I was 15 the first time I experienced sexual harassment at work. I was wearing a sweater with an applique of Mickey Mouse on it. Mickey is standing with one hand on his hip and one hand upraised in a wave. That upraised hand landed almost directly over my left breast and the custodian at the library asked me, with a wink, if he could shake Mickey’s hand. It was gross and creepy. And I told . . . no one.
I wish I could say that was the only time a man said something inappropriate to me at work but it was just the start. There was the probation officer who invited me to a Super Bowl Party at his house and when I got there it was only him and one other man in attendance. They were both married, by the way. There was the summer I worked in the Mayor’s Office and, when asked what I did there, the Mayor replied that my job was to make the office look pretty. There was the time I got a summer job as a secretary at an armory and I was told not to dress cute for work since it might distract the soldiers. I’ve had my ass grabbed and my head patted. There has been an incident at just about every job I’ve ever had, including my current one where, several years ago, another department head told me I was fat but he’d still “f**k me.”
I have never reported any of those things. Some were so subtle that I didn’t even realize they were harassment until later. Others were blatant but I didn’t want to risk disapproval from my colleagues by getting someone in trouble. All of them made me feel ashamed.
I’m not sharing this now for sympathy or attention, nor do I think my stories are unique. I’m sharing it because sexual harassment is once again in the headlines and it’s disturbing. I’m sharing it because I’m very certain that every woman has stories like mine. We need to give women the support they need to come forward. We need to empower women to stand up and speak out and tell their truth even if it damages someone’s reputation.
This needs to stop.
Jo-Ann Coles says
I’m so sorry that you’ve had these things happen. I agree that it needs to stop. I look forward to the day when this is the exception rather than the rule.
AMEN! This is especially profound on International Women’s Day. (I have so many similar experiences, Carole.) I’d like to get to the place where the people who do this expect to be reported… because until that happens, I don’t think this behavior will stop.
I expect most women have stories like this, and I’m sure for every story we hear about, there are dozens we don’t. I am sorry you’ve experienced this harassment. I’m sorry any woman has to experience it.
Mary K. in Rockport says
Yes, every woman (and girl) probably has undergone exactly the kinds of unwanted attentions you describe. I rewatched “A League of Their Own” recently – it’s amazingly therapeutic.
Ah, the Patriarchy. It must go. I’ve been pretty fortunate in this regard, but it pisses me off it persists.
I am so sorry you felt ashamed Carole. I did, too, when I was very young, but then I only got angry. The pendulum is swinging too far in the direction of punishment for minor interactions, IMO, and I am a diehard feminist. I am not speaking about any particular individual, but I don’t think men’s lives should be totally ruined for flirting, but the patriarchy must start policing itself. Unwanted flirting is very different from sexual abuse, in my mind. Women must be supported enough to start telling men at the time it occurs that it is unwanted attention and move on. After all, women welcome flirting from men they find attractive. It’s how we all have dating experiences and partners. And women must be supported enough to report real abuse quickly and concisely while expecting appropriate responses. I hope my comment doesn’t offend anyone, but these feelings have been brewing for a while.
I have had the same type of experiences, beginning in 8th grade from a teacher and through college from a professor who offered “extra help”. I also felt ashamed and wondered what I had done to invite these incidents. I was young, scared, and naive, but I wouldn’t hesitate to report them now, as I hope any woman who experienced it would.
Linda W. says
This has been going on since the beginning of time. I haven’t come across a woman who doesn’t have a story (or stories) about some type of harassment from a man.
While in high school, there were a couple of men who exposed themselves (genitals) to me while shopping at a strip mall and another man who told me what he wanted to do to me while doing gross things with his tongue as I walked past him in the street. My girlfriend (while in high school working as a page at the library) told me she had intercourse for the first time with an older man who also worked at the library in his office. It didn’t get any better at university. I was talking with my friends in a bar and a guy pinched (really hard) my behind that left a bruise as he walked by.
I was wary of men and didn’t let myself get into questionable situations and some guys called me a “prude” among other names. Unfortunately for a couple of my sisters and my girlfriends, there were situations that ranged from innuendo to sexual assault.
You are right. This has to stop!
No one should be treated like that. I worked in a bank at one time and one of my bosses cornered me and kissed me on the lips because I looked sad.
Helen Mathey-Horn says
I don’t know about you, but the times it has happened to me it has caught me off guard with no quick comeback. I would suggest everyone practice a ‘line’ or two for the future. If you never have to use it, great!
I’m sorry you had this happen to you. I think we all had at one time and it has to stop. I’d forgotten about it but when I worked at this one company we had a guy in a car outside who’d ask you directions and when you got to his car he was naked from the waist down enjoying himself. We were lucky that we walked out together so we weren’t alone with him.
ugh! my stories aren’t the same as yours, but they’re similar. it’s got to stop.
I know that sometimes I didn’t even realize it for what it actually was until later, so caught off guard in the moment, or because it was so subtle… but harassment is harassment!!
Lauri BLAAUBOER says
If men would ask the women in their lives, almost all of them would probably have a story, or several, to tell. And what does that say about men? Probably that many to mist gave been violators to a small degree or more than that. Denial isn’t the answer. Being responsible for ones actions, appologising, learning, and not perpetuating the problem. Ego is the word. Men teaching young men something different, not ego, is what is needed. Just my 2 cents 🙂 Thanks for the topic, Carole.
Yes! I was probably about 15 too and if you knew what I looked like at 15 you’d wonder what??? Hopefully the next generation (Dan and Hannah’s) will lead the charge because they know this is unacceptable.
Looking back- yes I know we all have something we can see as now as sexual harassment. It’s sad that it is still going on, but we’ve got to keep pushing this issue. Thank you for being open to sharing your story.