Natural impulses and sea slugs | Opinion

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When I was young and, I’m not gonna lie, damn cute, I was transferred to the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana.

On my second day on the job, my male supervisor posted a photo of a model in a bikini above my desk with a note: “This is what I expected when they said a woman forester came to work for me. All the men at the station (it was everyone except me and the office administrator) thought it was hilariously smart and made fun of me.

I rolled my eyes and made a face, but otherwise I didn’t do anything to show my fury at being treated that way. I was relatively new to government and didn’t want to get off on bad feet with my co-workers, so I gave up. Without a doubt, this reaction was mistaken for consent to continue.

Guess I’m lucky these were just stupid jokes, not physical harassment (maybe from the steel-toed boots I always wore).

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned this week after an investigation found credible evidence of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is a delicate thing. Context is essential.

Looking at Cuomo’s fall, you could argue over so many accusations anyway. For example, a man saying “Ciao Bella” (hello sweetheart) in a cheerful voice from across the room wouldn’t sound like harassment to me. But if my boss came up and whispered “Ciao Bella” in my ear, it would be very uncomfortable.

Likewise, if someone I considered a friend to kiss me on both cheeks, that would be great. But a scary boss old enough to be my grandpa forcing kisses on my cheek is just, well, scary.

In the animal world, Cuomo would fit right in. The male is almost always responsible for establishing a relationship. The male seduces and proposes; the female says yes or no (or bites her head).

We’ve all seen the National Geo Channel showing strange exotic male birds puffing up their feathers and doing elaborate dances to attract a mate. Some people build sample nests to show the female that they can support herself.

Roosters strut around the barnyard doing doodles so that a farmer has to keep five or six “sister-hens” to satisfy a horny rooster.

Male spiders bring insects wrapped in silk webs as gifts, and females decide whether the offer is adequate or not. By the way, some male spiders are scoundrels and offer fake food, hoping their scam won’t be discovered until they get what they want.

Some species, such as the big horn sheep, compete for the “right” of a female. The ground shakes as they run against each other, smashing their horns together to determine the strongest “alpha” male. Just like in human fairy tales, the winner gets the girl.

Even the sturdy sea slugs engage in a fierce battle.

All of these partner-attraction behaviors can be summed up in one word: flirting.

When flirting goes wrong, it becomes sexual harassment, whether by men or women. In human societies, we have manners and laws that dictate what is acceptable behavior in the workplace.

Don’t touch others, tell demeaning jokes, make ethnic / racist / sexist remarks or make sexual innuendos. Use the same behavior for men and women, young and old.

If you wouldn’t kiss an old man on the mouth, don’t kiss a young woman either. If you wouldn’t invite a man to your hotel room for a special meeting, don’t invite a woman. If it’s inappropriate, uncomfortable, or bothersome for someone, consider it inappropriate for everyone!

You could argue that men flirting and taking their chances is just a natural impulse, but it assumes that our emotional and behavioral self-control is no better than a sea slug or a rooster. The vast majority of men never harass their coworkers, showing that bad behavior is not inevitable.

Let me just say that Cuomo is about my age and in our lifetime bosses touching their employees and making obscene or suggestive comments to them were already known to be unprofessional and predatory.

The bosses still did, but they knew it was wrong.

For a powerful and once handsome politician accustomed to being treated with deference and even encouragement, it must come as a shock to find that others now see you as the lustful old man they should avoid at all costs.

Cuomo never really apologized for his behavior, he just said he didn’t know how much time had changed. Well, he knows it now.

Kathryn Hunter is originally from McMinn County and holds a bachelor’s degree in forest resource management from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in forestry from Yale University. She has worked with the USDA Forest Service locally and has lived and worked in natural resource management and protected area conservation in eight foreign countries.

Kathryn Hunter is originally from McMinn County and holds a bachelor’s degree in forest resource management from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in forestry from Yale University. She has worked with the USDA Forest Service locally and has lived and worked in natural resource management and protected area conservation in eight foreign countries.


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