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.
“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.