Sexual harassment is an ugly beast
I’d been extremely fortunate that in my whole life before this job, I had never been sexually harassed. I genuinely have no idea how I managed to get lucky, but I’m never the female guys single out to whistle at or make passes at. That changed when I was working my corporate internship.
Because of job turnover, there came a point where there were only two people in my department – me and a new manager. This man was in his fourties, I’m guessing, and made my life a living hell. While I was ill (I’d just been in the hospital a few months before and was still recovering), he maxed out the hours I could work and pushed all the work on me. It didn’t take long to realize that he had no interest in doing the actual gruntwork of the job – he only wanted to look important and talk to important people.
He would boast to me constantly about how he was ‘playing the game’, working his way to the top. He’d gloat about his plans and how brilliantly he’d orchestrated meetings. When I didn’t constantly compliment, he would goad me into giving him some. Those who know me will not be surprised that I got pissed, fast. I was running an entire department by myself. Just to make it clear: right before I left, he still didn’t understand what the five tenants of our department were. The first few months when we worked together, he refused to answer any of my emails and later would only give me one word responses on the rare occasion he did respond.
And then he started touching me.
He would get really close to me and place a hand on my arm to emphasize points. He’d grab my arm. He’d insist that I get closer to him every. single. time we talked. I’d get in before most people in the office in the morning and he’d come in hours later into my office listing off things I needed to do (all of which I had already done). After a little over a month of this, he touched my arm again in a meeting and I pushed him away. I told him to never, ever do that again – after which he made fun of me, constantly. He’d pretend I was in a ‘hula hoop’ and that he couldn’t come in it. Whenever he saw me, he’d make the hula hoop shape and laugh at me for being uncomfortable with him. He’d tell me personal details of other females he worked with that had the same ‘hula hoop’. Standing up for myself didn’t work.
During this time, we were working on an enormous project (I was working). It was all to be presented at this meeting where every new hire in our department (there were about 5) and a few others would be attending. I’d already prepped for the meeting six months before, but the new manager made me revise the presentation every single day. This I was okay with; I figured he’d be nervous in such a big meeting and wanted to make it perfect. Then the day of the meeting came and during the most critical part, he started saying that nothing on the slide made sense, that he had no clue where this data came from, and that he wasn’t sure why I made the slide this way. He singled me out specifically. I stood up and stopped him. I said that I’d had this presentation done six months in advance. That we’d revised it every single day. That we had countless conversations about the specific way we presented the data. That just the day before we dry ran the presentation and he was perfectly fine with it so why didn’t he tell me to change it before the presentation and how unprofessional it was that he single me out.
And that didn’t work.
I was sick. I was exhausted from full time school and work (which was an hour drive away). But I stuck it out. I wanted to stand up and, more importantly, I wanted to win. I wanted to outlast and outperform him. One of my coworkers realized what was going on and stood up for me. She went to HR. She helped me go through an entire investigation against him, which took a whole month to complete. And at the end? He wasn’t fired. He was transferred to another department, but not immediately. Every day I came into work after that he’d stand outside my cube specifically, lingering in places he thought I’d be. He’d never done this behavior before.
This man, who had harassed me and four other female interns before me, was not fired from a company who made a big show of taking harassment seriously and protecting its female employees. I’d been hell-bent on winning against him. I was certain that if I worked hard, justice would be on my side. It wasn’t. I left my job because I was crushed that my work counted for nothing in my imagined fight.
I made this post because I wish that I could go back to me then and tell her that justice doesn’t always work the way we want to. I thought that by leaving I’d be weak. I wish I could tell me that there’s nothing weak in leaving a situation that makes every one of your illnesses worse. Sometimes there are assholes and you can’t do anything about them. And that’s okay. Don’t kill yourself for a fight that’s not worth it.