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Harassment

It was a perfect summer evening for a gathering – warm but with enough of a breeze to make it comfortable.  Holding onto my companion’s hand, I lead him through the throngs of people to find my fellow co-workers.  Micheal and I had dated casually, but it wasn’t going anywhere.  He still loved his ex, and I was too fresh out of my marriage to even think about commitment, but I hadn’t wanted to arrive single, so here we were.

There were only three women in my department – Gayle, slightly older than me, a short-haired, no nonsense type; Laurie, our office clerk, a tiny, soft spoken woman; and myself, a twenty-one year-old working her way up in corporate banking.  While making introductions, a voice, visibly slurred, broke through the crowd:

“There you are!  I’ve been waiting all night.  Thought maybe you and I could play Volcano – I’ll lie down, you sit on me, and I’ll erupt.”

It was my boss.  The same boss, who in a recent performance review told me he was scoring me low because I wouldn’t put out.  (He kept a cot in his office just in case.)

Behind him, red-faced, was his lovely wife.  Not knowing how to react, I introduced my date and greeted the wife.  Then we moved on.

It happened frequently – comments like this.  Every morning the men would parade in a line pass my desk.

“What are they doing?”  I finally asked a male co-worker, exasperated.  My desk was in a quad, next to a window – it wasn’t like I was in the normal flow of foot traffic.

1c8c15590d106bebf3a495cead1006d1--street-harassment-public-spaces“They’re looking for high beams.”

“What?”  I was so innocent back then, so oblivious to all this sexual innuendo.

He shrugged, “If you don’t like it, stop wearing those tight sweaters.”

I looked down at my sweater – a plain, nondescript turtleneck.

“So did you get your plumbing fixed last night,” another co-worker asked sliding into the cubicle beside me.

I worked in a predominately male environment.  I didn’t answer.

Every night, I went home and cried myself to sleep.

“Why do put up with it?” Michael asked once.

I shrugged.  “I need the job.”  Truth is I thought I’d brought it on myself.

When this job posted, I was a data entry clerk.  My co-worker and I decided to both apply.  We were the same age, but she was infinitely more beautiful than I, as well as smart, well-educated, and more experienced.  Both of us were certain she would be hired over me.  As a lark, we decided that I would go to the interview in a provocative outfit (a slit skirt), while she would opt for a more conservative look.

Obviously, sex won out over credentials.

It was a decision I would regret for the eighteen months I held the post, until I was able to apply outside of the department.

A year later, the woman who filled my position filed charges of sexual harassment against the boss.  I cheered her moxie and inwardly chastised myself for not having done the same.

The year was 1979.  Not many of us spoke up.

We are now, though.

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Categories: abuse nonfiction

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V.J. Knutson

Writer, avid reader, former educator, and proud grandmother, currently experiencing life through the lens of ME/CFS. Words are, and always have been, a lifeline. Some of the best adventures, I'm discovering, take place in the imagination.

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