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.