Last week I found myself, quite surprisingly, being asked to participate in a sexual harassment investigation at my job.
My boss pulled me into an office to talk to two women in suits who I had never seen before. They introduced themselves and informed me they were from HR. I immediately started to worry I was in some sort of trouble. I went over my actions over the past week wondering what I might have done in the past few weeks that would warrant bringing in HR.
I think they could tell I was freaking out because they told me to relax. They said this wasn’t about anything I had done. Turns out they were investigating a sexual harassment claim and they needed me to answer a few questions, and they needed me to answer honestly. The last instruction was unnecessary, I always find I am incapable of lying in these situations.
From the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):
It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
They asked me about the environment I work in and I found myself admitting for the first time, in 8 years, that my workplace was pretty damn offensive. I didn’t think, I just spoke, and at the end of it I wished I could have said more. In the short time I was in that room I realized that the way things were at my job was not right and that I didn’t want it to continue.
Some of the incidents I have dealt with at work just in the past week include:
- A co-worker sitting across the table from me announcing he was going to tell a few “child molester” jokes. I appreciated the announcement, gave me time to put my headphones in.
- A few of my co-workers watching a video on YouTube about how a woman’s “hotness” directly correlates to her “craziness”. They informed me that all women were at least a 4 on the crazy scale though. When I said I didn’t agree with the video they called me crazy.
- A staff member commenting on the fact that while one of the office workers was good at her job, she was “no sweetheart” as if that mattered.
- Another co-worker telling me about a book he was reading on how to “pleasure a woman”. This one is particularly bad because I don’t know this guy well and I didn’t ask him about the book, he told me out of nowhere. Then he said he understood why I was a lesbian because men knew nothing about the female body. I told him that was not why I was a lesbian and walked away.
- General sexism, such as being called a bitch or being told to shut up and go make a pie. Oh, and of jokes about my body and how I don’t like people touching me.
In the above incidents, which are far from the worst I’ve encountered working here, all my co-workers were male, but I do get sexually harassed by women too. They can often be worse! I will write about that situation in a separate post because the dynamic is a bit different.
The women don’t think what they are doing is wrong, they don’t think the law applies if it’s two women. The men understand the laws, they just think they should be allowed to say whatever they want, whenever they want, and women should stop being so sensitive.
Many of the men who sexually harass me are also considered my friends, which blurs the line between what is ok and what isn’t. I feel like the fact that we are friends means they should be inclined to harass me less but I guess I am just a dumb girl who doesn’t understand that friendship has nothing to do with respect….sigh.
After the interview with HR, and the realization that I didn’t particularly like my work environment, there came a whole lot of fear and guilt. Fear because I had made sexual jokes I knew were inappropriate and it could easily be me being investigated next. And guilt because I am a feminist and I know that sexual harassment isn’t ok. I know that workplaces can easily become hostile to women and I should be preventing that, not helping it happen.
Working in this place had warped my mind and made me forget what was right. These types of behaviors should not be happening and I shouldn’t be feeling so offended and angry all the time. I think I joined in so I didn’t have to feel so left out or different. No one wants to be labeled a “feminist killjoy”.
But I gotta be stronger than that and if that means people stop liking me than fine!
Sexual harassment laws are important because everyone should get to work in an environment they feel comfortable in. And just because you don’t think something should make other people uncomfortable doesn’t mean it doesn’t. And you don’t get to decide what makes other people uncomfortable and you should never assume they are ok with those types of jokes or touching.
This means I have to be aware of my own actions and not participate when I know something is wrong. I need to tell people to stop when they are making me uncomfortable. I need to speak up and remind to people of what the rules are and why. And from now on I am going to report people when I see something particularly outrageous or ongoing.
I want to work in a place where I feel comfortable and I am treated as an equal and if that means I’m a feminist killjoy than so be it!