would express their ungentlemanship by getting all their buddies together and narrating a play-by-play of the entire game: "You're not gonna believe this, but. . . ."
Yesterday's sexual harassee might head for his neighborhood tavern. Today's heads for a lawyer's office.
In the Los Angeles case, the 33-year-old man accused his 39-year-old boss of harassing him by entering his office, closing the door and fondling him, kissing him, groping him. He resisted her blandishments from 1986 until 1988, when he finally gave in, he said, and had sexual intercourse with her in his home.
After two more years, he announced to her that he was engaged to be married. A few days after that, his office was demolished and he was demoted from a manager position. After he returned from his honeymoon (1991), he couldn't find his desk anywhere. So he quit. In 1992 he went on stress-related disability and sued the company he had worked for.
He and his lawyer, Gloria Allred (who is usually on the other side in the war between the sexes) called it sexual harassment. But I'm inclined to call it "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," which would put the office-trashing and desk-vanishing into the category of temper tantrums.
A jury saw the man's side. I'd say the guy was a little slow in quitting his job. Bailing out in 1988, just before he and the supervisor started getting it on, would have made a more credible story.
But I'm judging this by the old standards of the Age of Unenlightenment, not the new standards for the Age of Confusion.