By Lucy Kidd
If you have ever been a young woman working in any job ever, than you know as well I do that women are expected to pay a special price for our financial autonomy. This price is different for each individual woman and each job, but we have all paid that price at one time or another. And you know exactly what I’m referring to, that one coworker who hovers two inches away from your face while working on a project, or that other one who stares at your boobs while he’s talking to you. One time I had a coworker ask me for a ride home because his car was “in the shop” (later I found out he didn’t have a car at all), and then insisted that I come inside his house with him to see his new kitten, even after I tried to make excuses to leave. Of course when I finally relented and we got inside he tried to kiss me, and when I tried to leave after rejecting him he blocked my path to the door and tried to convince me not to leave. After that incident occurred, his harassment of me at work heightened, and he actually started to say sexually explicit things to me when no one else was around. For example, he would say things like “I know you want me,” and “you like looking at my ass don’t you?” Eventually I tried to quit that job because his harassment got so frequent and continued to escalate in severity. My supervisor asked me if I wanted to quit because of sexual harassment, and I was surprised because I had told her nothing about it. She said that everyone already knew how I was being treated and she didn’t want to quit because of it. She insisted that she would take of the situation.
Her idea of “taking care of it” turned out to be holding a staff meeting that included everyone except me, and making the announcement that anyone who was harassing me needed to stop immediately. Yep, that is how she dealt with it. Naturally, the harassment escalated even more after that, and I ended up having to quit anyway. I was only 19 at the time, and it didn’t occur to me to sue the hell out of them, and losing that source of income was a brutal blow for me as a full time college student.
I learned very quickly at the tender age of 16 (when I got my first ever job at a movie theater because my supervisor “liked my picture”) that putting up with a certain amount of sexual harassment was expected of me and my female coworkers, and like everyone else I would just have to take it.
And then I started working a contract job for one of the big wireless carriers, and for the first several months I floated on a sea of blissful co-worker harmony, and I was so grateful to feel safe at my desk job. Hell, I could even talk about politics with the male feminist coworker who sat in a desk next to me. I had it made in the shade. That was until one of the supervisors in my department started to take a special interest in me. It started out very innocently, when I had brought a bunch of cookies to the office one day and offered him one. And everyone knows that when you offer a guy a cookie, he’s going to want a blow job to go with it, because clearly that is the natural progression of a professional relationship. No, he did not literally ask me to blow him, but here is what happened next: He escalated our relationship by sending friendly emails asking innocent questions about my job. That was fine. It should have stopped there, but it didn’t. A few days later he walked up to me in the break room and asked me if I was looking at engagement rings online. I told him yes, and asked how he knew that. He said that our work computers were monitored so nothing is private. I felt embarrassed talking about my engagement with him when I wasn’t officially engaged yet, but I assumed his inquiries were innocent and in good fun. I thought nothing of it when he teased me about my ring hunting, after all it was just play banter between coworkers. I tried to think nothing of it as he asked a barrage of personal questions about my relationship with my boyfriend. He stared at my breasts during our entire conversation but again, I thought nothing of it.
Then the next day he sent me an email asking me if I would like to have lunch with him. A little red light bulb started flashing in my subconscious. Even though his past flirtations had only been implicit, I felt hesitant to continue a relationship with him outside the safe walls of our office. Luckily, subtlety has never really been my strong suit, so in my reply email I expressly asked what his intentions were with this lunch. I specifically asked him, “would this be a work lunch, a friends lunch or an ulterior motive lunch?” With his response he confirmed that I had asked the right question. He got very defensive, and insisted he was just trying to be friendly, and that I was over-analyzing the situation. I suddenly worried that I had offended him, and began to worry about whether or not my job was in jeopardy. I imagined having to go home and explain to my then boyfriend (now husband) that I had lost my job because of feminist paranoia. He was a supervisor, he was a supervisor for my entire department. Shit.
I decided to check in with my immediate supervisor to she what she thought of the situation. I told her that he asked me out to lunch and I just needed a second opinion. As I was explaining my predicament she stopped when I got to the engagement ring conversation. “He knows about your browsing history on your computer?” She asked. I assured her that I knew I shouldn’t have been looking at personal sites online and that it was my fault. She did not look amused, and informed me that he had absolutely no legitimate reason to be going through my browsing history, apparently I was incorrect in thinking he was one of my supervisors. She informed me that he must have gone out of his way to look into my browsing history and that his work had nothing to do with the work I was doing. She continued to assure me that he had no power to fire me. She seemed completely bewildered as to why he would have gone through my private internet browsing history. That was the biggest relief.
After our conversation I felt like it would be inappropriate to have lunch with him, so I didn’t. I asked another coworker if they thought the lunch invite was fishy and he immediately informed me that I was just one of many young women this particular supervisor had expressed special interest in. Apparently he had a long history at this company of hitting on very young women in the office. Well, that settled it.
A couple days later the H.R. rep dropped by my desk. She asked for me to forward her all the emails exchanged between Mr. male supervisor and myself. She insisted that I did the right thing by coming forward and that she was taking care of it. I felt encouraging to not be told I was just “being dramatic” or “overreacting.” This woman believed my story and she actually supported me. It was incredibly reassuring to have someone believe me.
After this incident happened Mr. male supervisor became very cold towards me. He would often find excuses to walk by my desk and glare at me. My coworkers joked about it but I was legitimately scared he might take revenge on me and I became hyper-vigilant when walking to my car after work.
Several weeks went by before I brought up the subject of Mr. male supervisor with one of my coworkers. He smiled at me and said, “You know that guy got demoted right? He’s not a supervisor anymore.” I grinned wickedly and suddenly felt powerful. I had been harassed at work and management had actually taken it seriously. I knew I would be enjoying this feeling of vindication for a long time.