I was sexually harassed as a young woman
I chose a particularly inflammatory title for this post. I wanted to catch your attention. Because honestly, if it could happen to me, I think it could happen to anyone.
A few relevant details: This happened AGES ago. I did not suffer any long-term psychological harm. It did not impact my performance or ratings at work.
But it happened. And if it happened to me, it can happen to you, your daughters, anyone.
I was twenty years old. It was late spring/early summer. I was a part-time intern during the school year, and a full-timer over the summer. Technology work, men far outnumbered women. He was thirty-two. He was not unattractive, but at 20, I knew he was so seriously old that it wasn't even funny. Yes, I recognize the irony of this statement lo these many years later and on the downslope side of 32…
He was not someone I would have ever considered dating due to the age difference (to be fair, there were others at work I did date/consider dating, but they were typically 2-5 years older, not 12. I thought 12 years older was scandalous. I was naive, did I mention that?)
His cube was next to the one where I worked with two other (male) college interns. He was new to the cube farm section we worked in, but not to the company, having come with a group of others from another assignment. I liked hanging out with this group, they knew things I didn't know. I learned a lot from them, they had interesting tech things to teach me. But this guy, he was a letch.
He eyed me from the beginning. I guess I knew somewhere inside that he thought I was cute, but aforementioned gross-out at the age difference, in my mind any romantic attention from him was totally inappropriate. I have no idea how or if I conveyed any of this. I was young and naive. Remember? Any of his odd advances were probably met with nervous laughter and a general "I'm going to get the heck out of here" response by me.
His comments weren't numerous, it wasn't a constant barrage of attention, I didn't fear for my safety, in the grand scheme of harassment, it wasn't much. But guess what? It was still harassment.
One co-worker joked, "Oh, it's cute, he's got a crush on you." It wasn't cute to me. It was creepy, unwanted attention. It mostly took the form of seemingly throwaway comments.
I remember distinctly being in that cube and looking for a computer to work on (back in the days of having to share workstations…only a few laptops per OFFICE if you can imagine such a barbaric time.) They were all occupied. His genius solution? "You can sit on my lap!"
I actually went back to my cube, found one of my college intern (male, and much more sensible) buddies and told him. We talked about it, and decided not to do anything at the moment, but we did write it down on a calendar (in veiled language lest the letch see it himself.) I'm grateful that I had someone at work I felt comfortable enough with to confide in.
Later that summer I was on a trip that included this guy, and we had downtime between events. A group of us went to the hotel swimming pool. I wore a tank-dress coverup over my (modest) one-piece swimsuit. He made some remarks about how "Well this isn't any fun. What, are we all coming down to the pool all covered up?"
Looking back, it is rather comical. It was a socially awkward geek who liked me (or at least the way I looked, I never got the impression that he was all that interested in what I had to say,) being, you know, socially awkward about how he conveyed it.
But here's the cautionary tale -- to me, a shy and reserved (but attractive to him) young woman, it was harassment, plain and simple. He made me feel uncomfortable, he creeped me out, and before long I was actively looking for ways to avoid contact with him.
I don't really know what happened after that summer. I went back to school and my part-time schedule. I lost track of him (accidentally on purpose?) He stopped hitting on me, I think, or making awkward and completely inappropriate comments, and I think he moved on to other work so he didn't occupy that cube next to me anymore.
It was a relief when he was gone. I stopped being nervous about what would happen if I were in that cube solo with him. I didn't have to put up with his gross comments anymore. But I didn't stand up for myself, I didn't tell him, "Yo, you're gross. Knock it off. This in inappropriate. You're making me feel uncomfortable."
I wish I did, but I didn't know how. File this under "Eleven Billion Things I Know Now That I Wish My Younger Self Had Known." And for all you young women entering this painful job market, or the big bad world of college, even high school - know this: You can, and you should say those things. Say it with me. "This is inappropriate. You are making me uncomfortable. You need to stop this behavior, now."