I was twenty-four years old and an assistant in the Sales & Marketing department of a small, privately owned dental insurance company in Chicago.
The only female in a department of a dozen men, I had a massive workload but I loved my job. And being the only woman never bothered me. After all, I just left a three-year position in a finance department of a bank where I was – again – the only woman in the department. I was used to being “one of the guys”. I could drink with them, joke around with them, throw raucous one-liners back at them with a smile on my face and keep working. I was filled with sass, good at my job, and was enjoying being 24 and everything that comes with it.
You were forty-ish, married, and a father of two small children. An outside sales rep, you needed proposals that I created at the drop of a hat for demanding prospective clients and as such you felt the need to flirt with me to get what you needed.
Except you weren’t really flirting, were you?
Walking in to my L-shaped cubicle, you’d stand over me, positioning yourself firmly against the arm of my chair which would trap me in my chair wedged between your body and the counter of my cubicle. As you went over in detail what kind of proposal you needed, you’d rest your hand on my shoulder, sliding it just under my blond hair so that my hair was actually brushing the top of your hand. Your eyes would dart from the paperwork you were discussing, to my eyes, down my shirt to my chest and then back to my eyes. The whole time with a smile on your face. You’d comment on my blouse, my hair, the music I was listening to on the radio, a picture on my desk, whatever you could find in the moment to shift the conversation to something personal. Something that gave you more time to stand there. You’d massage my shoulders, hoping to get my bra strap to appear so you could make a comment about its color or style.
Your groin wedged against the arm of my chair.
Trapping me from moving.
Until you couldn’t stay any longer, or someone else walked up and you wandered away.
This went on for a year. A year that I said nothing. I thought I deserved it. I thought I had done something, encouraged something, been “too nice”, maybe I had led you on in some way? Because most of the men in the office didn’t have a filter around me. There were plenty of conversations that, looking back, were not only inappropriate to be having in the workplace but definitely between male and female colleagues in different power positions. The majority of the department were young kids, and it was a party-ish kind of environment. I blamed myself that I socialized with them too much outside of the office. It must have gotten back to you and MY ACTIONS must have given you an impression of who I was. I blamed myself, and every time you wandered in to my cubicle and made some inane comment so you had an excuse to look down my shirt, stare at my ass and try to feel me up I assumed that I deserved to be treated this way because I was at fault.
I deserved it. It was my fault you treated me this way. That is what my twenty-four year old brain told me.
One late afternoon, I snapped. After taking a message from your wife not fifteen minutes before, the sight of you walking towards me with paperwork in your hand just sent me over the edge. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I stood up, grabbed your arm, and marched in to the office across the hall from my cube and slammed the door.
“If you ever lay a hand on me again, comment on my clothing, play with my hair, massage my shoulders, or stare at my body like you are trying to figure out how to screw me on the desk with no one looking, I am going to pick up the phone, call your wife and tell her what a piece of shit you are and END YOU. Are we clear?”
Shocked, you stood there with your mouth hanging open as my pointed finger was hard in the middle of your chest. Something in your eyes told you that I was serious and you had crossed the line. You mumbled a “sorry” and walked out of the office in a hurry. I stood for what seemed like forever, frozen in place, waiting for someone to come and fire me for what i had just done.
No one came.
After what seemed like forever, I walked back to my desk, sat down, and got back to work.
Have you been the victim of workplace sexual harassment or assault and never talked about it? I’ve been inspired by Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, and Asia Argento and the dozens of other women that have come forward and shared their experiences with Harvey Weinstein. Speaking truth to power – even twenty years later – is a terrifying thing. I hope that if you cannot relate to this story and the many other stories that have been shared over the last week in the media, you can support the brave women – and men – that are stepping out of the shadows and sharing.