Let’s talk about sexual harassment. It’s awkward. It’s difficult. It’s cringe-worthy. It could maybe even be funny…if it didn’t ruin so many peoples’ lives. Yeah, it’s a hoot. Like many people, you probably haven’t given it much thought. For those of you who either haven’t had any first-hand experience with it, or for those who don’t even realize that they may actually be suffering through it, allow me to offer you some perspective.
Sexual harassment is about power. People in power often abuse it. Seeing as we are in a patriarchal society, many of the harassers are male. Male readers: don’t get it twisted. You too can be sexually harassed. A female boss could certainly be taking advantage of her power over her subordinates. And even in cases when your boss’ expressed sexual preference is not your gender (which, you shouldn’t really know anyway by the way), he or she can still be sexually harassing you. Sexual harassment may be one of the few things in our current society that is truly equal opportunity!
I recently endured sexual harassment at my job. Sadly, this was not the first time in my life that this has happened to me. I had just uprooted my life and flew across the country after accepting a position in an industry I was dying to break into. This was a liberating and happy time for me that unfortunately turned ugly very quickly.
From day one, it was clear that my supervisor saw me as more than simply a highly capable human being. His seemingly endless barrage of harassment included, but was not limited to: excessive touching, verbal commentaries about my body, repeated aggressive requests to spend time together outside of the office, and absurdly sexually explicit comments about women. Now, that’s a lot, and I’m not sure I even made it to my first lunch prior to all of those things happening.
For someone who may be going through her (or his!) first harassment rodeo, you may be wondering what really constitutes sexual harassment? Here is when porn-inspired fantasies of quid pro quo scenarios may cloud what can actually be rather bluntly and directly stated. Sexual harassment, as defined by the U.S. Department of State, is “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature”.
I tried telling my supervisor that he was making me feel uncomfortable. I tried telling him politely that I didn’t think some of the things he said were appropriate. I asked my boyfriend to send me flowers to the office to politely convey the message that I was uninterested and unavailable. I considered getting a fake engagement ring.
But after three weeks, I couldn’t take it anymore. The scene that he just happened to write and had me review in which he fucks his new assistant might have also been a tipping point. I was done being polite. I quit. I didn’t give my employer notice or an explanation. On nearly every day of my short tenure at this job, the only people in the office were my supervisor and myself. I thought about reporting my situation but immediately dismissed the idea. I had been burned in the past when I reported a sexual assault perpetrated by one of my classmates against me when I was 13. And besides, there was no HR department or internal office hierarchy to turn to.
A quick aside, before we return to the primary narrative. Not sure if a comment seems inappropriate? Wondering if you’re being too “sensitive”? Here’s a bit of advice: ask yourself, “Is this something he/she would say to someone of a different gender?” If the answer is “No”, then you probably have a solid reason to feel less than comfortable.
When I reported the aforementioned incident when I was 13, I learned first-hand how humiliating and painful the process can be. When an accusation is made, everyone seemingly levies a judgment. At the time, I just thought that most of them would be directed toward the kid who had actually assaulted me. The authorities that are supposed to protect us so often don’t seem to have women’s interests in mind. The shaming that appears to be included with reporting an assault is a fail-safe measure to maintain the status quo that ultimately keeps men from having to face the repercussions of their abuses.
I am rather disappointed to acknowledge that I am in the unfortunate position of being a victim with no physical evidence. I would almost definitely lose in a game of His Word vs. Hers. And what makes this situation worse is that as someone who’s gone through this before – I have no excuse not to have protected myself better. In my case, there may be nothing I can do beyond warning you all not to be as stupid. Actually, I will gladly embrace my mistake if it saves a thousand others that would have been just like it.
As a victim, it’s unfair to think you have a responsibility, but you do. If you allow things to continue without bringing them to light, you’ll allow them to continue to happen to other women. If I don’t say something, then you won’t say something. If you don’t say something, then she won’t say something. If she doesn’t say something…well, that silence gets pretty fucking deafening after a while.
So what do we do in a society that is far from perfect? Knowing that when heavy allegations are made, evidence is very typically necessary, we may need to take very deliberate action. As smart phones get even smarter, the ability to capture harassment may need to keep up. If it doesn’t already exist, some smart person who’s reading this should create a new app that would instantly start recording audio and video. Smile dipshit, your horrifying advances are on camera! Until this app exists, save that email that crosses the line, maybe invest in a hidden camera, hell, message me and we’ll find a way to turn the tables on your particular asshole.
But most importantly, we simply need to start a new mini-movement and talk more about sexual harassment. People will try to make it into a joke. People will try to get you to stay silent. But if you stay silent, they win. Our society is brewing toward a major social upheaval, and it’s time for some assholes to feel some heat.