Best to be Gentlemen

Back in the old days there was a lot of segregation of the sexes. There were tasks, professions, sports, and social events where it was just you and the boys, or just you and the girls. We see that less and less. In fact the law now demands sexual integration of the workplace.

How’s it going? Based on the many stories and lawsuits about gender harassment and discrimination, I’d say not so good. But there are new demands on our behaviors.

Here’s one example. I was texting with a female friend of mine who’s in the army reserve, and the subject of ‘Fuckin-A’ came up. Lemme explain. My dad served in WWII and he told me that when he was in the Navy, everything was Fuckin-A.

You going to get that done? Fuckin-A.  Everything go OK with that thing?  Fuckin-A. It was an affirmative term that was used all the time. And I jokingly told my friend they must do the same thing in the Army.

‘I’ve never heard that,’ she said. And she added that swearing like that was not considered appropriate. Well, of course! There are women in the military today. Did I blow it by bringing up Fuckin-A with a woman?

I’ve been involved in some discussions about discrimination in the workplace. A serious matter to be sure. But one example given, as a form of discrimination, is “micro-aggressions.” This is defined as aggressive language and put-downs that are presented as humorous remarks.

In my experience, the condemnation of this behavior has come from women. Don’t they realize that this is how men communicate with each other?

We have names for it too. We call it ‘giving you shit’ or ‘trash talk.’ I don’t know if it’s micro or macro but men put each other down all the time. Typically we have a laugh and it’s over… until the next time comes around.

I’m not saying that use of profanity or putting down your fellow male co-worker can never get out of hand. When it goes too far it becomes bullying, and we should know a bully when we see one. But in the old days of gender-segregated job sites, at least those dominated by men, the cussing and the put downs happened and they were expected.

The question: How do we solve the problem of friction between the sexes in the modern workplace? I don’t think the answer lies in some modern sensibility. It lies in something old fashioned. Men need to try to be gentlemen when women are present.

Men used to think there were things that were too rough or rude to mention around the ladies. And even today, anyone with half a brain knows that there are still some thoughts and speech that are best kept between men. This is true for women too. Trust me. Some stuff women talk about… I just don’t want to hear it!

My view on this may be influenced by the fact that both my son and my daughter attended single-sex Catholic high schools. Will my kids turn out better or worse for it? I’ll never know for sure. But they both loved their schools. And I think men and women both need some time when they can say whatever they want, and they don’t have to worry about impressing the other sex.

I can hear people argue that any move to resegregate the sexes will make it hard for some people to get opportunities if they create old boys clubs or, maybe, old girls clubs. But we have got to find a balance. And if men have to be gentlemen a little more often these days, thanks to sex-integrated employment, they’ll just have to find other ways and places to hang out with other guys.

There will always be a frat house somewhere. You just need to know when you’re in one and when you’re not.

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