I am a man. I have been sexually harassed in the workplace. I’m not even all that gorgeous.
I want to explain what I did, and what I think you should do when someone harasses you at work – that could be sexual harassment or other forms of bullying. I apologise for the length of this read, but I have a lot to get off my chest, and you can speed read or skip at will, can’t you?
First, let me set the scene: I have always worked for myself. I have never been anyone’s employee. I often use an agency for contract work. I am paid by the hour and paid weekly. Always have been. My older brother decided to work this same way.
This type of work has a very short notice period (just a 5-day week of core office hours, – 35 to 40 hours depending on the contract). Legally we get paid this amount whether or not we have to work it. Usually, firms know what’s coming up and we work the notice period. More often than not we get a few weeks’ notice. Sometimes, though, the work has simply dried up, or the client has lost a project and has to let you go. In which case, we would leave immediately, and get paid the week without turning up.
So the scene is set.
Let’s look at my brother’s thing first. He was on a job and weeks went by, payments were good, his work was praised, and everything was working nicely with no hint of a hitch. However, they ran out of work for my brother, and probably money too, so they took him aside and gave him the goodbye talk. He asked if they wanted him to work the rest of the week, and they said there was nothing for him to do, so he was free to go.
However, they refused to sign off on paying him the notice period. My brother contacted the agent to sort this out.
The agent called back to say that the client wasn’t going to pay. When the agent pointed out that they legally had to – unless it was a sacking due to something like misconduct – they suddenly declared that they had to sack my brother due to him sexually harassing a member of staff.
My brother was outraged! But what could be done? If he took it further, he’d have a sexual harassment claim on his record, and no agent would go near such a toxic copybook blot – and that goes for clients too. My brother would just have to accept losing the money.
That’s pretty awful, isn’t it? Did he do the right thing? What do you think?
OK, so now, a personal tale or two.
I was younger, freer, and single. I was working late and alone in the design office when in came the big busty blonde from accounts. She slid up onto a desk and struck up some chat while I typed and worked on the PC. At some point, she started flirting. She was a little bit older than me, divorced and quite assertive. The level of innuendo was inappropriate for the length of time we’d known each other. I was uncomfortable. Then she noticed a small run on her tights.
Suddenly she was ripping them.
I couldn’t believe what was happening.
To this day, I don’t know just how I managed to get out of that situation unscathed. But I did. I was in fear of discovery, then concerned about someone seeing her in ripped tights as we left the office. She could say I attacked her. Jeez.
I was just lucky that she was not quite that mad. Although I did have to deal with her every day thereafter, and that was always uncomfortable and awkward.
I’ve told this story to guys who said I should have had sex with her on the office floor as she was clearly wanting that.
Do you think I should have? Did I do the wrong thing?
These guys try to make me feel less of a man somehow. I can’t persuade them that it’s not about my virility, but about professionalism, staying in work, having a clean record, and not being controlled by another person.
Their argument is enriched with their idea that “You might as well be guilty of something she might accuse you of – if you’re caught”.
As a man in today’s world, there are a lot of uncomfortable situations from simply walking down the street at night and seeing how a solo female reacts – to things like changing rooms where other dads change small girls when you’re changing your son.
Lately, the media has been all about famous men as sexual predators. It seems to usually be homosexual paedophilia, but sometimes it’s underage girls.
The “underage girls” aspect of this has been a problem for me as I have a lot of sisters and I have met their friends (and years later their daughters and their friends). I have also played in rock bands and visited my fair share of pubs, clubs and concert venues. I know what a preteen crush looks like. We have all seen girls screaming at the Beatles, the Bay City Rollers, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra – to name a few. Girls can lie about their age, and they can certainly look older with clothes and make-up. I am not condoning rape or sexual harassment, just being honest – especially from back in the day.
Back then men wanted to play in rock bands to get chicks. You know, if Freud is to be believed, everything men do is to get chicks (money and power is merely the method). On the other hand, perhaps power corrupts, meaning that powerful people corrupt into being sexual predators.
I don’t know which it is. Certainly, the world of work was invented by men for men, and although women have joined in, most of the companies and boards are still dominated by men. If men hold most of the power, then it stands to reason that power-corrupted sexual predators are mostly men. Some people think that men and women are equal even in this respect and that as more women take more powerful positions, we’ll hear about female sexual predators.
I reckon it may be the case for other forms of bullying, but I don’t think it’s the case when it comes to sexual harassment; as my own experience shows, women have the ability to call the shots. There is no balance or equality here; you just don’t get crowds of boys screaming at the Beatles. That woman ripped her clothes and it looked like I had attacked her. But had the situation be reversed, and I had ripped my clothes – it would still look like I had attacked her, and she’d defended herself!
I have heard of men being falsely accused of sexual harassment and even rape. And although exonerated, their record remains tainted. The accusation is enough to ruin a man’s life.
So lately the media has been filled with stories about Harvey Weinstein. It’s looking bad for him. It’s too easy to judge before anyone has been found guilty of anything in a courtroom. It’s also too common, look at the media just now.
It’s got to be more complicated. It always is. I tend to think that some of the stories are exaggerated, some complete lies (perhaps some personal pay-back), and who knows? He may have been corrupted to a severe extent and been a monster.
But here’s the thing that gets me with all these stories – how can these monsters get away with this stuff for so long. We’re talking years, in some cases, several decades. How is this possible?
In an online article, “Classic(al) Sexual Harassment” (The HuffPost, 2017-10-10), Susanne Mentzer describes years of personal sexual harassment in the opera and classical music world. She’s finally “speaking out”. But she still names no names. And that is the actual problem.
The above argument suggests that the reason why some monster rapes some girl is because power corrupts. What I take from that is difficult to explain well, so bear with me, my thinking is that when a man goes too far, the victim is morally obliged to report it; if she doesn’t, then she’s complicit.
Each time he gets away with it, the more powerful he becomes, and the more corrupt. Each time he gets away with it, there’s another victim, another damaged human being. Each time he gets away with it, the corrupted system is supported, everyone is involved, all are complicit, all are tacitly approving, accepting and supporting the continuation of it all.
He becomes a monster. He wasn’t born a monster. Each silent victim makes him worse and each silent victim causes the next victim. The responsibility is group.
Yes, I understand why Susanne Mentzer won’t name names. She’s selfish. Just like my brother was. Why should they lose their jobs, reputation, income and so forth? They can keep quiet, play the game, support that system and not rock the boat. They refuse to accept responsibility for future victims or for making a talented man into a monster. As a result of joining in the game, they lose all rights to be called a victim.
I have told you what I did in a situation, or rather what I refused to do. But I have other situations and other tales. And yes, I have quit lucrative contracts because of abuse, bullying and bigotry. To my mind, it is my responsibility to stand up for myself and to make a positive difference. I don’t need to hire a hit man or to wreak revenge, but I do have to draw my own line and my life only makes sense if it has a solid moral foundation. It starts at home, if more people did likewise, the world would be a very different place.
Sure, I have suffered, but not for long; I always find another job. It always works out. It will be like that for you too, and it gets easier over time to do this, you gain confidence, you grow. Suffering for being out of work – to me – is better than suffering at work, taking money to keep schtum, 40 pieces of silver to allow someone to abuse me – and other people. No thanks.
I have a friend who was caught up in an online paedophile trawl, and while this chap is lovely, moral, kind, and innocent, his barrister recommended that it would be in his best interests to just plead guilty, and be placed on a sex offenders’ register, go to regular counselling sessions for his “problem”, and let it all go through smoothly.
I begged him to fight it. He didn’t; he was too shocked at what was happening to him. He pled guilty, lost family and friends, and even though it’s all over and cleared up over years, he remains labelled by some with good memories.
OK, in closing this down, I can see that I may come across here, to some, as insensitive to victims and supportive of paedophiles and sexual predators. That is certainly not what I wanted to get across. Rather, I am accusing victims of being irresponsible and immoral. I think that speaking out after many years, or only after the monster has died, or going to the press only after someone else has put their head on the block is shameful. Writing about it in an autobiography and selling that through press and interviews on TV is almost worse than the original event. It is even possible for a victim to claim that the “incident” caused them to develop a mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders and more. Then they are acclaimed for heroically overcoming it all, and this, in turn, sells their book and gets them publicity.
Victim publicity is now a thing. It’s a new bandwagon, and I am frankly disgusted that it is mainstream now and may affect children growing up to think this is normal or morally good.
The morality today is skewed. This is my tiny fight back on a blog that no-one reads. Except I hope my daughter does read it one day.