This morning, as I stood in line at Wendy’s, something troubling occurred. The male manager—maybe store, maybe shift—slid his palm around one of the female cashier’s midriffs as he stepped around the counter and out into the restaurant. He slid his hand around her waist across her tummy. It was an affectionate touch, the kind a man might give a woman he loves. But she didn’t react as a lover might. Rather, she slightly stiffened, as did the casher next to her.
Of course, I observed a fleeting action, with very little context. But the touch troubled me. I left greatly concerned for both women and maybe others. For all I know, the boss is touchy with everyone, just a helluva friendly guy. But the cynic inside says there was more going on.
A superior has unfair position of power over a subordinate, who is particularly vulnerable with respect to sexual matters. Best case: I observed interaction between lovers, maybe even husband and wife. The behavior would be inappropriate because it affirms a potential power imbalance between the one cashier and the other female employees. The boss should equally treat the employees. Worst case: The two people have no other relationship than boss and employee. If this is the case, I would regard the touch as totally inappropriate. Women shouldn’t have to put up with untoward touching simply to keep their jobs. It is harassment. Unquestionably.
By the way, I would take the same position if genders were reversed and the boss was a woman touching a man. Actually, that’s not true. A woman touching a man, and possibly visibly exciting him in front of other employees, would be worse. The power imbalance is perhaps greater, because the woman exerts a visible—and for some men, humiliating—sign of her control over the man if he becomes sexually excited.
In nature there are power imbalances, for certain. The little bunny rabbit is at the mercy of many fierce predators. But prey is the bunny’s role—its proper position—in the food chain. Power imbalances in human society more typically result from people leaving their proper positions. A boss is not a lover, mate or, spouse.
Photo Credit: Dan Reed
Editor’s Note: On July 29, 2017, this post was recovered, using Archive.org Wayback Machine, from a snapshot of joewilcox.com during 2006, when months of content was lost while changing blogging systems and webhosts. Date and timestamps are authentic.