Religious Harassment: Can I Get a Witness?

In completing an online educational “module” related to sexual harassment and workplace discrimination, I began to think about the importance of having sexual harassment addressed, legally and morally, in the workplace and, simultaneously, about how other kinds of harassment in the workplace are left entirely ignored. The major gap I’d like to preach about and decry here is religious harassment.

When Christians preach directly at me in a workplace situation, I consider this a form of harassment. I’ve had students proselytize in my direction, for example, telling me I need to find my way to Jesus, that I’m in danger if I don’t, that they can get me literature to read or a church to attend, etc. One young man kept it up until I finally stopped dead in my tracks as he followed me to my office (for the third time in a row after class), faced him down, and told him, as politely as I could, that I was tired of assuming and reflecting back to him that he meant well. I told him he was not only wasting his time but actively and overtly insulting me, condescending to me, and alienating me – from his beliefs and from him as a person. He seemed thoroughly shocked to hear this, as if it had never in his wildest dreams occurred to him that his behavior could be seen as inappropriate, much less insulting and alienating, or worse, let me hasten to add, harassing.

In the online lesson on sexual harassment, I read this quotation: “An example of third party harassment may include direct (or telephone) conversations about sex in the hearing range of others to whom it is unwelcome. Such behavior must be stopped if others request it or if management becomes aware of the behavior.”

It makes perfect sense in some ways. Listening to someone talk in insulting or objectifying manner about their sexual conquests while I’m trying to work or in order to distract or disturb me could easily become harassment. Yet, the idea that just being overheard talking about sex at all could lead to a harassment suit made me think about our prudishness as a society. Still, in a gracious society where we err on the side of caution, I respect the concern.

That said, I resent that I could say “Please stop talking about sex in front of me and keep your ‘Pornstar’ or ‘Don’t Assume I’m Not Into Cheap, Meaningless Sex’ t-shirt covered” but could not say “Please stop talking about Christianity in front of me and keep your ‘Denial Won’t Help When You Stand Before Christ’ or ‘The Rapture is Coming: Are You Ready?’ t-shirt covered.”

The truth is that we have no “religious harassment in the workplace” protection or training courses anywhere that I know of. And I want some.


Streetcar Named Desire: Being Blanche

Going against type and what the director was kind enough to praise as my large "toolbox" of acting skills, I have been cast as Blanche in a local theater production of A Streetcar Named Desire (get ongoing show info at the Center for the Arts website). I am honored and thrilled (and no little dose awed by the number of lines to memorize). I also had to wrap my head around how I fit Blanche. It is certainly easiest to cast Blanche as a willowy woman with a shake in her voice, looking like a kitten in the rain. But my director and I share the perspective that Blanche can be most compelling if she begins the show as a woman who has mustered all of her strength for a last shot at convincing others she is not the fallen, broken woman she feels herself to be deep down. Then, the show progresses and shows her fall apart completely. The movement from stronger to entirely broken could be so heartbreaking to watch compared to a more weak woman losing her last shred of hope. And that's how we're going to play it, though the rehearsal process should help us try out many subtleties along the way.

This will be my second lead in a Tennessee Williams show. I did Maxine in Night of the Iguana ten years ago and enjoyed it thoroughly. Blanche is a much more challenging part in terms of her volatility. Maxine was confident and comfortable as a sexually predatory lush. And what fun to play. I hope to learn new things about myself, Williams, and acting through this experience. What does not kill us makes us stronger -- and this is going to be a LOT of work!

So far, my best motivator has been the director's confidence in me as well as her husband's, the man who will be playing Stanley. He and I have awesome onstage chemistry, and that should help a great deal to allay any last fears I have. In addition, I saw Ann Margaret's made-for-TV 1984 rendition, and she definitely plays the part similarly to what I will. Here she is:

I won't look like her (ha!) but she played it very strong, low-voiced, and sultry rather than flighty. It should be an interesting ride!