I’m a bit late here, but today I’m going to share my #MeToo story. If you’re unaware of this campaign, you can see more about it here. Although I’ve dealt with this twice in my life, I’m going to focus on the harassment I received in the workplace. The assault I experienced as a child will be saved for another time.
“If It Were Me, I’d…”
We all think we know how we’d react in any given situation. We have in our minds that if it were us, we’d stick up for ourselves or fight back. And after being assaulted as a child, I swore up and down that I would never let anyone make me feel like that again. I told myself that if someone ever tried to harass or assault me again I would fight back. I’m not a meek person nor do I put up with injustice. However, I’ve found that I’m much better at standing up for others than I am standing up for myself.
By the time I reached my 20’s, I hadn’t had many issues with harassment. I mean, I’ve been getting cat-called by strange men since I was 10, but otherwise I hadn’t dealt with continuing harassment. (It’s really sad and quite disgusting, by the way, that being cat-called as a child is such a normal occurrence for us that it’s brushed off, even by the victims.) I’d been followed by men who were angry that I didn’t swoon at their oh-so-inviting, “Hey bitch, you’re hot!” but I hadn’t had to deal with it from one person on a regular basis until the age of 25.
Real Life Is Different
Life has a way of turning your expectations upside down. I began working for a small office and at first everything was fine. I enjoyed my job. For the most part, I liked my coworkers, too. So, I was caught completely off guard when my male coworker walked into my office and hit me in the ass with x-ray films. All of my fight went out the window and I just looked at him in shocked silence.
He looked as though he realized he had made a mistake, so I let it go. What had really happened was I didn’t know how to deal with it so I excused it. I told myself it was a one-time thing and that it wouldn’t happen again. I kept it to myself and didn’t even tell my husband, who knows more about me than he’d probably like to.
From that point on, any time I was alone with him he would steer the conversation toward sex. It didn’t matter what we were talking about, he would find a way to connect it to sex in some way. I told him that my dad had a lot of siblings and boom! We’re talking about sex. I tell him that I used to work for a primary care doctor and somehow we’re talking about sex. I say “we”, but it truly was just him. When he would bring it up I would quickly change the subject.
After a while, I informed my manager of the problem and she told me to write it down to put in his file. Shortly after, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one he was harassing. Our receptionist had been dealing with the same thing and was told exactly what I was: “Write it down and I’ll put it in his file.”
Eventually, our manager left. This meant that when he struck again, I had to go higher up. And, of course, he did strike again: While talking about where to plug in my fax machine, he told me that he would “hate to walk by and see you bent over”. I finally spoke up and told him that was highly inappropriate. He ignored me.
I later told the receptionist and she and I decided to go to the owner together and report him. So, we did. I’m sure you can already guess what we got in response, but I’ll tell you: Nothing.
The first words out of our boss’ mouth were, “Well, that doesn’t sound like him.” Which roughly translates to: “Well, he hasn’t done it to me, so…”
We were then told that he would “look into it” and get back with us, which he did.
In his looking, he discovered that not only had the coworker been harassing us, but he had also harassed at least six nurses at the hospital in which they performed surgery. Even with all of that, with eight different women confirming this behavior, the man was not reprimanded in any way. He wasn’t suspended. He wasn’t fired. He was given a “stern talk” and left at that.
And I was told by my boss that I “misunderstood” what he had said to me. So I guess I just misunderstood when he slapped me in the ass? I misunderstood when he obsessively brought up sex in every conversation? Okay…
The only thing that happened from reporting him was a hostile work environment for me. Because he was informed that I had reported him but wasn’t fired, that meant that I had to work with him every day and he made sure that those days were miserable.
As I said, I am not a meek person, yet in my shock at his actions I became meek. I had never been in such a situation and truly did not know what to do, so I did what I thought was best by reporting him. I could have lashed out, I could have cussed him out, but what good would that have done? I would have not only been the victim of abuse, but I also would have been out of a job because the abuser is always believed over the victim.
It’s real easy to judge a situation that you’ve never been in, but you don’t really know how you’d handle it until you experience it. I’d always assumed that if I were ever in this situation I would handle it differently; I would cuss the person out and walk off the job, but when it actually happened to me, that’s not at all how I reacted.
There is no good option when you’ve been sexually assaulted or harassed, especially when it happens at work. You can either lose your income and a job you like or you can keep your mouth shut and deal with it. If you’re trying to get ahead in your career or you can’t afford to lose your job, you’re going to do the latter.
This is what women who are sexually harassed in the workplace go through. This is how we are treated. We are victimized by men and then patted on the head by other men and told that we’re just confused little girls. This is why we don’t speak up because we know that it is going to do more harm to us than to the abuser. By speaking up, we risk not only losing our source of income, but also losing references or running the risk of our bosses making sure we can’t get another job in our field.
So, the next time you hear about a woman being sexually harassed and you want to assume she’s lying because, “Why didn’t she say anything?” or “Why didn’t she quit?”, stop for just a moment and walk around in our shoes for a second.
I didn’t quit because that would have let him off the hook. I did nothing wrong, so why should I lose a job I like because my coworker happens to be a serial harasser? If I leave, another woman will take my place and he’ll continue his harassment. By staying, I showed him that he couldn’t shut me up or make me go away.
I didn’t say anything at first for a very simple reason: Embarrassment. I was ashamed of myself for not reacting how I thought I would. I was embarrassed that I had allowed this to happen without standing up for myself. I now realize that I had nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of, but at the time I didn’t know how to deal with it so I kept quiet.
Are there women who make things up to hurt men or get attention? Yes. I actually know one that would do just that. However, they are the minority and those of us who tell the truth should not be written off solely because a small percentage of women might lie.
If a woman speaks out about harassment, abuse or assault, she does so to her own detriment. She will more than likely lose her job or find herself in a hostile work environment and more often than not, it will all be for nothing because she won’t be believed.