I know how to take a joke, and I’m a firm believer in not taking life too seriously and laughing things off whenever possible — but there are some things that just aren’t OK. I was sexually harassed at work, and while the guy may not have actually touched me, he definitely left a scar that will always stay with me. It took me a while to confront the issue because he was a superior and very high up on the corporate ladder, but once I did, I learned some valuable lessons that will benefit me forever:
- Just because the harassment was verbal doesn’t make it any less hurtful, scary or inappropriate. No, I wasn’t slapped in the ass or groped in the lunchroom, but his words, which felt like daggers, made me feel uncomfortable in the place where I spend a majority of my time and should feel safe.
- Being called “baby” at work is never OK. When in the world did it become OK to refer to a co-worker as “baby,” “babe,” or “honey”? NEVER. Not only was this guy not my friend outside of the workplace, he was undermining me as an employee by using pet names to refer to me.
- I am not an object. There was one instance where he walked up to me and complimented me on my outfit (which he often did) and told me to stand up and “spin around so [he could] see.” I told him I was too busy and he then said that he was mandating pencil skirt Friday because he “loved seeing [my] sweet sweet legs.” I am not a piece of meat. I was not put in this office to provide entertainment.
- Standing up for yourself is the most important thing you can do. Before I grew the balls to finally tell HR about what was going on, I started sticking up for myself (slowly but surely). It was very intimidating to stand up to someone who had such authority, but I did. While the comments and looks kept coming, I learned that being passive was only showing him that I was weak. Saying something showed him that I was NOT OK with it.
- Unfortunately, many men think they’re more powerful than women. It sucks, but its a reality. There are some men out there that don’t take female co-workers seriously. While I’m not a die hard feminist, there was nothing that infuriated me and degraded me more like being told to wear my glasses because they “bring out the sexy in the secretary.” Newsflash: I wasn’t even a secretary.
- My outfit choices are MY choices. I like to look nice for work and have always been very aware of what is appropriate. Having him telling me to wear pencil skirts or commenting to undo “just one more button” was him intruding on my life. I liked my Ann Taylor Loft pants and buttoning my top high enough so my statement necklace could be shown off. I was NOT going to mold to his version of “sexy.”
- Ignorance is bliss… until the situation becomes unavoidable. While it would have been amazing to tune him out and just go about my day, I couldn’t ignore this loser. He got into my head and lowered my self-esteem with his “compliments.” I felt like my sole purpose in my workplace was to look good for the men. That’s not what I wanted or what I ever will want in a job (or in life in general).
- People making excuses for him and saying he “didn’t mean it” are total BS. When I finally did go to HR, my harasser was reprimanded and allegedly had counseling but he wasn’t let go. One of the managers sat me down and told me that he didn’t mean it and his intentions were harmless. That almost made me more mad than being called “baby” in front of five other male co-workers. I immediately decided that my self-worth was much more important than a cushy 9-5 job. I put in my two weeks’ notice three days later. No one will ever speak to me that way again.