There's this Conservative Christian Dude at work. We're more apt to run into conservative Christian dudes where I work than if I worked in a comic book store in Boston, it's true, but this guy stands out a bit even in the military community. When he first got to the shop and we all went out to lunch together, he changed seats when I sat down. This preyed on my childhood lunchroom anxieties, so I tried to joke it off.
"What? Do I smell or something?"
"Oh, it's not you. I just don't sit next to women."
"What's wrong with women?"
"Nothing. It's just a thing to avoid temptation."
"You find ME a temptation?" This incredulity was not an indication of low self-esteem. I was wearing the baggy camouflage work uniform, not a touch of makeup, and my hair is a dull brown color with flyaway strands in every direction. I do not really present an attractive appearance at work, nor do I bother with it. I do confess enjoying how nervous the question made him.
"Well, it's not like a thing with you. Just all women who aren't my wife."
"Or your daughter."
"Yeah, I'll sit next to my daughter too. It's a perception thing. I don't sit next to women who aren't my wife, so that no one perceives wrongdoing."
The rest of the shop thought it was a strange habit, but we shrugged it off as Conservative Christian Dude's personal weirdness. We're a fairly tolerant and accepting shop, led by an ex-recruiter with impressive social skills. (Our boss has the playful humor of Guy Gardner, including the willingness and ability to escalate or defuse any conflict at will.) Fortunately, Conservative Christian Dude was not the sort to shake a Bible in your face and tell you you're going to Hell even if you have just told him you can't attend that Church potluck he invited you to because it's the night of the Full Moon Ritual and you promised to bring the cake. As he tolerated our strangeness, we got used to the occasional oddity like not saying cursewords and a shockingly puritan attitude towards sex.
Today was notable, though.
Two seconds after I walked in the door for my shift Conservative Christian Dude turns to me and asks if I see anything wrong with the image on his computer. He's been doing a computerized lesson and there's an image of a woman in a pink blouse leaning forward to point at her monitor. The two men on either side are in suits and ties. I examine the image for any indication she's using the computer wrong. I look at the expressions. I look for obvious photoshoppery.
After about 3 minutes of intense inspection while Conservative Christian Dude stood smugly behind me, I realize what he thought constituted a problem.
"Is this because you can see cleavage?"
The pink blouse is unbuttoned and the woman is wearing a tank top underneath. There is a sliver of view of her breast. (I wish I had a copy of the image to show you how innocuous it is.)
"Yeah? Do you think that's appropriate?"
The ensuing discussion in the office was about whether the tank top is a tank top, a bra, or a tank top with a piece of bra showing. I've considering buying these outfits, so I'm absolutely certain it was just a normal tank top or a low v-cut shirt. Nothing a woman wouldn't wear normally. And I have the entire history of this blog analyzing comic book artwork to support me when I say I don't believe for a second the photographer or the model intended anything sexual about the image.
"She probably didn't see it at all when she dressed, and they told her to act natural for the pictures so she leaned forward and her top slipped down and molded to her chest. It's barely noticeable. Hell, it took me three minutes LOOKING for something to see it so you'd have to be a pervert to notice in the first place."
The whole office burst out laughing. Conservative Christian Dude paled a bit.
What was most amusing is how many time he'll think I'll side with him on stuff like this, because I go after the rest of the office over casual sexism. Sometimes I get the impression he thinks that because he follows so many rules about how men should treat women that he actually treats women better than the rest of the office. He doesn't realize that those old-fashioned attitudes are in many ways worse than the usual macho maintenance mindset.
See, out of that entire office of juvenile military manly men that get into discussions about actresses and download dirty movies and curse and joke about cheating on their wives, only one person saw cleavage on that slide when they took that lesson.
It was the guy who refuses to sit next to a woman, use swear words, or even discuss dirty movies. The old-fashioned gentleman white knight.
Not only that, as the discussion about proper workplace attire went on (kept smooth and casual by Guy Gardner-Type Boss--who at one point rolled up his sleeve to expose the upper arm, took a handful of armflab and told Conservative Christian Dude "This is basically what you're offended by here"), there was only one person in the office who didn't understand the concept of being responsible for your own thoughts and eyes. Only one guy who had trouble understanding that women don't dress for the sole purpose of provocation, and that it is not their responsibility to dress like nuns in order to avoid causing impure thoughts in the guy.
He also didn't know the word "misogynist" (which surprises me, because I could swear I use it several times a week) and understand why it applied when he suggested that women in offices only wear long skirts and tights. We didn't so much get this point across as simply give up on Conservative Christian Dude and start listening to Guy Gardner-Type Boss's old recruiter stories.
Now Conservative Christian Dude has never given me any indication in how he treats me that he thinks women are inferior in any way. I've never felt the slightest bit threatened by him (but that may be because he is approximately half my size). I'd say I actually get along with him better than many of the men in office do. But there's the occasional weirdness like this. Weirdness that passes the point where with anyone else in the office, I know they're just messing with me. He's serious the whole way through, and caught off guard when successfully challenged on it. It strikes me more as naivete than malice. A bit like those people who mistake chivalry for respect. Just another person out there following his step-by-step directions to the letter without realizing that they lead him away from where everyone needs to be.