The Workplace War: Hatpins Might Be in Style Again for Women

Photo by Bonzo McGrue | CC BY 2.0

Never go walking out without your hatpin.
Not even to some very classy joints.
For when a fellow sees you’ve got a hatpin
He’s very much more apt to get the point.

—Credited to J. Baird in Cockney Music Hall Songs

In the late 1890s, when unescorted women ventured from home for work, shopping, funerals, meetings, classes, or social visits all by horse-drawn public transit or walking. They were fair game for any man with aggressive “sexual instincts.” Complaining to a policeman was bootless because offenders were usually fleet-footed. Not so today, however, with the fallout from the #MeToo movement.

Police and the public’s view in the 1880s was that women invaded a man’s world so what did they expect? The upshot usually was an end to most complaints, even for rape in an alley, an empty elevator, office, or factory storage room.

“Nice” women’s instinctive weaponry has been either flight or surrendering to enduring masturbation on crowded transit or trains, or indecent exposure on streets and, particularly at work, pinched buttocks, kissing, groping—or rape. But in those days as incidents increased, courageous women began using whistles, books, purses, and umbrellas—effective, but requiring physical strength and brought embarrassing visibility. What was needed was a lady-like, concealed, and easily applied weapon that brought instant screams and flight by predators.

They found it in the hatpin.

Now, the 1880s vogue was for enormous, beribboned, feathered hats. These required big hatpins, either bejeweled and expensive or packet of modest two-inchers costing only “pin” money. Large or small, hatpins soon earned adverse newspaper notice around the country and Europe for filling doctors’ offices with men from germ-filled hatpins wounds, some, fatal.

Even so, one would think this weapon would have been welcomed with relief by protective men, especially police. Women could venture safely anywhere even if they were in the nation’s customary male-dominated workplace. It’s also been a tacit battlefield dominated chiefly by men. Even those with little power lorded over women. Moreover, both bosses and the bossed had access to pleasure from meek and mild women fearing loss of income more than their reputations.

That’s been a given for centuries in fields, factories, shops, and war. In the workplace, sexual harassment and abuse of women have been an accepted sport with men using women—terrified, submissive, silent—as playthings or “tension relievers.” For the cooperative, it has always brought slight pay increases and promotions.

Perhaps only doctors knew hatpin victims came by the thousands from the workplace. They ranged from the mild-mannered to the mighty—custodians and mailroom clerks to CEOs—and staffs at jails, women’s prisons, and mental institutions.

As with today’s “#MeToo” movement, a significant male backlash soon was on the warpath against hatpins.

Recognizing that Nature designed sexual instincts to propagate the species and the impossibility of policing self-restraint, authorities in America’s major cities, Europe, and Britain criminalized the hatpin. In Chicago after March 1910, violators caught with 10-inchers were subject to arrest and a $1,250 fine (today’s value).

The battle against hatpins was won by mashers and harassers in the 1920s when women’s styles shifted to bobbed hair and cloche hats. They needed no pins or lacing ties though some wary women wore them anyway on coat lapels or summer dresses and suits.

The hatpin’s disappearance led to the resurgence of unwanted and unwilling sexual gamesmanship by mashers on public transit. Many women even today avoid outside seats and standing in crowded aisles.

pair of writers/researchers just underscored that kind of harassment:

Research has shown that an estimated 87 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 25 say they have experienced some form of harassment, such as catcalls, being touched without permission by a stranger, or being insulted with sexual comments.

In today’s workplace, male “gamesmanship” is still prevalent with access in 2017 to 74.6 million women (47% of the work force). For many men, women are still secretly and deeply resented as interlopers in any field they’ve controlled, even if they are family’s sole supporter. Especially in censoring “guy-talk.” This culture-based attitude was emphasized in a recent CounterPunch article (“The Ugly Patriarchal Truth: In the US, Most Men Simply Don’t Like Women”)

True, most men have grudgingly accepted them as cohorts as long as they didn’t threaten their levels of wage scales or promotions, but, equally important, were uncomplaining about zingers of a sexual nature aimed at them. If women were single or the family breadwinner, most tolerated “guy-talk” and unwanted sexual attention and advances as the price of a paycheck and benefits.

Until recently, that workplace environment has had few changes, despite protections against harassment and abuse guaranteed by Title VII under the 1965 Civil Rights Act. Unfortunately, it fails to detail harassment and abuse, unlike Leviticus’s 19 specifics against incest written 27 centuries ago.

The Title VII authors deliberately left the law undefined probably because they recognized harassment’s multiplicities. For example, most men agree that rape and groping certainly qualify as harassment, but that touching or dismissive/disrespectful remarks to women are normal and accepted workplace behavior.

Actor Matt Damon agreed and told an interviewer: “There’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right?” He had to have been stunned when his remark was “widely condemned.”

Perhaps the best harassment test for men like Damon is the question: Would “unwanted touching or dismissive/disrespectful remarks” done to another man be regarded as “normal, accepted workplace behavior?”

As to a sexually hostile work environment, once again Title VII drafters in left a significant loophole for the Supreme Court to interpret as well as enforcers from EEOC (Employee Equal Opportunity Commission) or Congress’s OOC (Office of Compliance). Most employees have little difficulty recognizing such an environment.

Rep. Blake Farenthold, one of the seven accused lawmakers quitting because of alleged sexual behavior, admitted only to the accusation that his office did have an environment hostile to women:

I’d never served in public office before. I had no idea how to run a congressional office and as a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional. It accommodated destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general was less than professional and I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts and too often a failure to treat people with the respect they deserve. That was wrong.

Though EEOC represents a significant educative and corrective avenue for American workers, most women also know complaining about sexual or hostile environments usually brands them as troublemaking whiners or “lying bitches.”

Co-workers able vouch for a victim’s word usually don’t come forward, even if they, too, have been victims. Most dissemble because they fear firing and blacklisting (“I’ve worked with him for 14 years and he’d never, ever do anything like that.”). The jealous or heartless too often offer testimony for the predator (“That’s what wearing those kinds of clothes gets you”).

A recent example came from a former staffer of a Congressman she accused of harassment and retaliation (firing, blacklisting). After one unwanted encounter, she said: “I tried to run to another office headed up by a female member with a female staff” only to find that they either doubted her story or were fiercely protector of that lawmaker.

Historically, the tragedy is that most women do tell the truth about unwanted sexual encounters. Yet up to now, it has been mandatory to protect the predator lest it harm workplace morale, teamwork—and “gamesmanship.” The victim is dangerous and expendable.

Even if she decides to fight back with an official complaint to EEOC, its current procedures for filing one—mandated counseling/mediation/nondisclosure agreement—one woman said the process was “almost worse than the harassment.” Add to this, the constant fear of detection by the accused or her colleagues.

Counseling and mediation also are perceived as a deterrent because they play on the filer’s uncertainty about being believed even if they are instructed that a false accusation carries a seven-year prison sentence. Undoubtedly, guilt also is used in both counseling and mediation to point out the harm it will do to the accused. With such a bombardment aimed at an accuser, small wonder EEOC’s 2016 data shows the “success” rate. Out of the 5,636complaints filed across the nation, only 698 were awarded settlements that probably would have equaled severance pay.

Then, came the unexpected all-points attack on the status quo patriarchy led by women experienced in activism from demonstrations against wars, climate change, Occupy, bigotry, nuclear weapons—and Donald Trump’s views on women’s worth.

That 87% statistic of the harassed and abused exploded into last year’s

Women’s March, the largest demonstration (4,157,894 participants) in the nation’s history the day after Trump’s inauguration. The sheer numbers—nearly 100,000 of us in Portland OR—emboldened working women to forge a sisterhood against sexual harassment and abuse.

It’s fairly certain that most men initially sniggered, always counting on women’s rivalry, backbiting, and lack of time would ensure, like the Occupy movement, it was a passing phase. But, then, so did France’s 1% before the Revolution exploded and Dr. Guillotine’s invention and portable replicas beheaded 16,594 “aristos” in less than a year.

Then came the explosion of the 10-year-old grassroots MeToo movement, initially providing aid and comfort to the harassed and abused black women. When it became a national organization via Twitter as  #MeToo, it became an army of millions of those cowed by years of suffering harassment and abuse from predators, employers, and EEOC procedures. “Enough is Enough” and “Never Again” are today’s battle cries.

After #MeToo and accusers appeared on social media, online news sites, and forums, thousands of victims decided to be victims no more. #MeToo messages were reminiscent of the film Network when the abused and infuriated, popular TV host sends millions of his subdued, world-weary and frightened viewers to fling open their windows to shout the immortal rally chant of revolution: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

It was followed by tumbrils initially carrying entertainment stars to their professional deaths as well as the prominent in creative arts and academia. Companies that once had driven off complainers are now using the same weapons of firings and blacklistings as they clean house of abusers.

Accuser credibility now was enhanced by their attorneys’ strong warnings about that seven-year prison sentence for lying and that the accused had the money and top-flight legal teams to pulverize them if they did lie.

Meantime, attorneys for the prominent and powerful emphasized the impossibility of winning a libel or defamation suit because the accused were public figures or private individuals thrusting themselves into the public spotlight. That libel’s major defense is always truth unless statements were made out of provable of malice (“hate, dislike, intent and desire to harm and with reckless disregard for the truth”).

In Congress, sexual allegations triggered resignations of at least seven members of Congress so far: Reps. Joe Barton, John Conyers, Blake Farenthold, Trent Franks, Ruben Kihuen, Tim Murphy and Sen. Al Franken.

Interestingly, though some of the fired did demand board hearings, none of the Congressional “retirees,” launched libel and defamation suits or demanded due- process. Most knew the libel/defamation laws, but also what due process earned former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former Rep. Anthony Weiner for their sex trials. Hastert left prison last summer after serving nearly 15 months for bank misdeeds to raise $3.5 million to pay off a victim. Weinerjust entered prison to serve 21 months for sexting a teenager, along with three years probation, and registry as a sex offender.

As for the Trump reckoning for sexual prowess boasts, a Congressional investigation was demanded after 16 accusers described his unwanted sexual attentions. Almost simultaneously, nearly 60 women in Congress dispatched a letter to the House Oversight Committee demanding an investigation about these allegations. Trump was unsettled enough to fire off a tweet of bravado dismissing accusers’ statements as “false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met. FAKE NEWS!”

The public’s reaction about all these revelations by many Americans was first shock, then denial and support. Diehards loudly insisted the accusers were lying (“Al Franken is a good and decent man”). Or that they were gold-diggers or settling scores. One editor of a progressive website appeared near apoplexy: “Long careers are ruined in a matter of minutes. The accused in many cases are men in their mid- to late seventies, some of whom have records of decades of distinguished contributions to the arts.”

Another shock to the public—and terror to some in Congress—was discovering that their taxes had been used secretly from 1997 to 2017 by lawmakers’ to gag those they harassed. Some $17 million was channeled through the Office of Compliance to 262 recipients

The last straw for men infuriated by #MeToo had to be TIME magazine’s Person of the Year for 2017, citing its usual criteria of those “who most influenced the events of the year.” It went to five key “silence breakers,” against sexual harassment and abuse. TIME’s spokesman noted, however, “…the biggest test of this movement will be the extent to which it changes the realities of people for whom telling the truth simply threatens too much.”

Those “threatened too much” have had it with women no longer silent about workplace gamesmanship. Salon writer Amanda Marcotte noted:

[Men] are getting angry. They’re getting scared. They’re starting to lash out. …the widespread opinion on the right is #MeToo is a menace, that it needs to be ended and that the only question right now is how to do it. Their first efforts have failed, but mark my words: They’re going to keep trying. They have money and numbers to keep coming up with random ideas and testing them on the public.

Many men have now declared war on “those MeToo bitches,” though the old strategies are not working too well on polarized employees, especially millennials.

The heavy artillery from some online websites is firing ridicule and shame to key activists on social media. One writer apparently was rattled enough to pronounce the #MeToo movement a “hoax,” insisting it was “reactionary to the core.” It had “no progressive content.” It was “pitched to the lowest level of social awareness” on sex issues, and hadn’t brought to it “an iota of intelligent discourse.” He particularly savaged it for not moving on to far, far more important missions: national and global issues.

Many “snipers” in this conflict have vainly tried name-calling (lesbian, man-hater, bitch, cunt, etc.)—to get women off the barricades. But they’re not doing it.

As for some EEOC/OOC staffers in counseling and mediation departments, most women are now ignoring the psychological weaponry of guilt over damaging the accused’s future perhaps because it’s always been pertinent to their economic struggles and future careers, too.

For women failing to surrender to such softening-up tactics, it’s back to bullying: “You’ll never work in this business again” and that ancient threat: “Nobody on that panel will believe you.” Undoubtedly, women are learning, as did Farenthold’s communication director, to file lawsuits in a district court charging “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” To save his reputation, he instantly got OCC to cut a check for $84,000 and she dropped the suit.

Another male tactic is guerilla action: disabling cars, emptying lockers or filling them with disgusting items, faulting the accusers’ work, spreading sexual rumors, or arousing jealousy by pitting women against each other.

One tactic thought to end all accusations is a joint bill in the next session of Congress changing the statute of limitations to one year after an alleged sexual deed. That would flood EEOC with complaints, of course.

Two Congress women—Rep. Jackie Speier, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand— will be hoppering a joint bipartisan bill for past and present Capitol Hill staff this session that waive OOC’s mandated counseling/mediation and non-disclosure agreements: the ME TOO Congress bills. They also require those lawmakers to pay for settlements. By mid-January, Speier had 144 co-sponsors, and Gillibrand had 17.

With donors unaffected by workplace gamesmanship and the Congressional scandals affecting members, few incumbents are expected to vote against it and be re-elected, considering the votes of those 74.6 million working women. The hope is that nationally, this bill will be the model for revising the Title VII to specifics describing harassment and abuse.

Until passage to change lawmakers’ behavior and those in the nation’s workplaces, women can always resort to the days of direct action. One example was set recently by Rep. Betty McCollum who puts no stock in predators later claiming they are “huggers.” When a colleague headed her way in the House cloakroom, hands indicating a pounce, she rolled up her newspaper and whacked him repeatedly, shouting: “What the hell are you doing? Go away!” He has never bothered her again. Needless to say, she’s a co-sponsor of the ME TOO Congress bill.

Little and big girls these days are being taught what to do about “sexual misconduct.” When on public transit, a raised voice of  “Stop that!!” still runs off most mashers. So does complaining to a driver, my No. 17 line operator says. As for street “flashers,” a cellphone’s photo feature and a shout of “See you in court!” should work.

At work, it’s still means lining up a new job because a complaint still follows a firing. There’s also the helpful, indelible-ink warning (“Beware Joe-the-Hugger”) inside toilet stalls. For factory or outdoor jobs, women taking a martial-arts class and talking about its progress should ward off “unwanted advances.”

In private interviews, if instincts signal danger, instant departure is still the wisest and safest course. Rape requires getting instantly to a hospital to obtain evidence for criminal proceedings.

In the meantime, women taking buses can always buy the latest hatpins shown by Googling antique shops or checking out eBay selections ($2.50 for a half-dozen to $135 for the ornate).

Because the workplace war between the sexes may come to an armistice what with new laws and women’s increased militancy, but probably never really will end. But at least civility or diplomacy can be shown on both sides, as the CounterPunch article’s author indicated, until men begin to express “appreciation, respect, and value of women as other human beings of equal worth.”