Crossing The Line ~ Sexual Harassment ~ Sadly A Reprise
So…here we go again. This seems timely after the revelations of the past few days. Yuck. And dammit. This has GOT to stop.
Every woman has a story. Or five. Here’s one of mine.
“So, he said I have a really cute vagina…”
I just about dropped the carton of eggs I was pulling out of the fridge for our breakfast but made the save. The half-smoked cigarette I was balancing between my lips wasn’t as lucky, falling onto the kitchen linoleum, just barely missing my bare feet—as my mouth hung agape.
My roommate chattered on as I stomped out the hot ash that was skittering about with my heavily callused heel.
“One of the prettiest he’s ever seen,” she chirped.
“Wait. Who said that? Michael? Your boyfriend?” I asked as if I really wanted to know.
Moments earlier I had innocently asked how her visit to the Gynecologist had gone the previous day. She’d had a couple of wonky pap smear results and, well, now here she was, off talking about all the compliments her vagina was getting—and I was confused.
She did have the attention span of a spider monkey so this wasn’t new, but the subject matter was. We weren’t the kind of roommates who were in the habit of sharing super intimate, sex-related pillow talk.
“No, silly, Dr. SoandSo”, she laughed, smoke billowing from her nostrils as she snuffed out her cigarette in the Philodendron on the kitchen table.
One habit we did have was smoking while cooking. Only while cooking. It nauseates me even now. All of it. Even this conversation. Especially this conversation.
I whipped around, setting the egg carton down hard in front of her. Egg snot ran from several of the perforations onto the vintage 1950’s Formica diner table we sat around in the kitchen.
She jumped, startled, as I yelled into her face. “What the fuck?! Are you telling me you’re Gynecologist said that to you?!”
She looked at me as if my head had spun around (which it had, but just once), her big, brown eyes filled with fear.
“Uh, yeah, he was just…um…it wasn’t…uh…”
“Please tell me he at least removed his hand from inside your body before he said that!” I asked, again not really wanting to know the answer. I’m not even sure why that mattered, it’s just that the thought of her doctor wrist-deep inside of her, cooing that bullshit while she’s on her back with her legs in the stirrups made me want to puke—and call the police.
“That is sexual harassment!” I screamed louder than I intended.
”He’s a professional! He should NEVER say that sort of thing to you! Everyone knows gynecologists are only allowed to talk about the weather when they’re down there—below the equator!”
She looked bewildered.
“Honey”, I pulled up a chair and sat straight in front of her, lowering my voice into a calmer, more soothing register as I realized she had no idea what he’d done.
It was a compliment. About her lady parts. From a man.
“You have to report him. He’s a bad guy, and not a good doctor. That wasn’t a compliment. It was HIGHLY inappropriate.”
When she finally got it, she looked ashamed.
“If you don’t—I will!”
Sexual harassment in the workplace, from people in positions of power, and I think, in general, is SUCH a subjective topic and to this day—I’m not sure why.
It’s been my observation that most men just don’t get the intricacies.
The boundaries are blurred to the point that unless it comes down to an actual physical assault—it can slide under the radar like it did for my twenty-seven-year-old roommate.
It is often covert—cloaked in a compliment, delivered by someone in authority, wrapped inside of a joke or said straight up to your face with a wink—and if you so much as bat an eyelash—you’re overreacting.
Clearly, the situation was “misconstrued”.
I loathe that word. Misconstrued.
Lots of slimy people get away with highly questionable shit by hiding behind that word.
Here’s the thing, I don’t misconstrue anything. My gut construes everything you said correctly. Your innuendo? It was interpreted exactly how you meant it. There was no mistake made.
Except for you thinking I wouldn’t say anything.
I worked in a male-dominated business for almost twenty years.
And I grew up with a brother and worked my way through school on the night crew of a supermarket as one of only two girls.
I know men. I love men, and I know male humor.
I get it. I can even appreciate it. It can be bawdy and blue and I’m a real broad—one of the guys—so I’m often right there in it AND I can let a lot of shit slide.
But there’s a line. A boundary that should never be crossed, and you know when it has been by the pit in your stomach.
My male boss was always the epitome of appropriate behavior. He never made a misstep.
But one day in the midst of an all-male jewelry buy (or a shark feeding-frenzy, take your pick), the free-range testosterone in the room took control of one of my boss’ partners and best friends. As he went to leave, he hugged me goodbye for a little bit too long, and the hug was just a little bit too tight and there it was—his semi-erect “little friend” pressed up against my thigh.
It was no accident. There were a couple of dry-humps. I kid you not.
Reflexively and forcefully, I pushed him away with both hands looking him straight in the eye—horrified.
He winked, and yelled something back at the guys about his jeans being too tight, and made a quick getaway.
I could barely catch my breath. I was shaking and red in the face. Immediately, I grabbed my boss by the arm, yanking him out of earshot of the others.
As a woman in a man’s world, you walk a tightrope—you want to be a “good sport”, “one of the guys”, yet still be treated with respect.
“THAT man!”, I whisper/yelled, “You had better keep your FRIEND away from me—he is NEVER to lay a hand on me again, DO YOU UNDERSTAND? If he does—I will quit and then I will sue him all the way to hell and back!”
He shook his head and shrugged, confused. “O…kay…”, he stammered still staring at my panting, red face.
“He pressed his dick against my leg!” I whispered forcefully, staring him down, trying to make him understand. He immediately looked down at his feet, embarrassed. “Okay”, he replied, wishing he were invisible as he slowly turned and walked back to his buddies.
I think, rather I KNOW, that he thought I was overreacting. That I had misconstrued his friend’s natural affection for lechery.
I tried not to gag every time I had to see that man again, which was often since he was a part of my boss’ inner circle. But nothing even remotely resembling sexual innuendo or impropriety happened again. I don’t know if my boss had a talk with the guys or if they had just decided on their own to behave themselves.
All of them except for that one man.
In the space of ten years, with a wife and two kids to support, he settled three workplace sexual harassment cases (that I know of ), out of court.
If I remember correctly, I think it was when my boss told me about the second one that his face registered some sort of understanding and an unspoken apology for having doubted me.
That would have to be enough.
Talk to me.