I wasn’t born with this smart mouth; I developed it.
I remember one time my mother said to me, “What is that clever word you used to describe your father and me?” I shook my head and frowned. “You mean misogynist?” I said. “Yes, that’s it! I have to remember that one.” I’ve often wondered if she thought I meant massage therapist.
I began my career in the professional world as a CPA/Attorney. I worked for large prestigious firms and smaller boutique firms. I encountered harassment at these firms, but honestly, it was harmless and stemmed from the generation gap—men my father’s age making disrespectful comments such as: “Isn’t she such a cute little thing?” or “Sweetie, could you get me some coffee?” I wanted to respond, “Sorry, Grandpa, that I accidentally spilled that steaming cup of Sanka in your lap.” I was told at Christmas by the partner who was 125 years old, “Sweetie, the guys have their Christmas party and your aren’t one of the guys; the secretaries have their party and you aren’t a secretary, so here’s $25 and a wheel of Swiss cheese.” I don’t think I was offended at the time because this was how women were treated in my family. In retrospect, I think it’s somewhat funny and somewhat pitiful.
By happenstance, I began to specialize in accounting/law for construction and manufacturing companies. Usually I was one of the only female employees, and consistently I was the only female in management. That’s where the trouble began.
The harassment started with boys being unable to share toys in the sandbox with a girl. The thermostat in my office controlled the temperature in several offices. So when I was out of town, some of the guys disconnected the thermostat in my office and then purchased a new thermostat for their office, without any purchase orders or approval. They thought because I was a female, I wouldn’t notice that the broken thermostat didn’t regulate anything except my anger. When I reported this incident, my employer laughed hysterically. On my 90-day review, he told me I was acting too professionally and I needed to start acting more like one of the guys.
The harassment accelerated: I was working every night past midnight at the plant, which was in a very unsafe neighborhood. The only other employee working at that time was the maintenance man, who politely insisted on walking me to my car. His comments to me were very odd and very sexual in nature. After several months I finally reported this to my employer who said, “Hmmm, did I not mention that he is an ex-con?” “Convert?” I asked anxiously. “No, convict. He spent time in jail for rape, but you have nothing to worry about because he’s a Christian.” Thank God, literally, I thought.
The harassment intensified: A few months later, my employer handed out my cell phone number to an employee who had spent time in jail as a child molester. Why? Because my employer thought it would be funny to see my reaction.
The harassment surged: A subordinate sent me an email that said, “What do you sleep in at night?” I turned the email over to my employer which launched a belly laugh from him.
The harassment escalated: I was in a meeting with all male lawyers, engineers, and project managers. I said, “I have a pencil, I need to get a pad.” My employer called out “You mean a maxi pad?” The suited sycophants just cackled.
The harassment spiked: I attended an offsite strategic planning weekend with five men, including my employer. I had to laugh at penis jokes for 48 hours. I was neither shocked nor awed. I was just humiliated. Who knew that so many penis jokes existed? I’m sure five-year olds know this. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I was fresh out of vagina jokes.
The harassment peaked: I was in mediation with three male lawyers from an esteemed Kansas City law firm and my employer. The mediator was also a male lawyer and married. He spent four hours drooling comments at me within earshot of everyone such as “Are you single?” “You are so cute, is your daughter as cute as you are?” or “Are you free after this?” or “What do you do in your free time?” At the lunch break, our lawyers and my boss said, “He really likes you, so just keep it up.” At the end of 480 minutes of absolute degradation, I “Usain Bolted” out the door as fat as my pointy pumps would take me. The following day my employer instructed me to write the mediator a personal note, thanking him for his time and telling him that I would be using him again. Who was really being used? This barrage of harassment was disgusting, condescending, and humiliating.
The more the harassment expanded, the faster I contracted. I morphed from a CPA/lawyer to a sacrificial lamb to raw meat to nothingness. From 105 to 90 lbs. and still dropping. My great disappearing act. It was so great that no one even knew. I was embarrassed that I was a single mom, with no other source of income, who believed that she had to accept this debilitating degradation in order to provide for her family. It was all I knew. It was all I was taught. The harassment and my response were learned behaviors. I worked robotically with total detachment. I just pretended I was dead and took the money. A corporate prostitute, I suppose. I wasn’t protected by my employer, my brothers, my father, my coworkers, my God. Because God didn’t allow me to curl up and die, I had to fight. I chose to be a strong lioness instead of a sacrificial lamb. The harassment continued in different forms throughout my 30 year career but my response changed. I became a fighter. What would have saved me? Protection and Education.
Anyone who has ever been harassed, bullied, or belittled knows this feeling of worthlessness and knows how to hide it. I was taught that a person had to “sexually” harass someone with real physical completed sex in order for the pain to be legitimized by a doctor, a lawyer, a mom, or anyone. I thought bullies had to give someone a black eye in order for the injury to really matter to anyone. I certainly believed that, “stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” I have been wrong and wronged.
I will no longer tolerate anyone mistreating another. We have a moral responsibility to fight for the silent ones. If we don’t, the victim may develop eating disorders, suicidal tendencies, promiscuity, detachment, etc., which can lead to self-medication, cutting, rape, or even death. Take it from one who knows.
In this past week we have heard stories of siblings locked in a home where they were abused and neglected for years, a young student who may have been murdered because he was a Jewish gay man, and countless horrific details of female gymnasts who were sexually abused by their trusted doctor. If there had been education and protection, perhaps these gruesome actions could have been prevented.
At noharassing.org, we are asking businesses and schools to purchase an item with our no harassing logo and display that logo. We will donate a portion of the proceeds for harassment education in the schools and workplaces. In this way, every employee, student or visitor will be assured that the institution emphasizes harassment education and strives to protect its associates and students from harassment of all types.
We are asking YOU to purchase an item with the no harassing logo, such as a coffee mug, a decal, a pin, or a shirt. Then display this logo to alert others that you will not tolerate harassment of any kind against anyone at any time. Harassment is a universal problem and it will take all of us in the universe to solve it.
We all deserve to be treated with greater respect and dignity.