18th April 2012 - 6 mins read
My dearest readers, welcome back.
I feel like women have always got to be on guard wherever they go. Yes, maybe it’s a little dramatic, but we’ve got this fear inside of us that every man is after “one thing” and we’ve got to keep an eye out lest we be called “too naïve” when something bad happens.
I’ve talked about sexual harassment before in a public setting. Today’s story is about the same thing, but in a work setting. There’s a common misconception that in order to get ahead in the workplace, women must utilize their, how can I put this nicely… “Skills.” But for any sane-minded woman, the notion of that is not only absurd, but insulting. I for one have never applied this and hope that for the entirety of my career, I never do.
So just how can a lady react if she’s subjected to harassment in the workplace? Yelling, insulting or giving death stares is not exactly a valid option in the office. She can of course politely tell the guy off, but what can she do if the guy she’s telling off is in a senior position to her? She could also go to HR, but let’s be realistic - our corporate HR departments are not the savviest in the world and equipped to deal with harassment in the workplace.
I’ve had three experiences at work that I can recall - two quite minor and one major. In the first, I would once in a while meet with a supplier, who didn’t work at our company, to discuss projects here and there. I always sensed an undertone of flirtation in his ways, but it was always masked by “niceness” or “general conversation,” so I never really had any hard proof to hold anything against him. The thing is though with us ladies - it’s like we’ve got an internal radar for these things. Just an ounce of creep in our presence and “Beep, beep, beep” goes our antenna.
One day as I walked into our office, I saw him walking out from inside. Just as soon as he saw me, he said: “Oh my God, you smell absolutely amazing. What is that?!” “Davidoff Cool Water,” I replied, knowing for fact that he was now flirting. “Wow, I love it, it’s so incredible.” After long greetings and mindless blabber (this guy really didn’t know how to shut up), he finally left after successfully giving me the creeps. A few days later, my phone rang and on the other line, I hear him saying: “You know, right after I saw you that day I went to Paris Gallery to get testers of that perfume because I just had to smell it again. From now on actually, I’m just going to call you Davidoff.” I felt my stomach turn as I thought: “Gross. What a douche.” Luckily, I brushed it off and didn’t really let it get to me.
In my second workplace incident, I worked once in a while with a much older man from another department. My workplace at the time was primarily men, so I had actually gotten quite used to being around them. For the most part, it was never a problem, but this guy really got under my skin. Once again, my creep radar went blaring in my ears and something about him just made me sit on edge. He was married with children, but I felt like he was just that kind of guy that couldn’t be trusted. And sure enough, it was only a matter of time before I caught him staring directly at my boobs while talking to me. Mind you, we’re at work. Mind you more, he’s maybe 20 years older than me. I saw it happen again and again, which made me wonder if maybe he thought I was blind. I didn’t really know what to do about it, so once again, I let it go. Eventually, he found another job and left our company, which I was deeply thankful for.
And for my grand finale, situation number three: Mani. This one leaped at me out of the dark blindness because I really never expected it. Mani was one of the new guys at our company who not only worked in a different department, but a different branch altogether. He would come by the head office once in a while and was friends with some of the people there. But all in all, in three months, I saw him maybe a total of three times, and spoke no more than three words to him. One time I saw him waiting outside the office for a taxi, so I offered him a ride out of pure colleague decency. He respectfully declined and that was it. So believe me when I tell you, Mani and I literally knew nothing about each other.
On a random Saturday morning, I woke up to a text message on my phone that said: “Hi DS, it’s Mani. I was thinking I’d like to get to know you and that we should be friends.” As I rubbed my eyes rereading the message all I could think of was: “Who’s Mani? I only know one person by this name and they don’t even live here. The other Mani I know is the new guy at work and surely this can’t be him!” I put my confusion to rest and messaged saying: “Mani who?” He replied: “Mani from your company :)”
I stared shockingly down at my phone. I couldn’t get over the fact that someone who literally knows not more than my name thinks he can just pick up the phone and decide that “we should be friends.” It’s not so much that I mind what he said, it was more about his approach. If he had come up to me at work and asked me to hang out with fellow coworkers I would’ve gone in a heartbeat. But this was just creepy. I don’t even know from who, or how, he got my number because let’s face it, he knows zero about me. He could’ve gotten it from my e-mail signature, yes, but that is the definition of creepy. Think about it for a second: He doesn’t know me, he goes through I don’t know what, pulls up my phone number and decides, “we should be friends.” Creep alert.
I spent the rest of the day looking like the BlackBerry Messenger open-mouthed emoticon. I didn’t respond to Mani’s message because I really didn’t know what to say. He then brilliantly decided that instead of waiting for me to respond, he would call me. Not once. Not twice. But an eternal number of times. I didn’t pick up his calls. I didn’t respond to his messages. Somehow between this morning and afternoon, he had also decided on our behalf that we were estranged lovers.
As the day rolled by, every call or message I’d get would shock me even more. Just what did he think he was doing?! Finally, a message likened to one from a remorseful ex said: “DS, are you mad at me? Did I do something to upset you?” I was tempted to say: “If you consider blowing up someone’s phone all day upsetting, then yes. And also, you’re a potential stalker,” but my judgment got the better of me.
Realizing that there was no nice way to end this and for the sake of our work diplomacy, I decided to respond to him. “No Mani, I’m not upset, but I just don’t think it’s appropriate to contact me outside of work” (or something along those lines). Finally, he got the point and never responded, thank God.
Since then, every time I’ve seen Mani, I’ve worn my fakest smile and said hello nicely and yes, it’s been awkward as hell, every time. I wish he had enough sense to realize that work relationships are almost always a disastrous idea, and that if he wanted one, there was a decent way to approach me about it. Many of my friends said that maybe he was just shy about it, but I still turn in my vote as creepy, even if just slightly.
So yes ladies, workplace harassment happens and it sucks. It’s a disturbing situation for us girls and sometimes it’s hard to do something about it. But you’ve got options and you should know and practice them. First, if it’s not something severe, talk to the person and nicely warn them that if it happens again, you’ll go to HR. If it doesn’t stop then go to HR. And if it still doesn’t stop, or in the case of severe harassment, like anything physical, feel free to summon all your angry energy and issue the World’s Best Slap upon their face. One that would leave your fingerprints on their face. One that would make me proud.
Kisses and hugs,