Here’s the thing – ‘sexual harassment at work’ to me sounds so very mundane simply because I don’t think it is considered very shocking among women. I know that when I hear it, I happen to think, ‘Oh yeah. That. That happens.’
And I’m starting to wonder whether there is any woman who can honestly look back at her working life and say that she hasn’t experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace, or at least an obvious act of discrimination as a result of being a woman? Please, if you are that woman, can you let me know? Because I’ve found that when you start to talk about it, everyone has a story. Everyone.
For me there are several, none of which (to me) again are particularly shocking. Which is the point really. It’s not unusual behaviour.
To take one example, I’ve had a married man who worked in a superior position to me, get drunk at a work event and then launch himself at me in the middle of the street, trying to kiss me. He then repeatedly asked me to go to his hotel room with him and when I reminded him of his (pregnant!) wife, he berated me for being boring.
Ok, so far so seedy. Nothing I couldn’t handle. He wasn’t aggressive at any point and I didn’t feel threatened. More taken aback (I REALLY wasn’t expecting it, despite his claims that there was huge sexual chemistry between us!) and quite irritated that it put me in an awkward position. The thing that really pissed me off is that the next day, he wasn’t even sorry!! He repeated his claim that I was boring for not going along! And he was stone cold sober by that point. Fucker.
I did nothing about it. Told a few friends at work and we laughed about it. Found out he ‘had a reputation’ (of course he did) and women in the office avoided him when he had had a few drinks. I remembered he had grabbed my arse at a Christmas party when I was still a trainee a few years before. I had written it off as a one off. Stupid me.
Anyway. That was that, I thought. It made work a bit awkward, particularly as I lost absolutely all respect for him which was tricky considering he was then promoted to being my supervisor. But c’est la vie.
The problem really came when I became aware that he was pulling similar behaviour on the young interns joining our team. We’re talking 19 – 23 year old girls here, in their very first work environment. One of them confided in me that he used to slip his wedding ring off when they were walking around together in public. He also made some inappropriate remarks to her which made her worried that people would think she was leading him on (man, I could punch his lights out for that one alone) and she told me another girl was thinking of dragging her boyfriend along on a work trip because she was concerned about going alone with this man.
Un-fucking-believable. And yet I still debated whether to say anything to anyone. I didn’t want to be seen as a trouble maker. Jeez. I hope I wouldn’t hestitate next time. I did say something after my friend encouraged me. I told his, our, boss. Shortly after, I left the company, in no small part due to the fact that I didn’t want to work with this guy anymore. So I don’t know what happened to him as a result. He’s still there, so not much.
I do know that I wouldn’t have said anything if I hadn’t heard about it going on elsewhere. About it impacting others who I felt a need to protect. If I felt uncomfortable saying anything, they sure as hell weren’t going to.
And even when I did raise it, I dismissed the behaviour that happened to me and focused mainly on the other girls. In fact, I’m only just realising as I write this post that I’m still doing it now. Which is sad. Stand up for yourselves, girls. It’s not ok.