The Toxic Workplace and the Entitled Male. Getting Personal with the Personnel is Not OK

Vintage cartoon Penthouse office sexual harrasment

There was a time when sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace were laughed off, dismissed as good-natured fun. “Boys will be boys,” said with a shrug of the shoulders. “It’s just who they are,” whispered in ladies’ rooms with a roll of the eye.

The very same excuses a defiant, delusional, and self-described misunderstood Andrew Cuomo offered up in 2021 after being accused of sexually harassing multiple female employees.

It doesn’t fly. Not anymore.

That kind of excuse is the worst kind of throwback to the Mad Men era when misogyny in the workplace elicited a chuckle as business as usual.

If this was 1971 before consciousness was raised the Governor’s actions would have been considered obnoxious but expected. But along with an evolving consciousness and awareness, there are now state and federal laws in place to protect women in the workplace.

The laws have evolved, even if he hasn’t.

To be a woman working for Mr. Cuomo, New York’s District Attorney’s report suggested, was to live “the dichotomy between fear and flirtation.”

Sounds like an episode of Mad Men. Without the cool wardrobe.

Vintage Cartoon Womens Lib Sexist

And his inner circle allowed this conduct to continue- “It’s Andrew being Andrew” they lamely explained. Just another powerful man misunderstood. There is no accountability for his behavior. But he allegedly knows better. He understands power plays. A liberal democrat, he is supposed to be sensitive to issues affecting women.

But he is also a sanctimonious bully who is stuck in time, no different than the other powerful and dangerous dinosaurs we have seen lumbering around.

Who can forget Harvey Weinstein’s trying to absolve himself from his bad behavior:

“I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s when all the rules about behavior and workplace were different. That was the culture then.”

Me too!

I also came of age in that same culture of the 1960s and 70’s that Harvey Weinstein referenced in his poor excuse for decades of sexual abuse. In the same time period, a 63-year-old Andrew Cuomo came of age in too.  The difference was I was on the receiving end of all those rules that supported a toxic culture of male entitlement.

 

Vintage cartoon Playboy Magazine August 1971

These vintage cartoons from men’s magazines reinforced and encouraged the culture of male entitlement. Vintage cartoon Playboy Magazine August 1971 by Herb Green

It was the culture of the times…as Weinstein offered. At that time, sexism and sexual harassment at the office were sometimes invisible because it was so darn normal, the leering eyes, suggestive remarks, and creepiness of male workers made sexual harassment a near-daily ordeal faced by women in the workplace with no real recourse.

Vintage cartoon Playboy Magazine April 1966

Vintage cartoon Playboy Magazine April 1966

The sound of women, cross-cultural and cross-generational exclaiming in unison “Me Too” on social media in response to the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, and now Andrew Cuomo has been deafening.

The voices may be especially loud from women of my generation many of who may have kept these feelings buried for decades and can now give voice to their indignation they were never allowed to express.

For too long we choked on our outrage burying it deep like an underground missile laying dormant until this year’s news cycle filled with stories of sexual harassment against once-powerful men have been brought down by harassment allegations, the anger and outrage can be released, recognized, and heard.

Working Girl

Vintage cartoon Playboy Magazine 1978

Vintage cartoon Playboy Magazine 1978

 

The 1970s was an exciting time to come of age as a woman, as the rumblings of the women’s movement began to be heard. But even as women began entering the workforce in droves, taking baby steps in their platform shoes, their male colleagues still felt entitled to leer lasciviously under their polyester skirts as they slowly climbed the corporate ladder.

In 1976  I entered the workforce just at “that time,” landing briefly in a corporate office environment in New York City.

From the morning cacophony of catcalls on the streets as I made my way to my midtown office, fielding verbal harassment with the skill of an outfielder, and the day spent maneuvering around sexual innuendos and inappropriate touching at the office, to the day’s end of groping and unsolicited sexual behavior at the clubs at night, it was a pot pourrie of 24/7 sexual harassment.

But it was so common it barely registered. It was the female experience. There were no repercussions, the worst a man could expect to be called was to be labeled a “Male Chauvinist Pig”  and move on. More than likely he might even laugh.

And why not, the culture was complicit with his behavior.

In fact, it was the stuff of great humor.

The world of businessmen objectifying and infantilizing women in the workplace and elsewhere, lascivious philandering, and wild office parties was fodder for comics and cartoonists alike.

Misogyny was easily laughed off as office antics.

We’re not laughing anymore.

When Personnel Get Personal – Office Antics

Vintage cartoon Penthouse Magazine 1976

Take a look at series of cartoons by cartoonist Mischa Richter from a January 1976 Penthouse magazine that are typical of its day. Entitled “Office Bash”  it’s a look at what happens when personnel get personal.

Not a one of these cartoons would pass HR today.

 

Vintage Cartoon Penthouse Magazine January 1976

Vintage Cartoon Penthouse Magazine January 1976

 

 

Vintage Cartoon Penthouse Magazine January 1976

Vintage Cartoon Penthouse Magazine January 1976

 

Vintage Cartoon Penthouse Magazine January 1976

Vintage Cartoon Penthouse Magazine January 1976

 

Vintage Cartoon Penthouse Magazine January 1976

Vintage Cartoon Penthouse Magazine January 1976

Vintage Cartoon Penthouse Magazine January 1976

Vintage Cartoon Penthouse Magazine January 1976

That was the culture of the 1970’s. It really wasn’t acceptable then, it’s unforgivable now.

 

Copyright (©) 2021 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved

 

7 comments

  1. Sally, thanks for sharing this. It has never been acceptable, but the power of male bosses to coerce is wielded much too frequently.

    Having consulted with a number or retail clients, retailers are rife with employment litigation risk. Why? A history of predominantly male store managers in fiefdoms in small towns around the country created the context for harassment. Being a large employer, often only one of a few choices in town, the manager in charge of the schedule has power over working women, especially with children. These women (even if married) are coerced into sexual favors to garner a good schedule of hours.

    For those who do not believe this, I had a client that when you called the employee information line had on its phone tree “hit one if you want to report a harassment claim.” It was the first item in the selection. Weinstein, Cosby, Trump, etc. get the headlines, but what I describe above is all too frequent in everyday life for women.

    Keith

    Like

    • That is an excellent and important point you bring up. Sexual harassment is rampant in small businesses and very often the women in need of the employment are helpless to take meaningful action.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks Sally. Just to be clear, these were local stores of large, name-brand employers. Just the past year, a certain fast-food franchise got into big trouble over its sexual harassment. Franchises are worse in that they are less controlled by corporate. But, small employers can be just as bad as the big box stores. Keith

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Brilliant. A product of one’s time? Such nonsense. The “times” were appalling to women who were harassed, assaulted or demoted or fired for not putting out. Cuomo has bragged so smoothly about creating a better today. He’s failing miserably in his attempt to talk around how he has been perpetuating a dreadful past. Great job, Sally.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I sometimes wonder whether general male violence, philandering, sexism and controlling behavior toward girls/women is related to the same constraining societal idealization of the ‘real man’ (albeit perhaps more subtly than in the past)?: He is stiff-upper-lip physically and emotionally strong, financially successful, confidently fights and wins, assertively solves problems, and exemplifies sexual prowess.

    Perhaps we need to be careful what we wish for. After all, I recall that, shortly after Donald Trump was sworn-in as president, a 2016 survey of American women — conducted not long after his abundant misogyny was exposed to the world — revealed that a majority of respondents nonetheless found attractive his alpha-male great financial success and confidence.

    And then there are the guys on the opposite end of that spectrum (which basically includes me). The author of The Highly Sensitive Man writes in Chapter 1 (2019, Tom Falkenstein, pgs.11-13) : “You only have to open a magazine or newspaper, turn on your TV, or open your browser to discover an ever-growing interest in stories about being a father, being a man, or how to balance a career with a family. Many of these articles have started talking about an apparent ‘crisis of masculinity.’

    The headlines for these articles attempt to address male identity, but often fall into the trap of sounding ironic and sometimes even sarcastic and critical: ‘Men in Crisis: Time to Pull Yourselves Together,’ ‘The Weaker Sex,’ ‘Crisis in Masculinity: Who is the Stronger Sex?’ and ‘Search for Identity: Super-Dads or Vain Peacocks’ are just a few examples. They all seem to agree to some extent that there is a crisis. But reading these articles one gets the impression that no one really knows how to even start dealing with the problem, let alone what a solution to it might look like. One also gets the impression from these articles that we need to keep any genuine sympathy for these ‘poor men’ in check: the patriarchy is still just too dominant to allow ourselves that luxury … ”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: The Toxic Workplace and the Entitled Male. Getting Personal with the Personnel is Not OK - FDR DEMOCRATS

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