I got some blowback from last week's post on laughter as a weapon against sexual harassment.
Some commenters thought that Working Girl was advising "laughing off" sexual harassment. Others concluded that WG proposes laughter as the one and only response to all forms of sexual harassment. She does not, on both counts, and is sorry to anyone who thought so.
Laughter is a tool you might choose to try if your situation meets two criteria: (1) it fits the level of the crime, and (2) you are the snarky type of person who can carry it off. (Ridicule and scorn are powerful weapons. Why deprive ourselves of them?)
But if a short, sharp "ha-ha!" to improper remarks doesn't stop a harasser in his/her tracks, then you should immediately employ another approach. For some excellent suggestions, check out the comment trail (many thanks to LGH, et al.).
In any case, whatever approach you do use, when the offense is minor, casual, and unthinking (as it so commonly is), it's a good idea at first to try to deal with it yourself. Meaning: Don't run to HR if someone calls you "Sweetie." According to Cynthia Shapiro, author of Corporate Confidential, reporting harassment can backfire by branding you a problem employee. Yes, it's unfair. HR people are wonderful, intelligent, and kind, but when push comes to shove, HR will protect the interests of the company over your interests.
Sexual harassment is, sadly, still a fact of life in many workplaces. If a snarky riposte can nip the offense in the bud—as it has for Working Girl, countless times*—you should feel free to bring on the scorn. If not, then not.
*All of WG's suggestions are purely and simply based on her own work experiences.
Karen Burns, Working Girl, is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, to be released by Running Press in April 2009. She blogs at karenburnsworkinggirl.com.