Syms: grow up and stop the bad behavior at the Arizona Legislature

Misuse and abuse of power and the public trust is wrong.

Sexual innuendo and objectification of peers, colleagues, staff and the public through common jokes, offensive remarks, unwanted touching, sexual misconduct with subordinates and retaliation have no place in the professional workplace. Period.

Maria Syms

And yet, here we are caught up in a swirl of accusations, rumor and panic, attempting to address and remediate bad behavior by adults who are supposed to know better. Not only is this bad behavior morally wrong and demeaning to all parties, especially at the Capitol, it is a distraction that should rightfully and finally be pushed to the margins of all professional forums where men and women engage.

To the bad actors I say this — grow up and stop it.

For generations, the locker room talk, a hand on a knee, an uncomfortable hug, sexual jokes, office flirtations, unwelcome propositions, and hundreds of other actions and harassing words and sexual misconduct have been allowed. Sadly, for reasons known all too well to girls, women and yes, even boys and men, they were also reinforced by our inactions to stop them, by our silence, by inadequate laws and by society looking the other way out of fear, shame, discomfort, ignorance and even ambition.

Some say the recent surge of reporting has the pendulum swinging too far. As a career advocate for victims’ rights, I caution against conflating immature sexual banter with more serious crimes. Telling a joke is juvenile and inappropriate, but in no way compares to sexual harassment, assault or rape.

Nevertheless, it is an important conversation to have in order to bring about change and restore credibility to the very institutions and offices that are entrusted with the public welfare.

It is not only appropriate, but also necessary to take impactful steps to address this problem and I welcome all efforts to do so and call upon my colleagues to reflect on their conduct going forward. Speaker Mesnard’s actions fill a past leadership void, especially during these times where sins from the past are being brought to light everywhere in America.

Virtue and manners matter. This may sound old-fashioned and out-of-date, but in the end, we need to get back to civility if we want to foster true equality in the workplace.

Editor’s note: Mrs. Syms is a resident of the Town of Paradise Valley and represents District 28 at the Arizona Legislature

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