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Awkwardness at the G-8—and the Office

The week's news at a glance.

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Joan VennochiThe Boston Globe“Women everywhere feel her discomfort,” said Joan Vennochi in The Boston Globe. There’s something painfully familiar about the reaction of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to President George Bush’s impromptu neck massage at the G-8 summit last week. When “the chancellor hunches her shoulders, throws up her arms, and flashes a look of utter dismay,” we recognize the expression of any woman “startled when a man invades your personal space with unexpected intimacy in a professional setting.” Such moments are “a fact of life for working women.” They happen when a colleague tries to kiss your lips rather than shake your hand, or when he gathers you in and gives you a squeeze that feels more like captivity than affection. For pregnant women, the unwelcome contact usually takes the form of an “unsolicited pat on the belly.” Are these moments “mostly innocent, if socially boorish” lapses, or are they “a way to demean and patronize, to change the dynamic by neutralizing the woman’s power”? And how should a woman respond? If the man is her workplace superior, she can sue for sexual harassment. But when he’s a peer, as Bush is to Merkel, the options are limited. You can laugh it off and feel degraded, or you can deliver “a frosty put-down”—and have people call you “a humorless you-know-what.” It’s a rotten dilemma. Men could solve it by respecting the appropriate boundaries.

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