There has been a trend popping up in my Facebook feed encouraging women to write “Me Too” in their statuses as a way to shed a light on the very serious issue of sexual harassment or sexual abuse/assault. When I first saw it showing up I thought to myself that there can’t be that many women that I know that have dealt with some aspect of this in their life, but as the days wore on I started to see more and more women writing the simple line of “Me Too” in their status. I was really surprised at this. I don’t know why I was surprised, because I know it’s such a common thing these days and that almost all women have experienced it at some point in their lives. What made me even more surprised was that, while I was completely engrossed in sympathy for all of these other women, I completely forgot that I have experienced it too. I am a “Me Too” person as well.
I have been by no means quiet about the two instances. I know many women feel shame or embarrassment over the situations. Some of these women probably have much worse stories than mine are, and maybe they feel that their voices weren’t heard when they first experienced it so it’s easiest just to push it under the rug and pretend it never happened. For me, I have told people about my two moments but it’s not like I’m shouting it from the roof top. One of the situations anyone who regularly reads what I write in here knows about. That will follow shortly.
In my early 20s, when I was living in New Zealand and relatively new to the country, I spent a fair amount of time at bars drinking with new friends as it was what 20 year olds do. Back then you could barely walk through one bar without some drunk guy sticking his hand out as you walked by and he would give your butt a squeeze. When you’re that young, likely drunk, single and hoping to meet a cute guy, for some reason the butt squeeze wasn’t considered sexual assault, it was considered flirting. A “hey, I think you’re cute” kind of way to get attention. I would like to say it’s childish, but it isn’t even that. Instead of approaching a woman that they thought was cute, they would instead wait for her to walk by and give an appreciative, drunken, squeeze of the butt. I can’t remember now if I ever stopped to talk to any of these guys, but I’m fairly certain I usually just laughed and kept on walking. Back then it was a compliment to me. Fast forward to the me of 34 years old, if that happened to me I would be turning around so fast and I would lose my sh** on them so hard they wouldn’t know what hit them. It makes me sad to think that back then it was something that was just a normal occurrence and not even worth reporting to someone. You never saw me standing by the bar and a cute guy walked by and I would reach out to stroke his abs through his shirt or grab his ass. So why is it that women would basically allow guys to do that? And it’s these drunk guys at the bar that didn’t learn their lesson in their early 20s so they now continue to spend their later adult years thinking they can get away with it. But now women are speaking up about it. This sh** needs to stop.
The first time I realized I was actually sexually assaulted was when I was about 24 years old and out for a run. It was a good run. I can remember it well. I was near home and feeling pumped about my speed and time. As I was focusing on the final few hundred meters of my run, I felt a slap and quick squeeze on my butt. At first I thought it was my boyfriend being silly, but as I turned around quickly I saw a face of a man I didn’t recognize. He was on a bike so the moment went by really fast, but to this day it felt like minutes went by as I looked at his sneering face as he removed his hand and kept riding on. I stood for a moment shocked and a little shaken. I walked the rest of the way home and told my brother, who was visiting at the time. He leapt out of his seat and was putting his shoes on demanding and yelling wanting to know what way the guy went, what he looked like, what he was wearing. He was going to hunt this guy down and give him a piece of his mind, as protective big brothers do. For some reason, in my naïve mind, I thought it wasn’t that bad of a situation and I told him not to worry about it. He still went out and walked around for a bit but nothing ever came from it as clearly the guy had gotten away. 34 year old me now realizes that I should have phoned the police and reported the incident and given a description of the guy. Maybe what he did he thought was harmless, but maybe he was someone capable of more and was on the police’s radar as someone they were looking for. Grown up hindsight is a tough thing.
The second incident was one I wrote about a few months ago here at work. What would be considered a rumour is actually a form of sexual harassment in the work place. It was the rumour that went around stating that I had an affair with a co-worker simply because we were friends and joked around a lot. While it isn’t the worst sexual harassment claim out there, it’s still one that was put on me because I am a female and whoever started it could get away with it because, as a female, we typically don’t speak up about things like this. Instead of getting upset about something that was absolutely untrue, I just rolled my eyes and shrugged my shoulders figuring it would go away with time. It has gone away. But that is in part because the person I was allegedly having the affair with was recently “let go” from his job and I don’t speak to him anymore, and the person I believed started the rumour has also been under investigation for other sexual harassment reports against him and he’s been on paid leave while they do their investigation. When the rumour first came out I reported it to our Union representative. I then spoke to him on the phone and I told him who I believed started the rumour and said that it was harassment and this kind of stuff needs to be shut down straight away. After a bit of talking he said to me that unfortunately all he can do is document the information I gave him and nothing else more could be done unless I wanted to launch a big investigation into the start of the rumour. He said that because I wasn’t 100% certain that it was that particular person, there wasn’t much else to be done. I accepted this answer and let it go. When I got told he was on leave while under investigation I thought this would be the end of him. They would fire him. But….on Friday I was pulled into a manager’s office and privately told that this person is coming back. I don’t know how to take this news. My first reaction is anger. Anger that they would let someone who has clearly, clearly sexually harassed multiple colleagues right to their faces, to come back and continue work as though nothing happened. My second reaction is confusion. How the heck am I supposed to work alongside this guy that I know so much about and who I think should be fired? I’m frustrated to say the least. This is another situation of a man doing something to multiple women and getting away with it. I don’t know if he will come back having learned his lesson or if he will come back cocky because he got away with it. I really don’t know. How can someone go sexually harassing his colleagues and get all the support in the world, but when I bring up the allegations against me, I’m basically told there is nothing that can be done without doing an investigation that would have affected my job as well as my relationship with other colleagues. Ultimately making it so I would have no choice but to find a different job. Especially if I went through it and they came back and declared there is insufficient evidence to prove he said these things about me. How awkward would it be for me to be at work after that and after everyone knows about it? So I did what so many other women in far worse situations do. I just dropped it and didn’t bother getting deep into it.
Anyway, I have a lot of frustrations around that. Some personal and some because my co-worker friends will be affected by his return. Maybe he will do what he does again and this time to the wrong person and there will be sufficient evidence against him to get him gone for good. I can only hope.
I work in a white collar office and every day I deal with blue collar men. The bluest of blue collar men. I have had one man, who is in his late 50’s actually tell me last week that the reason he goes to one of the restaurants he goes to on his lunch break is because one of the waitresses has a good *insert big boob hand motion here*. I was the only one in the room and he said it to me like I was one of his guy buddies. This isn’t the first time he’s made inappropriate comments about women in front of me. Every time I tell him that it’s not appropriate and he should really stop. But he’s a joker and if he isn’t saying it to me, he’s going to say it to someone else. I’m not easily offended, and just like him making a boob comment, I will occasionally make a comment about a man’s body to a friend every now and then. I’m not innocent in that regard. But I don’t do it in the workplace and never to anyone’s face. It doesn’t make a difference though. Either way I’m objectifying a human being and it’s exactly how he’s objectifying a woman he doesn’t even know. So this is a learning experience for me too.
So, as these posts go around on facebook, I can only hope that it will at least open up some discussion about sexual harassment/abuse/assault on women in the workplace and even outside of the workplace. It will open the eyes of employers who have chosen to turn a blind eye on the subject because they would rather protect their high income earning men. It will stop the inequality of women who can be just as powerful in any job as a man can be. I hope that it will start to make people realize that a woman is not for there for people to make inappropriate comments to or to do things to her to try to make her “earn” a higher up job. It still amazes me that even in this day and age we still have this battle going on.