Covering yourself 

Almost the minute Judge Susan Webber Wright dropped Paula Jones' suit against President Clinton, making it a moot point whether he dropped his pants, the stories of all the president's women vanished from the papers. Like Disney cleaning up after a Main Street parade, you never would have known that the horses were there, much less that they had left anything behind.

It's kind of too bad really, because it was so much fun to reflect upon. You just don't get that with campaign finance reform. Whatever legacy Bill Clinton might leave, it's going to be hard to shake the image of him standing there with his drawers around his ankles, pointing crotchward. Only Bugs Bunny, Ted Kennedy and little children on the beach can run around without wearing any pants and still be considered cute, and if anyone has learned anything from this episode, it is that the rules about sex are the exact same ones you learned from "Sesame Street" about everything else: When you want something, ask nice and don't grab. Period.

The only area of speculation that is now left to us is whether the judge's decision will further muddy the opaque waters of sexual harassment. And it's a bigger, darker, denser area of speculation than Loch Ness. How do you tell average stupid-ass behavior from stupid-ass behavior that you can sue over? After all, if you could sue every office worker in America for behaving like a buffoon, this country would be one big, white-collar holding cell.

Hands up

And then there are the workers most often victimized by sexual harassment for whom the gray areas have long been impossible to separate into black and white, a group more unlikely to tell their stories than any other because their stories are more embarrassing. I speak, of course, of the self-employed.

As a self-employed person, I can tell you, it's shocking and abysmal. As my own boss I am forever behaving in a lewd manner that makes it impossible to do my own job. I can't look in a mirror without checking myself out and making cracks. It's hard to carry on a telephone interview with me always looking at my legs. People who work in an office can at least hide from the offending party. Not me. No matter where I go, there I am, lurking around every corner, stalking myself. I even turn up in the bathroom. It's insane! And it isn't as though I can complain to my supervisor. And the jokes I tell myself -- my god! I use language that would make a dung beetle go into a dead faint. I don't know where I get off.

Part of the Jones case involved her inability to prove that she had been thwarted in her efforts to advance or receive pay raises as a result of spurning an employer. I don't know that I could prove it in court, but I'm almost certain that I am what's keeping me from moving up the corporate ladder. I just won't put out. The other day I actually put my hand on my knee. I tried to make it sound all, like, accidental, like my hand slipped. Yeah, right. Like I'm supposed to believe me.

I know, just because I don't have pictures or a friend like Linda Tripp to secretly record what a beast I am doesn't mean it didn't happen. I'm afraid in court it would be my word against mine, so of course I would lose. But on the other hand, I feel guilty. If I'm doing it to myself, who knows who else I'm doing it to? Don't I have an obligation to tell my story and thereby protect others from me?

And Paula's pants thing is small potatoes. It only happened to her once, a million years ago. It seems like I'm disrobing in front of myself all the time. I'm certain other employees don't have to put up with this. I'm pretty sure I could get myself nailed for lewd and lascivious behavior, or at least inflicting mental anguish.

Pipe down

Every time I tell myself about my horrendous behavior I act like it's no big deal, and you know, I need this job. I have to work with myself. It just seems like a no-win situation.

And then I hear myself gripe about this stuff and I just have to roll my eyes. Sure, I admit I cross the line sometimes. I don't remember complaining at the time. I never missed a deadline, so the whole thing couldn't affect me that much, could it? As for the undressing thing, that was in the other room, not the computer room, so it had nothing to do with work, and anyway, you name me one free-lancer who doesn't work half-dressed. They all do it. That's why they free-lance, so they don't have to dress up.

OK, it's not that bad. The truth is, I can tell when I'm just being a stupid jerk and when I'm being a dangerous, sinister jerk. But most women aren't afforded such clear insight into the motives of their bosses and co-workers. The only clear thing seems to be if you think you're being treated disrespectfully, pipe up. Because the longer you wait, the more people seem to doubt you.

So I'm going to do it. I'm going to report myself right now. As soon as I'm out of the room so I can't hear myself tattling into the phone.

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