We raise our girls to be “tougher”, we take pride in their thick skin and ability to let things go. We ask them to be strong and wise and emotionally put together. We demand that they know how to filter their words, appearance, and feelings so as to not offend, stress out, or inappropriately arouse. The passive aggressive response to unwanted attention is not innate to the female being, but rather a learned expectation.
In a male dominated labor industry, the females that can keep up physically are valued. The females that can play around and smile at crude jokes are accepted. Not only must they always show up on time, stay late, and never complain, but they must also go above and beyond…to serve as proof of the value of their entire gender. Often, the females that find themselves valued and accepted by their male counterparts are considered the exception and not the rule.
My friend, Mimi, and I met at a labor-intensive job, one with an exceptionally high ratio of male to female employees. As most women are of new women on their turf, I’m sure she was skeptical of me. But, upon recognizing our similarities and strengths, we became fast friends…as most female coworkers in that situation would. We’d share laughs about animal noises and complain about being stuck with the heavy work. We’d speak in accents the whole night and play pranks on each other to pass the time. We practiced drifting in the empty parking lots after a fresh snow and we’d climb trees in the parking lot when our shifts had ended. We’d talk about our college work load and the language classes we both had to take. She and a few others gave me some of the best advice; always bend at the knees when lifting and lowering and never wear clothes that are too tight…the coworkers couldn’t always maturely handle anything that showed any shape.
We continue to maintain that friendship and enjoy reminiscing on our fun warehouse days. She now has a nice job in her career field, I do as well. We both share dreams of someday owning our own homes and feeling like we are financially secure. We both joke about going back to our old part-time job and we both play around with the idea of a second income. It was no surprise, really, when she contacted me about her new part-time job, one that she wouldn’t need to use to pay her bills; an income that she could put away towards that house purchase.
I was so excited for her.
But, I have never been prouder of her than I was when she quit two days later.
She was going to be working in a warehouse driving a forklift. This should have been a relatively normal experience for her. Her own excitement was through the roof. I initially wondered what could have been so bad that she couldn’t have handled it. She is one of the strongest people I know. Yet, when I heard “the why” behind her decision, I understood…and then I got angry.
After a day of training, she was given a tour. On two separate occasions with two separate individuals, one of them being a manager, she was warned about sexual harassment. When I first read that part of the text, I thought…oh gosh, well…at least they are giving you a warning, but I don’t love that it is a huge issue. We’d both worked around our fair share of lewd comments and inappropriate advances. Here, I thought to myself, was the warning of the reality she already knew could be lurking at her new place of employment.
Yet…that wasn’t where it went. She was told that the jokesters meant no harm, to “not take it personal”. Now, in my head, I imagine this conversation happening with a female that has worked there for a while, someone who is just reminding Mimi to be tougher, to grow thicker skin, because that is what said female has had to do…and she’s found success. In reality, I don’t know about the person she was talking to and it really doesn’t matter nor does it change anything.
Sexual harassment cases are a headache, a hassle, and often “unnecessary”, sends a pretty strong message that very little is resolved and that there isn’t much support for the recipient of unwanted attention.
Yet, what kind of message is sent to the “jokesters”?
“There will be no consequences while you teased her about her breasts and what you’d like to do with them…because you were joking.”
“There will be no consequences while you thrusted into the air as she walked by, because you were just “having a laugh” with your buddies, and would never act on it.”
“In no way, will you possibly be held accountable for how you treat her…because in a traditionally male labor job, one that many people are refusing to fill, you…the male employee, are highly valued and needed by the company…at least more than she is.”
That’s the message that I gathered is sent.
Mimi wasn’t harassed that day at the job…but she was told that she would be…that she should expect it…and that she should just “let it go”. The message to Mimi was one of submission, was one that undermined her own value as a human being, and one that let her know she would not be supported.
So, she quit.
Because she could.
Because she had another income and this job was just something extra.
But not everyone can.
Not everyone has the ability to choose to walk away from a new job. Some of those people need it to pay their rent, fill their gas tanks, and feed their families.
Not everyone has the spare money to risk losing a job over filing a sexual harassment case against the creep that invaded their bodies with words.
Not everyone can afford to live with the rumors, dirty looks, or share their concerns when they know they won’t be supported.
Not everyone even realizes it is wrong, because the message they have received their whole life is to “toughen up”, “let it go”, and “calm down”.
I am so proud of Mimi for deciding that her time was more valuable than listening to lewd comments and being unable to do anything about it. I admire that she got out before it became an issue that she would have to deal with. I am so grateful that she decided to share her frustration and disbelief with me.
“[Our old job] was cute in comparison with this place.”
Mimi is safe. Her evenings are free to do whatever she wants, including getting another part-time job somewhere that will respect her body, time, talent, and value.
What about the next woman to walk through that door? What about the next person that doesn’t fit in with the “accepted” gender, sexuality, religion or race of the employees at work?
What happens when they don’t have the freedom to leave? What happens when they are demeaned, harassed, mistreated, or abused…and there isn’t a damn thing they can do about it?
After Mimi left, will the next person even get a warning?
This, dear people, isn’t something of the past…this happened in the last full week of February of 2018. Part of a woman’s “job training” was to “not take the sexual jokes as personal”. Newsflash: it is pretty personal…and it isn’t funny.
If you’ve reached the end and think…well she rushed things and she should have given it a chance, then I don’t know if you’ve quite realized the worth of feeling comfortable in the work place, the freedom of being at ease.
If you think this is all blowing it out of proportion, then I may guess that you’ve never been looked up and down by the only person around…who is also blocking your path, licking their lips, and touching themselves…in your work place. Sometimes, it is just best to not put yourself in that situation.
If you think that everything is too PC nowadays…in no way is being a pervert part of most job descriptions.
If you are scared to go to work for fear of your “jokes” or “actions” being mistaken for sexual harassment…super helpful tips: Don’t touch anyone that doesn’t want to be touched. You don’t need to give someone stress-relieving massages or touch their cheek because it is dirty. As for words, ask yourself this: would you say it to or about your grandmother or young child? If the answer is no, chances are…it doesn’t need to be said at work (or at all…).
Oh, and HR peeps, yeah sexual harassment cases are a hassle and a major headache…but there is a really good solution…don’t let the perpetrators continue working for you, most of the time people are aware of the creeps and the predators and no one does anything about it. (I’m actually not sure how plausible of a solution that is for jobs that involve unions and contracts, etc… but then perhaps things need to be reevaluated to begin with.)
Featured Photo by Trent Erwin on Unsplash