I was listening to the radio in the car the other day and the hosts were discussing the allegations of sexual assault made against producer Harvey Weinstein. The male host wondered if sexual assault and sexual harassment at work were issues faced primarily by those in the entertainment industry.

I’m definitely one to sing along to the radio in the car but this was probably the first time I looked at the radio and almost yelled “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” at it.

The female host did a good job of not seeming too incredulous, but I could tell that she was. I think lots of women listening to them would have felt the same.

I know so many women who have experienced sexual harassment and assault in their workplaces. And none of them from the entertainment industry, though I have zero doubt that it is a huge problem in that arena. I’m talking about women working in regular jobs in the public and private sectors. From inappropriate remarks to being groped and worse. I’m hesitant to tell other people’s stories without their explicit consent, so I won’t.

But I can certainly talk about a couple of my own.

Sexual harassment at work as a teenager.

As a teenager in a retail environment, I was regularly groped and slapped on the arse while doing my job. If I had to bend down for any reason, it wasn’t left unremarked on. If I needed to get something from under the counter or clean something? “Well, while you’re down there…! Heh heh heh!” was the standard hilarious remark. I was 16 when I started my job here.

People often question why no one speaks up in these situations. Well, let me paint you a picture. At 16, I stepped into a retail environment run by men. Not all of them were handsy, but the inappropriate “joking around”(often at the expense of the girls behind the counter) was universal in that shop. That was literally the culture of that workplace.

If I had wanted to make a complaint, I’d have been speaking to one of the people that thought slapping me on the bum was fine. Or that sexualised banter aimed at a teenage girl was totally acceptable. As a 16 year old girl with a casual job, I had no idea how to go above the store manager. What I was pretty certain of was that speaking up would cost me my shifts. So I just laughed it off, like  the other girls did, and ignored it. I learned to not make waves over a slap on the bum or an off-colour remark.

Sexual harassment was normal for us.

None of the other girls that worked there made a fuss, because it was actually really normal for us. We went to work not expecting to have our personal space respected. It was totally normal for me to not have complete agency over my own body at that age. It was part of being a teenage girl. The same as getting grabbed at dance parties and cat-called on the street. What happened in the workplace was just an extension of what young women were already putting up with in the late 1990s. I cannot stress enough how conditioned I was to accept this sort of thing a regular part of life.

There were other jobs after that one where where the sexual harassment at work was still an issue though less overt. I had one boss who would distractedly analyse my looks and verbalise his thoughts before assigning me tasks. Another with a co-worker that asked invasive personal questions. Other small things happened in other workplaces that made me feel uncomfortable. I said nothing. I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously and didn’t even realise until much later that I had grounds to make any sort of complaint.

All grown up and sexual harassment at work is still a thing.

In my mid-20s, I was working in an office environment. One of my supervisors creeped me out a little. Staring, standing too close, that kind of thing. Again, nothing I could really articulate well. Oddly, talking to my female colleagues, they knew exactly what I meant. Go figure.

At a work function one day, everyone was drinking and having a good time. I got up from my seat to go to the bathroom. My path crossed the aforementioned supervisor who stopped me with a hand on the arse and unblinking eye contact.

Suddenly, I was 16 again. Intimidated, uncomfortable, not consenting and not able to say a word. I felt momentarily paralysed before mumbling “Sorry…Excuse me…” and having to push past him. Yes, I apologised and excused myself to the bloke that was groping me. It was the under 18s dance party scenario all over again. Except I was older and fully aware that he was doing something wrong.

I knew then that it was wrong, but I still didn’t complain.

Why? The answer is pretty simple. This happened in front of the director of the company and many of my colleagues. There was a couple of smirks and that was it. Nothing was said or done about it. No one intervened. I guess they were as conditioned as I had been to think such behaviour was acceptable. Reporting it seemed utterly pointless. And even though there is legislation and policies against sexual harassment at work, there is a definite lack of education on how to actually deal with it when it happens to you, beyond reporting it to your boss.

I do wish I’d had the presence of mind and the physical ability to at least say something at the time, though. But when I say I felt paralysed, I mean it. I just stood there until I could make myself move away. A not uncommon reaction. If it happened again now, I think I’d be much more likely to do something about it. I’m older, wiser and less fearful of a negative response.

Sexual harassment at work is everywhere.

Sexual harassment is alive and well in many workplaces, not just the entertainment industry. A report from the Australian Human Rights Commission show that it is mostly happening to women and is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men. This is in spite of the legislation against it that has existed for decades. Some people still aren’t even sure what constitutes sexual harassment. And nearly a third of people that do report it face negative consequences afterwards, such as demotion and victimisation.

Is it any wonder people are reluctant to speak up?

#IBOT @ Capturing Life.

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  • It’s like you are speaking from my own life, I’ve been in all these situations. Being a teenage girl and young woman came with a side dose of regular sexual harassment, which has lead to many life long hang ups, and did I complain, well who would you complain too? Who will listen, who will support you and how will you keep your job? I don’t know how to change this culture other than teaching my children right.

  • Great post as always Amy. We’ve all been there! xo

  • LydiaCLee

    I do think woman normalise it, which is wrong. It’s like when people yell at you in the street. The idea of making a formal compliant to ANYONE doesn’t cross our mind….And the fact that women (Donna Karan etc said women needed to look at how they dressed????) were some how asking for it, is delusional.

  • Absolutely. There’s no point making laws if there’s no mechanism to enforce them or effect cultural change.

  • I saw a hashtag that accompanied the ‘Me too’ status update. It was #yeseverywoman. That says it all really. I can assure you sexual harassment is rife in the legal world. #teamIBOT

  • writeofthemiddle

    Ugh … EVERY female has probably experienced some form of sexual harassment. You most certainly do not have to be in the entertainment industry! I could give several examples of incidents I’ve had to deal with! The one that immediately springs to mind was when I was in my first proper adult full time job in the public service. I was a 17 year old secretary and my desk was positioned in the same office as my boss. He was a man in his 5O’s. He was obsessed with me. He did lots of weird things like followed me at lunch time. I would see his head pop out from around the corner. On rainy days he would hide my umbrella so that he could offer me a lift home. He placed glass jars with cookies in them on my desk and labelled them “for Muffin”. Yep … he called me “muffin”. He would go behind my chair and put his hands on my shoulders. He stared at me from his desk as I worked … all day. If he thought I had too much work he would take some away and give it to someone else … and there was much more. I was a naive and innocent 17 year old who had no idea what to make of all this but I did know it was wrong and it made me uncomfortable. Older work colleagues noticed and confirmed with me that it was wrong, so I reported it to the ombudsman and provided evidence [some of his little love notes]. I was moved to a typing pool. He barely got a rap over the knuckles … and they just put another poor girl in that job. So yeah … #metoo

  • My reluctance to speak up comes from the times I have done so. Even when raised formally, nothing actually gets fucking done. It’s pointless. The “best case” scenario I’ve had is that they’re confused and scared off from you because they didn’t do anything wrong, you know? So they’ll avoid you but have no idea what they did that was wrong.

  • I’ve never been sexually harassed but as a primary school teacher, I’ve spent most of my working life with almost all female colleagues and all but one of my bosses have been female. I’m sure there’s a correlation there somewhere.

  • I’ve been lucky to work in workplaces where this hasn’t really been issue but I know many others who haven’t been so lucky. Not to say that I’ve escaped it all together though, sadly it’s been males in my personal life that have been the problem when in my teens & early adult life. Oh, and now that I think about it, there was the guy that worked for the copy place my work used at the first job I was at, he used to make the deliveries and would come and stand really close to me in the shop while talking to me, and constantly asked me if I would pose for him (he said he wanted to be a photographer), always making charged comments and staring at me. It got to the point where if I saw him coming up the street I would run & hide in the back office until he was gone. He was weird & creepy and he finally got fired, or at least he was stopped from doing our deliveries as I never saw him again after my boss made a complaint to his boss on my behalf after he followed me around on my lunch break one day. That was super creepy, he literally walked about 50m away from me the whole time just staring and trying to hide when I would turn around (he was so weird though that he couldn’t even hide properly, think hiding behind a pole!). He gave me nightmares for a while. I had totally forgotten about that until now, guess my mind managed to block it!

  • I’ve thankfully never been the victim of sexual harassment, or I’ve at least been oblivious to it. The closest I’ve come was harassment in general where my former CEO told me to ride a bike to lose weight. I left that company the following year, but at the time while being horrified and offended, did nothing about it. I still don’t know why, I guess because he was the CEO I didn’t have anyone else to turn to that would see action?

    I’m definitely under no illusions of how widespread it is. I’m glad the conversation is happening. I wonder if this the start of a major domino effect amongst all industries now, not just Hollywood?

  • It so is and whilst I have thought about it since the #metoo social media explosion I know I never felt ‘threatened’ but looking back I know I was demeaned. I was a teacher in a 2 teacher school in 1972 and it was just when women were wearing pants to work…as opposed to dresses/skirts I mean. I was young, the community was in a cold place and I asked my boss who was male if I could wear a pants suit to school. No, he smirked, I like to look at women’s legs. That is where I left it. I had no power, and I was his staff. His wife was caring for our baby while I worked there and in fact they were her godparents. My hub had been friends with them before I came on the scene. The next year my hub and I transferred to a larger community and pant suits were IN baby!! I do not make light of this but it is the case that it is MEN who have been the bosses and those who wield the power. I can stick up for myself like anyone can but back then I think I was insulted and never actually trusted him again. Nothing ever happened but I felt a bit creeped out.