Just to warn you, this is about to get very personal.
So, March is Women’s History month.
After dealing with some harassment at work the past couple weeks, I’m going to share a little bit of my history with you. Sadly, this history is not only my own as there are countless other people out there who have dealt with similar (or worse) situations.
This past Friday, someone called me “Sweetie” in an email chain that consisted of me and three guys in my office. I immediately wrote back so everyone could see that that was the last time that I was to be referred to by that term and that I didn’t like it. Disregarding my request, some of the people in the email chain continued to joke around about it and said that that was to be my new nickname. I wrote back that I would sue their asses for sexual harassment and that’s when someone finally stepped in.
I was being facetious and was not going to sue anybody, but I was serious when I said I did not want to be referred to as “Sweetie” by my male colleagues. I’m a grownup and am not close friends with these people, so I did not want them to call me that. When I said “don’t call me that,” it should have stopped there, but it didn’t. A male manager stepped in and reprimanded the other people and then called me to apologize and say that what I did was right and that they should have stopped when I asked them to. Both of the guys who were teasing me apologized as well and it was made clear that they were sorry and that they wouldn’t call me that again.
I accepted their apologies. Honestly, I knew the teasing was likely to be short-lived anyway, but I wanted to put an end to it before it went further than it did because I’m not comfortable with that kind of teasing from people who are not close friends. I have had prior experience with sexual harassment and sexual assault and though getting called an annoying term of endearment is pretty tame, it can lead to other, more serious issues.
The week prior, a person in my office was verbally bullying me. He spoke down at me for things that were beyond my control and then patronized me when I tried to remain calm and polite during our encounter. He kept saying, “Don’t take it personal. Awwwww, you’re taking it personal.” Of course I’m taking it personal – you are directing your anger and condescending tone directly at me.
I told my manager about the incident directly after it happened. I told him I was treated disrespectfully about things that were out of my immediate control. I was told that while the person who talked down to me was in the wrong, that I should just deal with it because that’s the other person’s personality.
This same person was rude to another colleague. I encouraged her to speak up about her incident and she did. It was only after we both complained on separate occasions that the person who was disrespectful to us was reprimanded.
It makes me frustrated when stuff like this happens at work. Though sadly, I’ve dealt with worse before.
When I was just out of college, I was working at a place that got large deliveries of boxes. After awhile, one of the main delivery guys started talking to me. He was probably 30+ years older than me, but I was raised to be polite when people talk, and so I would make small talk when I would have to sign for the deliveries.
It got to the point where this delivery guy would corner me to talk to me while deliveries where being brought it. A couple times, he touched my arm and would lean in really close. This gave me the creeps and I told my colleagues who in turn encouraged me to report it to my manager. I told her what the guy did and how he would interact with me. She said that she would tell her manager and that they would request that that delivery guy not be allowed in our area anymore. She said that if he ever came back, to let someone else handle the deliveries even if I was supposed to do it. I was good friends with several of my colleagues and they all vowed to keep the delivery guy away from me. A few weeks later, I was promised the delivery guy was not allowed at our location anymore. However, he still came in to do a delivery. For some reason, my colleagues nor my manager were around. I was forced to deal with the delivery guy. I stayed as far away from him as possible and luckily he didn’t touch me during our interaction.
I didn’t feel threatened, but I felt vulnerable and uncomfortable being around a stranger who tried to touch me when I didn’t want to be touched.
See, I have a problem with people (especially strangers) touching me.
When I was 15-years-old, I was groped at Disney World by a stranger.
I was in Florida with my high school marching band. We marched at EPCOT for Magic Music Days during my freshman year. After performing, we had the rest of the day to walk around the park. So, my friends and I decided to go visit the different countries. Our first stop was Mexico. We rode the ride inside the temple thing and then came outside to see that there was a line of people waiting to get their picture taken with Mexican Donald Duck. We got in line and each took a picture. When it was my turn, I put my arms around Donald Duck to give him a hug and whoever was in the Donald costumer put their arms around me to give me a hug. A friend snapped the picture and I knew my turn was over. As I went to pull my arms away, I was pulled in closer. Whoever was inside of Donald pulled me in far enough for them to completely wrap their arms around my back so that their hands were on the sides and front of my breasts. As I tried to get away, whoever was in the costume started squeezing my breasts. After a few seconds of struggling, I managed to squirm my way out of Donald’s grasp and back over to my group of friends.
As we walked away, I told my friends what happened and it was decided that I should tell our chaperone when it was time to meet up. While we walked away, I played the event over in my head and at first I thought it was kind of funny – just because it was so unexpected and awkward and strange and weird that Donald Duck would do that – but then it made me really upset.
When we met up with our chaperone, she initially thought it was funny too, but then right away felt horrible and realized how seriously upset I was. We then had to track down the band director and tell him what happened. I was allowed to hang out with my friends for the rest of the day, but that night, I spent a long time in security with my band director, my chaperone, my sister (who was a junior at the time and also in the band) and a bunch of Disney officials. They made me tell my story over and over again and I remember being really upset and crying/getting snot all over my band director’s shirt. I missed out on the fireworks and spent the whole time crying. Then, that night at the hotel, I was chaperoned as I made a phone call to my parents to tell them what happened. Luckily, they were down in Florida visiting my grandparents and I was to see them the next day anyway.
The next day, I’m pretty sure I cried about the whole thing all over again when I met up with my family at Kennedy Space Center. It happened early in the trip, but I was able to enjoy the rest of the time at Disney and other spots in Florida we went to.
I remember when I got back home and got my pictures developed, my mom took the pictures before I had a chance to look at them. She didn’t want me to see the picture of me getting hugged/groped by Donald Duck.
I never saw the picture, but I did see the negative. (I don’t know if my parents know that…) It made me cringe because I was smiling in the picture – probably because it was snapped before the groping actually happened (since that went down when I was trying to move so the next person could have their turn).
The worst thing is, though, besides reliving that in my head at the worst possible times, is that nothing happened afterward. I spent that whole night in security telling my story and I don’t think anyone got in trouble. I’m pretty sure it happened to another girl that day from a different school (at least that’s what I heard). And, because I knew the time I was near the Mexico area of the park, they should have had access to a schedule of who was in the Donald Duck costumer at that time. But nothing happened. Or, at least, nothing happened to Donald Duck.
Something happened to me.
As much as I’ve tried to completely forget about it, it’s always in the back of my mind and rears its ugly head when I’m around people I don’t know, or I feel vulnerable in a situation. I sometimes wonder if it’s why I haven’t allowed myself to get close to many people because I’m honestly scared that someone will do that again.
Someone felt me up when I was 15 and wearing a too-big t-shirt and a sports bra. Fourteen years later, I’m a grown woman with big boobs who refuses to wear low-cut tops in public because I don’t want to draw attention to myself in that way.
I’m sitting here crying as I’m typing this because it bothers me a lot more than I usually let on. However, I know I am a lot stronger than the people who did this to me think I am.
I know that there are other people out there who have experienced much more traumatic and life-scarring instances of sexual harassment and sexual assault and sadly more and more people will go through this in their lifetime.
No one has the right to treat anyone like this, but it still happens. However, we don’t have to keep silent about it. We need to keep speaking up for ourselves and others who go through unwanted sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Sorry if that was a downer to read… but if you haven’t personally gone through this, I’m sure you know someone who has. Sexual harassment and sexual assault are real problems that countless people needlessly experience.
No means No. Stop means Stop. It’s really as easy as that.