Shirley Rivera is the Founder and President of the Ateístas de Puerto Rico. The intent is to learn about Puerto Rican atheism and culture, as an educational series.
Here we talk about general culture and social pathologies.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Some sensitive topic to some in several communities. Although, I want to relate this to some personal experience relayed to me. What is something in general culture, seen as a social pathology? How can we work on it? How can we provide some understanding and some solutions?
Shirley Rivera: So, in the topic of sexual harassment, I think this has been a decades-long problem. We are allowing more women to speak out. I see people saying, “This is a modern problem.” No, it is another type of generation.
I think religion has a lot to do with this. Because the females, the women, are less than the males. The boys, you can see how it is more easy for them to accost or harass a person, invalidate that person, not consider the person, and treat them as less.
This is how you have this harassment coming up. It is all the ingredients, “I think she is less than me. I think she cannot defend herself. I think I have the opportunity to do this or that.” You can see how harassment can get into the work environment. In a position of power, it is one.
You can have this thought that she will get something if she does this. When you have these ingredients, they feel powerful. They feel more open to just do that. When you have women in power positions or males are thinking of women as less, as coming from the ribs, it is there.
But in the work environment, it is more beautiful for that to happen because they are in a position of power. More men are at the top. You ask for solicitation. She will see, “If I do this, then I can reach this.”
Not in all cases do women agree to this. Years after, they complain about it. Because they do not realize the problem as much. The abuse of power. She is in a vulnerable position. All those ingredients make this continue, continue, and continue without speaking out. The only way to control this is that the patrons and workers in companies need to know “what is sexual harassment?”
They need parameters on what is sexual harassment. You need to put this clearly. Each company needs to say, “This is sexual harassment. We will ban and not allow solicitation, favours, or try to treat a person, ‘If you do this, then you will get this. If you do not do this, then I hurt you.’”
When you put the parameter for the work environment, the next step is education. In my work environment, they are pretty good. It is strange with this. It still happens. I cannot imagine a company that does not give sexual harassment training.
I went to a conference. This happened last year. She was talking about how to prevent sexual harassment. When she was talking, she said, “Do not put a picture of a vacation when you’re in a swimsuit in your office because it is unprofessional and makes people make opinions about the picture.”
This is the statement. Okay, it can be unprofessional to put a swimsuit picture on your desk. Maybe, it is unprofessional. When you say that, you are sending the message, “If you place a photo with a swimsuit, I can harass you, because you’re in the wrong.”
She didn’t say that. But what happened if she wants to put the picture in her best swimsuit of a vacation? So, he can harass me? I am the one wrong because I put the picture. Who is at fault here? The one who harass or the one who put the picture.
We have to be careful with how we put things. I stay quiet. Because I am angry. If I speak out and tell her, “I am wrong.” I will miss the training. I cannot imagine all the males in the training there with me.
In their mind, they think, “It is wrong to put a picture with speedos or a swimsuit. It is her problem.” You incentivize that culture. You cannot teach them that. You have to teach them respect for people no matter how they are or how they act.
If I want to walk naked in the shop, they have to respect me. Not that I walk naked, or that they want to say whatever they want to me, or that that is an open invitation. It comes with nudity too. People think, “Oh my gosh!”
Rivera: [Laughing] they give you value based on how much you show. The more you show then the more value you have. Clothing is a concept. It is something that humans create. Animals do not use clothes.
We are the only ones who do that. So, it is respecting enough people no matter how they look. That is how it should be in everything. Like racism, people do not respect them because they are black, are gay, are lesbian.
People are constantly judging everybody. That’s what you have all these issues. If people respected people, they may want to put a cup on the head. Whatever! Respect them no matter how they look, if you did that, you would not have harassment or discrimination, or anything like that.
Jacobsen: If we take a context of mis-statements that can be taken as excuses for blaming the victim, or if we can take the context of professional standards of what can or cannot be shown in a professional work environment, what would be a proper way in presentations, in lectures, in lessons to the community of workers to separate those two? So, there is greater clarity on this issue.
Rivera: One thing is good taste. If you are a pervert, one thing is good taste [Laughing].
Rivera: It is extreme [Laughing]. It is funny. People need to separate if they are exposed [Laughing]. It is unprofessional. If I go to the bank, I don’t want to see it. It is bad. But it does not mean that it gives me the right to treat them badly.
We have to teach the culture that this is not in good taste. It is not necessary. But if it happens, I still love you. I still think that you’re a good person and have value, and still deserve to be treated right if it happens.
Good taste always and thinking the workplace is for the workplace. If I go to the court, I would not go to show my body. If I go to the beach, then there are places. It is not that I cover me or not. It is picking the right places, good taste [Laughing].
Jacobsen: What would be an appropriate North American, or American, way to enact this? For example, a concrete case of an American business environment. In that business environment, there is a separation and a presentation to the community of workers and managers of appropriate behaviour and dress in terms of professional presentation, and sexual harassment or sexual assault.
Rivera: So, in certain ways, this is a mess [Laughing]. In North America, it depends on who you are talking about. If you see a white girl in Missouri with shorts showing everything, no one thinks anything. But if a black girl, people will think things.
It is funny. I see this everywhere. You can see skinny girl, blonde, with shorts showing half the butt. No one says anything. If a Latina, “Oh my gosh, she is showing everything,” or if a black girl, “Oh my gosh, she does not have good taste.”
It depends on whoever comes. They judge based on the skin colour, here in America.
Jacobsen: How is this problem in business culture reflected in general culture?
Rivera: In the work environment, I have been working for the government for the past 5 years and for private companies for the past 8 or 9 years. Government, you are surrounded by old people. People who are probably less educated, believe it or not.
Then in our private company, people have to fight for their job. You have to be super prepared. In private companies, you can see that there are more liberals, if I can say that word, or more open or easygoing.
It depends on the case. You can see in the work environment; people question more. I wear makeup every day. They say, “Why are you so fancy?” I say, “Fancy? This is my culture. You put on makeup for work.”
So, when you work in a private company, everyone wants to look good. Your image depends. Because it demands that you look good, in shape, always clean. They are more open to everyone doing whatever they want.
In America, in a private company, people are more obsessed with what is proper and improper. I remember months ago. One lady asked me, “Why do you wear a dress here?” Is it illegal to wear a dress here? A long, grandma dress [Laughing].
Is it necessary to go in slacks or pants all the time? No! You can see how they respect some things. In general, it looks good. I don’t care. I look at your face, not your clothes. Most people here, old people here, are more obsessed with their own concept of what is a good thing.
What is the right way to dress for work? Pretty much, I guess, people are obsessed about other people’s lives.
Jacobsen: Does some of this confusion on the topic of sexual harassment, sexual assault, the professionalization of the workplace and dress, reflect an almost “when in Rome” situation?
When the subculture, whether Missouri or Puerto Rico, or a work culture with older people like the government, or younger people like a music studio, it can be different.
Where the amount of skin showed, what skin showed, what coloir of dress, the flashiness of the dress and the makeup, and so on, is seen as varying degrees of flaunting an inappropriate or an appropriate manner?
Rivera: Yes, it is the whole thing. Who has it? Where they have it? That’s the whole thing.
Jacobsen: This is like when we were kids learning about the “who, what, where, when, and why.”
Rivera: Yes, probably.
Jacobsen: What would be seen in American culture, generally, as almost always a red line that should never be crossed in a professional context? Young culture, old culture, and so on.
Rivera: In my personal space, youth clothes is related to black people. That is not tolerated. It is interesting because Caribbeans use the same colourful stuff, same fabrics. You will see white people do not use that.
When you use something like that, you are Hispanic. In their brains, it is code for black people. I have dresses that I buy like the Jamaican people. People ask, “Where do you get that dress? You can see through the dress.”
It is where they associate that. If you get a Calvin Klein dress, no one will say anything. If I get Jamaican dress, same dress or shorts, then you will get a different comment. It is pre-judgment. I am guessing.
That has, pretty much, been my experience.
Jacobsen: Has the country acted poorly or well to the mass movements arising mostly on social media but important because they are based on conversations about and among women, and some men, on sexual harassment in the workplace? I mean in the context of the culture handling it.
In other words, people bring forth trauma, instances of abuse.
Rivera: So, the perception, I see how they perceive this stuff. Males, what I see, they think, “Oh, another class of this. Feminist drama.” For them, not all of them, or most of them, these are unnecessary because they have not been exposed to those uncomfortable moments.
They do not understand that. This is an example that I bring to you because of the photo in the desk. It went very deep to me. We can relate this to these questions. They feel as though this is normal.
They see that if they ‘compliment’ to a female, then it is okay. It depends on what is a compliment. I say, “Nice hair color,” or say, “I want to pull your hair.” It is about the hair.
Jacobsen: Who are these men?
Rivera: [Laughing] it is a contest. I can tell you. “I like that dress” compared to “I want take off that dress.” So, they do not see the difference between what is a compliment and what is an uncomfortable comment.
I do not think that they see the difference. They do not pay attention to the classes because they do not think this happens.
Jacobsen: What about some sectors of men throwing their hands up and saying, “We’re at ground zero again. We have to go back to basics. I do not know how to act anymore.”
Rivera: They are frustrated.
Jacobsen: But more compassionate, those sectors of men who do not know what to do anymore. Although, it seems like an exaggerated response to me. What is a gentle and friendly response or retort to that, to some men?
Rivera: It is hard. Maybe, it is bad to me. Maybe, it is not the same for another woman. Maybe, they want to throw everything away and then do not want to do anything about it. Maybe, they should be always looking for consent before doing something.
It doesn’t have to be, “Hey, can I have consent?” [Laughing] it doesn’t have to be that. I don’t want to say, “Men sometimes act stupid” [Laughing]. Sometimes, they do not know what is appropriate or not.
This guy, when he was saying goodbye the other day, he leaned into me. I do not always have a relationship that is that comfortable. Maybe, a guy and I meet as we have known each other for years. It is different than someone who I knew for a few days or weeks.
You need consent. If you are asking for nice photos on the desk, you should maintain a distance and maintain a separation between friends and colleagues. For me, I know it can be frustrating. They say, “I am scared to go on a date with someone because I don’t know when I go over the line of harassment.”
Or you date a girl. You have a night together. Then she says the next day that you assault her. She didn’t consent. But what is consent? How can females make that clear? How can males assume what is not consent? How can males look for consent or assume it is consent?
Because usually, we assume this. That’s our brain. We see faces. We think it is mild. We interpret this in our brain. In my mind, he thinks, “This isn’t okay. I can touch this person, because I assumed something.”
For males interacting with females, they assume because she is talking with him about some topics. He feels as though he can do this or do that. It is because people assume all the time. She is smiling.
Maybe, she is smiling because she is uncomfortable. In my case, it happens often. Sometimes, when I am uncomfortable, I smile. If the person do not know me, they do not know this is a scared smile, not a happy smile.
That’s the problem. We have to give a personal space to people, and do not take extra rights if you do not know the person or are not close to that person. For males, it can be difficult, “How can I introduce myself with this girl and try to show that I like her?”
It is confusing. However, time with the other person, in their personal space. Because I can talk with a male, have a great conversation, smile, be open, and friendly. It doesn’t mean that “I want to take off your dress” [Laughing].
Jacobsen: [Laughing] if we read online articles, we can see women and men using these various apps, Grindr, Tinder, etc. In Iceland, apparently, they have one, specifically, for Icelanders. The reason: Iceland vastly, mostly ethnic Icelandic.
So, if they want to sleep with someone, then they put themselves on the app. Then they can see, “Oh, you’re not my third cousin.”
Jacobsen: So, men and women use these. They come in a variety of forms. At the same time, almost all women, probably, if they see one, they don’t like it. I’m speaking of lewd images, e.g., men’s genitalia, sent to them.
Men showing this off as if it is a display in a fine art museum.
Jacobsen: Perhaps, one actionable would be to kibosh that part of sub-culture.
Rivera: If it works for some people, why not? [Laughing]
Jacobsen: [Laughing] your hesitation makes the point for me.
Jacobsen: Does some of this reflect either a breakdown or a communication that was not ever there? If we look at North American culture, and if we’re looking at the questions, “What is consent?”, or if we use the terminology, “When does someone fully, enthusiastically consent?”
Rivera: Call my attorney [Laughing].
Jacobsen: I believe Dave Chappelle had a joke about this called “The Love Contract.”
Rivera: What is consent?
Jacobsen: There are bombastic spokes-dolts around the public sphere asking these questions in a non-curious, non-inquisitive, and hostile way. However, if the tone is appropriate, these questions can be important.
Does this aspect of North American culture of all the views coming forward, people feeling like they couldn’t come forward before, people not knowing in response when something is or is not appropriate, reflect a breakdown in communication or an aspect of communication that was never there?
Rivera: Exactly, people use body language for consent. So, that’s when I talk about “assume.” People assume by body language, “I am welcome to do this.” Plus, all the ingredients that we talked about earlier.
Body language should not be considered consent, in a way. But maybe, people have been using this for years. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t work, and very badly. When you cross the line of touch, there is no way back.
Maybe, you can say something inappropriate for that person or something without consent or try to go the extra mile. It hurts less than saying, “Oops, sorry.” If you touch the person wrong, you will lose that person forever.
In some ways, that person will feel uncomfortable and will try to avoid you forever. That happened to me. You cannot be there. It came into my mind whenever I see that person. Males do not understand that.
It happens to males in other ways. For females, it is traumatizing when it comes to touch. I get compliments all the time. I already handle it. [Laughing] “another one,” if you are not welcome or do not have consent, or do not have permission to do that, it is traumatizing.
Some males do not understand that. They do not see how deep things can go into somebody. You never forget that. They do not understand because they have never been exposed to it. Unless, you have 100% empathy skills.
Jacobsen: Does this level of uncomfortableness reflect many conversations with girlfriends?
Jacobsen: If you’re relaying an experience to women friends of yours, do they, if they have a similar experience, feel the same?
Rivera: I guess. So, yes. I have been stronger than other females who I know who have been through this. Some, they just quit the job. Sometimes, they just stay quiet about it. I feel as though I have been stronger than other females.
I don’t quit. Because I am not the person who commits the mistake. I think this problem is bigger than we thought. Females, because they feel less than automatically based on the culture in place, are scared of people pre-judging them, “This happened to you because you were talking to him.”
People will always to place the fault on you, “You are the main reason for this happening. You are the reason for this happening.” I think, in my friends’ experiences, it is the same thing that I have been through.
You freeze when it happens. When it happens, you do not know how to react, even if you practice before. What you will say, you will forget in the moment. You do not know what to tell this person in the moment, or to avoid the situation, or to tell him clearly that you do not like it.
Even if you are a very powerful woman in an emotional way, you forget it. For some reason, you are thinking, “They will be bad to me, not to him.” That is the main thing.
You feel, “Oh my gosh, if you say this to him, it will be awkward. Everybody will think bad about me.” All of those things are why you think, “If this happens in a company, then someone close in the company may think this or that about me.”
This is the main stuff. It is those things that come into your thoughts. Because I was reflecting on it. I think that was the main thing coming to me. I was having people around me. I was totally, in my innocence, never drunk, never been in a marriage, nothing.
Why did I freak out? It is the same thing. I would feel bad if other people would react to me. How would they react if I talked about this? That’s what it is in my experience.
Jacobsen: Does this reflect a strong sex and gender difference between males and females, men and women, in terms of the level of feeling about and, potentially, callousness about this?
Rivera: Clearly, because females are being more exposed to this, it is probably 8 females to 2 males. It is very common. It is hard. It is hard, hard.
Jacobsen: What would be a recommendation for men and women victims, or girl and boy victims, to come forward, so this doesn’t sit for months and years?
Rivera: Not just looking for help. You have to understand how to be strong because it will happen again. It will happen again. It has happened 5 times to me. One person held me in front of the camera. If you are a bad person, you do this in front of a camera.
If it is in front of a camera, then you believe this behaviour is okay. But it is not okay. When it happened, this person grabbed me. How in the world can you hold a person in front of the camera and not let them go? It happened 2 years ago to me. I was freaked out.
I was like “leave me alone.” I didn’t want him to touch me. I walked out. I told my boss, “This just happened.” She said, “Just walk out of the building. Do whatever you need to do. Get out of there.” That person, of course, got in trouble and lost their job after that.
To me, it is serious with a camera and 20 people there, and in the work environment in the middle of some break room [Ed. Rivera worked on television.]. People know me. I am well. I am a good person. I do not know what happens if this happens to a lady without many friends, in the back, in a factory.
All these stories about rape. They always blame the victim. This bothers me more thinking about how this can be possible to me. I think, “What can happen to other people who are not loud like me, not strong like me?” I can’t live with that. I think, “This is not right.”
I do the right thing. I kick the person. I do this the right way. I wish that I had the strength to kick and push this person in the right moment [Laughing]. Why do we not do that? Why are we not more strong and aggressive? They are more strong and aggressive. We should be stronger.
It is something that I have to change personally. I have to be stronger and louder when something like that happens. But it bothers me when this happens to someone who is not like me. It is going to get deeper into my own experiences.
I know, I know. It’s hard.
Then there was one last week. I told you. It is that often. Two times in one week, one on Tuesday and one on Saturday; it is two different people in a work environment.
Jacobsen: What do you think is going to be the fallout of this?
Rivera: In my case or in general?
Jacobsen: In general.
Rivera: It will fall in parts. We have to start this as soon as they understand talk. We have to not talk about this but put this into practice. It happened today to me. Today, one of our people, I talked and gave an answer to the people. They want to talk to my boss. Why? They will give the same answer.
My boss said, “They think since you’re a woman, then they will give a different answer. It is because you’re a woman.” We have to show the kids. If a female worker, then show that you think that she can do a good job. Then the kids will understand automatically that it is the same. The male and females are capable of doing the same bad or great things
They deserve to be treated right. They deserve the same opportunities to grow. It is funny. When you see these cases of females raping boys, you see, “I wish I had a teacher like that when I was in school.” You think this is stupid. You are making fun of it.
No one thinks about it. If it happens to a girl, everyone gets crazy about it. You can see how this culture affects males too. It is affecting them too. You are now victimizing the males. So, you can feel compassion in the same way. You can be better next. He will move on.
When female, you take her. You victimize her. You feel compassion for her. It is the same thing. When a girl is raped, you victimize her. You think she cannot defend herself. You see that in these types of situations when people are partial with how they ask about these situations like this.
Jacobsen: Does this seem like a strange inversion of the callousness? Young age, compassion for one group. Callousness towards the other. Both grow up, then it inverts.
Rivera: [Laughing] maybe, maybe.
Jacobsen: Any final thoughts?
Rivera: I think we need to have compassion for males or females. We need to start the culture. This is the only way to have things in balance between the genders and other genders too. I think people need to start this new generation with all these things the right way, to treat people right.
When you respect people no matter how they look, no matter what they’re like, everything will come as automatic good. When you have that as a base, and when you don’t prejudge everyone, you can let the people be. When you understand that, then you can understand that.
When we see these females do this or do that, we can see in China one of the high ranking ministers who is a female, which is among the first time that high. You can probably see these kids taking this as normal. They are normalizing women in high positions with women capable of doing anything.
When you see women as capable of doing anything, parents will need to be strong in doing this as school is not doing this. School is not teaching a gender perspective education. I am pretty sure gender perspective education is important for these human rights because of homophobia, patriarchy, and so on, otherwise.
The harassment, the discrimination, you should understand everyone is a human. When you understand everyone is a human, this can remove any bad treatment or discrimination, or not taking care of people, when you see everyone as the same s you. This is one of the problems with social classes.
People also discriminate to corner people. People do not talk about it. People talk about black, white, lesbian, and so on. But if rich and gay, no one will mess with you.
Jacobsen: Because you’re fabulous.
Rivera: Exactly. But if you are a poor gay, you will have double discrimination. If you are a gay president, everyone will love you no matter what because you are in a position of power. You will have to reach that, though. The only way people can reach their goals is fairly and with respect, respect, respect.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Shirley.
Rivera: Thank you, Scott. Bye.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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