What Would You Do If I Died? (NSFW)

I recently wrote about the saga of my coworker Jimmy D. and his boss’ willful misinterpretation of an innocent picture of turtles.  Even if you didn’t read about Jimmy (although really, why wouldn’t you, the link is right there), the most important thing to remember about the Navy’s policy on sexual harassment is that the behavior has to be both repeated and unwelcome.  Which is why I can say things like this…

Late yesterday (Friday) afternoon, when the office was nearly empty, one of my coworkers (NOT Jimmy) was sitting with his back to the door working on his computer.  As I walked by, I said “don’t stay too late” and apparently he was so engrossed in his work that I startled him to the point that he literally jumped out of his chair.  After regaining his composure, he admonished me for sneaking up on him: “What would you do if I died from the shock?” This is something you just don’t ask me, especially at 1700 on a Friday afternoon.  And lest you report this as an adult site, I’ll give you one more fair warning about the NOT SAFE FOR WORK content about to appear in my response.

“Well if you died I’d have no choice but to pull your pants down around your ankles and stage the scene so it looked like you died masturbating to internet porn.”

So, according to the letter of the law, did I sexually harass my coworker?  Absolutely not.  Why not?  Because my comment was not unwelcome.  How do I know this?  Because this particular coworker and I joke around in this manner all the time and he has had many opportunities to either tell me such things make him uncomfortable or to steer the conversation in other directions.  He has, however, chosen the exact opposite.  For example, once when we were on travel he showed me Jimmy Kimmel’s (NSFW) Tug Toner video during a lunch break:

Now obviously certain things, like soliciting sexual favors in exchange for promotions, or groping others’ genitalia without any preamble, are always wrong.  But the gray area of innuendo and what I would call locker room humor relies on the (potentially) offended party speaking up and telling the other party they are uncomfortable.  It is the one time as an adult when you have to remember that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  Everybody gets one free pass, so if you are bothered by something but you don’t speak up, that one free pass has just turned into two free passes, but it’s NOT sexual harassment.  I realize that not every government organization and private company has a policy that matches that of the US Navy, but there is something to be said for personal responsibility.  Don’t be Anita Hill (notice I did not name Herman Cain’s accusers, as some have claimed sexual assault rather than sexual harassment).  YOU set the tone of the conversation.  YOU are responsible for letting others know when you are uncomfortable.  And as far as I’m concerned, if you never spoke up, then you were never sexually harassed.

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