Sexism isn't Sexy

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sexism isn't Sexy

This story reminded me of someone I haven't thought about in a while- do you think it's possible that Maryland's Comptroller is related to Strom Thurmond?
The public meeting had just begun yesterday morning when a 24-year-old woman delivered a mug of tea to Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer.

Schaefer (D) watched her walk away, appearing to stare at her backside, then motioned for her to come back.

"Walk again," he told the woman, an administrative aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

She headed out, seemingly flustered, and later told other Ehrlich aides that she had been embarrassed.

The episode, at a state Board of Public Works meeting with more than 100 people in attendance, brought a rain of criticism from women's organizations and some lawmakers who learned about it.
As if his behavior wasn't offensive enough, he gladly adds fuel to the fire.
"That's so goddamn dumb I can't believe it," said Schaefer, a former governor and mayor of Baltimore who is seeking reelection this year. "I look at one of the girls as she walked out. Big deal. . . . I look at the girls every time they walk out. The day I don't look at pretty girls, I die."

Schaefer then went into an adjoining governor's suite and soon returned, acknowledging that "the girl" had been embarrassed.

"A little girl walks out, and I make a joke out of it," he said, expressing dismay. "The one who is offended is me. . . . I can't believe you are making a deal out of that."
This isn't about merely looking at women, jackass, this is about blatantly oogling a woman and then bringing attention to the fact that you are sexually objectifying her-- in large, public government meetings.

I know the word "embarassed" is used to refer to how the woman felt but if I were in that situation I'd find a better word-- it's degrading to be treated this way. It's inappropriate sexist behavior and is against the rules for workplace conduct. It is especially inexcusible coming from a high-ranking state government offical. Not only is Schaefer in a position of authority but he sets an example for other employees.

To make matters worse, apparently it's not entirely his fault that he thinks this type of behavior is OK.
Louise L. Hayman, a longtime aide to Schaefer, defended his behavior, suggesting that Ehrlich's aide probably misinterpreted the comptroller's intent because she was not familiar with his joking nature.

"I think she overreacted, frankly," Hayman said. "I guess she was surprised by it. There's a generational issue here."

Hayman said that Schaefer has a well-established record of promoting women in the workplace and that those who have worked for him do not feel in any way offended by his habit of referring to accomplished women as "little girls."

"It sounds like he's demeaning you, but what he's really saying is he respects you," Hayman said. "I know that sounds odd."
I don't care if he's 84, he's the Comptroller for the state of Maryland! There aren't different workplace rules for people based on their age, sexual harassment codes don't have a grandfather clause. (Excuse the pun.) If you wouldn't find this behavior acceptable coming from a younger man then it's not appropriate for an 84 year-old either.

The fact that there are women in his office who are tolerating this behavior explains exactly why he thinks it's OK. If they really care about him so much they might want to let him know that he's cruising for a sexual harassment complaint. Tell him he can look all he likes, but he needs to show some respect, be discreet, and keep it to himself. Let him know that if he can't learn to stop treating the female employees around him like "little girls" who are there just to give him a woody he should consider retiring. Or warn him that whomever is running against him this fall could use his comments to defeat him.

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