And the women who had affairs with Letterman aren't the only consideration. Did any women feel compelled to leave their jobs because they didn't feel safe or comfortable in a workplace environment in which the boss made a habit of sleeping with female subordinates?And remember how it was just another example of my being a feminist hysteric who hates men and infantilizes women and imagines things that aren't there, just because I don't have enough to get angry about on a daily basis unless I invent shit?
And did Letterman's habit tacitly condone the same behavior among senior male staff? In which case it's not just one boss who makes a habit of sleeping with female subordinates, but multiple male bosses who have the same habit. And, if that's the case, were all of them responsible partners who never overtly coerced anyone?
It's just not as simple as Letterman's individual relationships with individual women -- and pointing out how this stuff reverberates through an office environment doesn't require infantilizing the women who were sexually involved with Letterman. They could still have agency, and other women still could have felt coerced by the workplace culture.
Yeah, well, it turns out that a former female staffer at Late Night "remembers a hostile, sexually charged atmosphere," with pretty much exactly the culture I suggested tends to exist in workplaces where the boss makes a habit of sleeping with staffers.
There's a subset of sexual harassment called sexual favoritism that, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, can lead to a "hostile work environment," often "creating an atmosphere that is demeaning to women."Was there implicit communication that female staffers' advancement was aided by sexual involvement with the boss? Yes. Did Letterman's habit tacitly condone the same behavior among senior male staff? Yes. Was a hostile workplace environment created for other staffers by virtue of this culture? Yes. Did any women feel compelled to leave their jobs because they didn't feel safe or comfortable in a workplace environment in which the boss made a habit of sleeping with female subordinates? Yes.
And that pretty much sums up my experience at Late Night with David Letterman.
…Without naming names or digging up decades-old dirt, let's address the pertinent questions. Did Dave hit on me? No. Did he pay me enough extra attention that it was noted by another writer? Yes. Was I aware of rumors that Dave was having sexual relationships with female staffers? Yes. Was I aware that other high-level male employees were having sexual relationships with female staffers? Yes. Did these female staffers have access to information and wield power disproportionate to their job titles? Yes. Did that create a hostile work environment? Yes. Did I believe these female staffers were benefiting professionally from their personal relationships? Yes. Did that make me feel demeaned? Completely. Did I say anything at the time? Sadly, no.
Here's what I did: I walked away from my dream job.
This was and is a feminist issue.
I'm not arguing, not even close, that a boss and subordinate who meet on the job and have an affair is unilaterally and without exception a bad thing. I'm also not arguing, not even close, that women who have affairs with male superiors lack agency.
The point I am making—and have been all along—is that this situation is fundamentally different from one dude having an affair with his secretary. A dude having an affair with his secretary, the mail room clerk, the marketing manager, the receptionist, the director of human resources, the payroll manager, the vice president of client services...that creates an environment wholly different from "Dick and Jane met at work." And there's nothing wrong with acknowledging that.
In fact, there's something wrong when we fail to acknowledge the difference, and what that means for all the women in that workplace.
[H/T to Shaker SamanthaB.]