Thursday, December 6, 2007

Sexual Harrassment is a Not-So-Fun Spot (to find yourself in)

For quite some time now, I felt that something was “off” with the company I have been working for. Family run, every owner, manager, and higher-up had known each other for years, and this created a sense of impenetrability, and infallibility. In other words, no matter what any of them did or said, I knew there would be no repercussions; after all, who could fire family? It wasn’t until a few months into my job, however, that I truly began to feel their faint misogynistic undertones creeping into the workplace.

The first time I ever took specific notice of this behavior was one of the first times I was called in to work on a Saturday. Alone in the office, the male manager on duty (MOD) and his male lead came in, sat down directly across from me, and exclaimed, “Man! Have you seen [co-worker’s] ass?! She is HOT.”

In short, I was stunned, and completely unsure how to respond. Was I expected to agree? Should I pretend to laugh along with them to get in their good graces, to be “one of the guys?” Should I be honest with how appalled I was?

Coming from a company in which the slightest *hint* of sexual harassment required a Disney Inquisition, I was shocked that these two men had no qualms discussing another co-worker’s body with me in such a sexual way, especially when I was the only female in the office. Their words made me upset, because they weren’t just about the comment itself; they ran much deeper than that. These two male superiors were valuing the woman for nothing more than her body. Not her work ethic, or her customer service abilities, or her mind, but rather “her hot ass.”

It made me wonder if that was how they viewed ME, and the other women at work. If they were talking to me about another co-worker, were they talking about all of us? Was that all we women were to these men? Separate, disconnected body parts?

I was extremely uncomfortable, but suppressed my feelings, thinking that I was overreacting, or acting like a “prude.” It wasn’t long, however, until things began to become even worse.

During one of our daily meetings, the same MOD was discussing an event we were going to be hosting at work. The local boy’s volleyball team was invited to a free day of go-karting, food, and fun, and the managers were discussing how we “might as well” invite the women’s team so that the men’s team would be able to “have some fun” (well if THAT shouldn’t have been the first sign …). In any case, the MOD, in front of the entire morning shift, began with “oh man, hot girl athletes in little shorts … can I work this event?” Chalk up another one on his scale of sexual sketchiness.

It was only a few weeks later when I heard from another co-worker some (for once) positive news – apparently, sexual harassment would be the topic of our morning meeting. I went into the meeting extremely excited. Finally, someone else had realized the inappropriateness of the MOD’s comments, and was going to warn us about that kind of behavior! As I walked into the meeting, however, I was confused to see that specific MOD leading the discussion. “Sexual harassment?” he laughed, “Pssh! Sexual harassment is the reason I work here!” I looked around for another face as appalled as I’m sure mine was, yet found only laughing faces. Our Human Resources director and General Manager were hysterical, loving every minute of his “goofy” jokes.

I was completely disheartened. It was at that moment that I realized there was no real action I could take; going to HR or the GM was obviously out of the question – they had known the MOD for over 10 years, and would obviously take his side any day over mine – especially since sexual harassment was such a non-issue for them.

That night, I called home in tears, feeling in my heart that something was very wrong with my work environment. Expecting to find support, I found only disbelief and skepticism. My mother couldn’t believe that “such nice people who I used to love working with” would ever engage in such behavior, and my father had the nerve to suggest that “just because I was offended by a joke didn’t mean that it was inappropriate, and that maybe I should just ‘lighten up’.”

Everything I had ever read in Women’s Studies was coming true right before my eyes. Because I am young, and because I am a woman, I was “obviously” exaggerating. I was acting like a “typical woman,” because I was emotional. I was terribly vain because I thought I was “hot” enough to be in a situation of sexual harassment.

The criticism I was faced with upset me almost as much as the sexually charged work environment, if not more. And yet the comments continued, until today at work, which was the final straw for me. I had put up with comments about other womens’ bodies. I heard women told they couldn’t work in specific areas because the men would be too distracted by them. I had listened in quiet disbelief as the MOD “joked” about how he didn’t want a dress code at our Christmas party so that he could see the girls in tight dresses. I had suffered through comments about the outfits I wore, the shoes I had on (“wow, come here and look at her drag queen shoes!), the homophobic comments I would receive if I wore a rainbow bracelet to work (I wish I was making this up). Nothing could compare to the owner’s comments at today’s morning meeting, however.

Moving to the front of the room, the owner revealed his plan to open up a new wing house restaurant near our new location. The name? T & A. Yeah. T & A. As in “Tits and Ass.” Oh, wait, I mean “tasty and affordable, although I’m sure the ‘double entendre’ will help with business, especially for the male audience ;)”

Wow. If I ever had ANY doubts about the male perception of my female co-workers, they were completely erased from my mind. Especially with his follow-up comment – “I mean, ha ha ha, god made ‘em, we may as well love ‘em.”

Oh, but wait. It gets worse. A hour or so later, the bosses old friend, let’s call him Chris, came in to visit with a woman. Having never met me before, Chris introduced himself, and then the woman, Ellen. Upon hearing this, the boss bellows “Ellen? What is this? Call her what she is – your wife!”

Gosh, what was Chris thinking? I mean, introducing his wife as a person with a name instead of as his property? What does he think this is? The 21st century? Hellooo.

Needless to say, I was furious, and had to write about my experiences. I realize this may read more like a personal journal than a public forum, but I truly do believe that is through the personal experiences of women, and the sharing of our stories that change can be made. Before today, I had only shared this story with my parents (and we all know their reaction), and my boyfriend, who was extremely supportive, and gave me some great ideas on how to handle the situation.

It makes me incredibly mad, however, that women have to deal with situations like this on a daily basis. The fact that we still live in a society where we are considered –by not all, but many – to be no more than objects of desire. To work for men, not for ourselves. That our bodies are celebrated more than our minds. And most of all, it makes me mad that we are put into situations like this where we are not believed. We are exaggerating. We are over-reacting. We are prude and humorless and bitter and vain. And we are ANGRY.

Tonight, especially, I am very angry with myself. After all of this, I still confessed to my boyfriend that I didn’t think I could quit my job. The money was great. The hours were flexible. I didn’t want to go through the hassle of applying elsewhere and going through interviews and figuring out a whole new system of work. It meant the world to me when he turned to me, and looked at ME with disbelief. “Isn’t this kind of behavior exactly what you stand against? Women having to deal with these awful situations because they don’t think they are good enough or strong enough to leave? You know that you are, and no one, NO ONE should have to deal with that kind of behavior.”

In that moment, my internalized feelings of inferiority were brought to life, and I realized how dead on he was. I was accepting what these men were doing to me. I was going to allow this behavior to continue on. I was going to lose my voice, my identity, my self worth, my pride, and most importantly, my self respect.

Women of the world, we cannot tolerate this! If we allow this type of behavior to continue, we will never break the endless cycle of oppression. We will be giving in to the idea that we are only there, like the women’s volleyball team, to be men’s playthings. To that, I say HELL NO. We, like that team, are so much more than misogynistic males’ perspectives of us. We are strong, brave, and tough, and we do NOT need to put up with this behavior. We need to talk to one another, to not be afraid to share our stories and our experiences, because with the support of each other, we can reach our full potentials as individuals. Let’s realize our full potential, and be proud of who we are J


Amber said...

I hope that, instead of quitting, or at least before you do, you actually do speak to your managers about how disrespectful you find their comments to be, otherwise they'll never know. It's never fair to harbor resentful feelings against someone while they are completely in the dark, no matter how much they may deserve it, especially if they are people you once considered friends. You're trying to educate people on these matters, but you can't just educate the victims; the offenders need to learn as well.

I know how much you love that job, but if situations don't improve, or even if you don't feel comfortable working there after this, you know you're definitely worth more than such treatment :)


natalie said...

What a well-written, beautifully-articulated post! I definitely agree with everything you said, and I'm happy you have a supportive, understanding boyfriend.

j.mendoza said...

you know, when i first saw that subway commercial, i thought 'wait, did they seriously just say that?' and i know it's repulsive and all but, utilizing fear and inducing anxiety in viewers knows no refusers, and subway is showing they'll go to such lengths as others have to sell their product. i'll still eat subway and get the most fattening thing because as we all know, fat = delicious, but if i should have any quarrel with jared & co., is those family guy commercials. seriously, family guy.

Kayleigh said...

That is disgusting! I'm sorry, Jaime. Do you still work there?

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