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Shadow Men

What is the protocol for unwanted dick pic shares?


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The gender inequality gap widens, in a nation where men are both defended and awarded for sexual harassment. High powered and perverted, these men are allowed to lurk through the office, groping as they see fit, then retreat to the shadows, leaving the company to answer for the transgressions of its shadow men.

As The New York Times reported, a whopping $65 million has gone to Fox News male staff accused of sexual harassment in the form of exit packages—including the $25 million Bill O'Reilly was recently awarded after being fired—with a mere $20 million going to victims in settlements.

Sending a clear message to women nationwide, the days of big bosses chasing female colleagues around the office to cop a feel is alive and well. Sure, these predators might get canned—once the company deems the mounting allegations a fiscal liability, that is—but they are sent packing with much more than their half-dead office plant. Repercussions lacking at this magnitude are certain to leave the sexual-harassment door wide open for other misogynistic men lurking in the office or out in society.

Will there come a time when our culture develops a no-tolerance policy in regards to shadow men? Or are women doomed to forever be on guard, looking over their shoulder, both in their professional and in their private life?

During a recent evening out, a girlfriend and I were confronted with a situation that left us puzzled, annoyed and disgusted.

We decided to meet at a casual drinking establishment I frequent to write or do research, in the Millrock area of Holladay—preferred due to the low-key nature during a weekday evening with other patrons who are either on business out of town, also clacking away on laptops, or locals who stop in to chat with the two regular bartenders.

On the evening in question, I began packing up my work items shortly before my friend was due to arrive, when one of the locals offered to buy me and one of the bartenders drinks.

I had heard this man chatting up community projects with another local patron and he seemed to have a good rapport with the bar staff, so I accepted. Before writing the previous sentence, it never occurred to me the analytic process I go through before I decide to speak with people I do not already know. I found myself curious how often men size up a situation with the intent of deducing risk vs. safety. For females this act is mandatory—especially when out alone—a concept I frankly find annoying to admit.

In addition to women analyzing our surroundings when alone, we often field inquiries on why we're alone. In fact, earlier in the evening, the bartender commented on how he thought I was one of the business travelers because I was working alone, which he said was "very independent," especially for someone who looked like me. It's a comment that, despite being well-intentioned, comes off as absurd, as I have yet to receive the memo stating how women are suppose to look when they plan to leave the house without a chaperone.

But I digress. I relocated to the bar and my friend joined us when she arrived. Our conversation mixed between group bar chat and her and I catching up. During that time in the group discussion, nothing seemed out of the ordinary from the typical shooting-the-shit.

So when the man started to show photos from a recent vacation, after the off-duty bartender went to chat with another group, we didn't think anything of it. That is until he decided to show us a photo of a large spider he found in his toilet one morning.

At first glance, all I noticed was the spider. It was not until a disgusted look washed over my friend's face that I did a double-take and noticed that the shadow underneath the spider appeared to be that of an erect penis. The image was so far out of left field; I was sure my eyes were deceiving me.

During the group conversation, my friend and I had established we were both married, with small kids, and in professional careers. To be shown a shadow dick pic of a man twice our age whom we had just met, didn't make sense. Perhaps he didn't realize what he showed us, I tried to reason. However, this justification was squashed when he then attempted damage control by sharing a meme about alcohol making people do stupid things.

Realizing this man had indeed purposefully showed us a shadow dick pic, I felt both baffled and pity for the giant spider, clearly having a real rock-bottom moment. I hoped, for the spider's sake, the man was just happy to see him, instead of the alternative scenario of all eight eyes being forced to watch while this man stroked ... his ego for the ideal photo op.

Needless to say, my friend and I cut him out of our conversation, paid our tab and proceeded outside to openly discuss if that really just happened. We later discovered, the dick pic he showed us was not his own, but a viral photo that had been making the rounds. Unfortunately, since the man had tried to pass it off as his own, this discovery added little to no comfort. Had our discussion been about viral internet happenings, it would have been different, still creepy to be shown by a stranger, but not with the same sexual harassment undertones.

As I drove home that evening, I become infuriated by what happened with the bartender's comment repeating in my mind. When a man goes out alone to have a beer, he's getting a beer. When a woman goes out alone to have a beer, she is bold to do so with no one to accompany her.

Perhaps what angers me the most about this is given our current gender dynamic, this structure will not change by the time my offspring are navigating the world, boldly on their own. Despite my best efforts, in teaching them how to deductively navigate their surroundings, there could come a time when some creepy, insecure, ego-driven asshole will feel it within his rights to demean them.

In addition to the realization of the world not making much progress since the days when a male bosses happiness ranked higher than his female secretary being mauled, as Megan McArdle so cleverly described in her article for Bloomberg. My annoyance with the situation was also in how I handled it. After all, my friend and I said nothing. We simply wrote him off and went about our night with zero reprimand. Which led me to ponder what I would do or say the next time I see Merv the Perv (obviously not his real name). What is the protocol for unwanted dick pic shares?

While there is no real way to know my exact reaction the next time I see him propped up on his barstool, as I make my way to my favorite table, I'm contemplating saying, "Well, if it isn't the shadow man."

Aspen Perry is a Salt Lake City-based aspiring children's book writer and self-proclaimed "philosophical genius."