This shit isn’t new.
Sexual harassment has been around as long as …well, FOREVER. There isn’t one industry that a woman doesn’t deal with this issue from men in power (and not in power).
As chick in the career world, I’ve been told not to wear makeup and dress down working at a construction company home office because I was too “pretty” and the construction workers wouldn’t be able to control themselves from ogling when they came into the office. I abided by the request only to be let go about six months later for not looking “professional” enough. Is that harassment? Maybe just discrimination – but still. I said nothing. I felt disrespected, of course, and I lost my job because of my looks?
I’ve heard men at more than one company bitch about having to provide maternity leave (for women who are carrying YOUR FUCKING SPAWN and need to recover) when I’ve written handbooks with maternity – and paternity – leave included.
Most recently, I encountered sexual harassment at a job where I thought I would stay until retirement. It was in the music business and I started as an office manager. While the company worked with big and small artists alike, the core of its personnel was about 10 full-time employees (two of which were female, including myself, and were also the lowest two paid peeps there…even though we both had manager in our title).
As my comrade Slappy would say….
Going into any business environment eyes wide open, I worked with a vast array of people, which is why I loved the company so much. It was the most non-politically correct place – corporately speaking – and I was a contributor in every way. Lunch banter included topics of a dude asking me about Jesus when I was wearing only a leopard bra, an instance when I was sent a dick pic and I was once told I would be “punched in the tits” from an executive if I pinched him for not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day. None of it bothered me because I dished it right back. It wasn’t unnatural to ask a fellow employee how their weekend was with the response, “I got laid,” to which I started responding, “me too.” Swapping dirty jokes, tales of road mayhem and being able to freely be ourselves didn’t create a hostile work environment because we all respected each other.
If anyone fucked with me (say the dick pic sender), I knew I had an army of fellow friends/brothers who had my back no matter what. Once, a new sales person let it be known that he was going to “fuck” me (oh and he was married with a wife and kids). He was immediately terminated when upper management found out after another employee overheard me telling someone. I felt valued no matter what my sex. We were all working our asses off together and I absolutely loved the atmosphere.
As the company grew, we opened a new division and naturally, more folks were hired. One of them, the COO of the division and I became friends. Hell, we were all friends – with more of a small business family feel, even as we became a larger company. This COO, who I will fondly refer to as Piss Ant from here on out, was the person who fired the dude who wanted to “fuck” me. Piss Ant gave me airline miles to go home to Iowa and see my ailing Gma one summer. Piss Ant ranted and raved and sat in my office for hours on end and asked my opinions on everything from work to personal matters. Piss Ant was my friend.
Piss Ant also loved power. And as he was granted more of it through his ability to land deals and bring in the big bucks to the company. His tiny head grew bigger. And bigger. And bigger. AND BIGGER.
One day, he’d gotten back from a rather rough week on the road. He came to my office and said he needed a drink.
So we got him one.
He proceeded to get shit faced during the afternoon and unload dirty laundry from years past, present and what was to be his future. I listened. I gave advice. I also grew increasingly aware that this situation was about to take a wrong turn.
While sipping on moonshine at three in the afternoon (almost every office had some sort of alcohol in it – and it was nothing for folks to have a drink around quitting time), his stories got more personal. More sordid. More wistful. Wistful as in telling me I had a nice ass. As in telling me he married the wrong woman…he should have married me (his wife was at home pregnant). As in telling me I would never get married because I was too good for anyone. And, as you are all well aware, I’m no shrinking violet.
I immediately shut the shit down. I told him to stop fucking talking. That he would regret this later that night and especially the next day. I was being ‘cool’ – level headed, and as I went to get him some water, he followed me out of the office and pulled me into one of our dark rooms where designers could come and rehearse. It was pitch black and he slammed the door shut. He kept saying he wanted to kiss me. I kept telling him to back the fuck off and that he was going to have regret.
Once I manhandled him out of my way, I opened the door and went into the bathroom. When I came out, the note below was on my desk, folded neatly. As he sat in a chair in my office and giggled drunkenly, I responded the most flippant way that I knew how and told him he needed to go home.
And he did. And he called to apologize. And I told him that we all make mistakes. But I kept the note. Because I knew what happened wasn’t in the slightest bit OK.
Our working relationship recovered because I think as a woman, (and anyone else who has put up with this shit before) I HAD to move past the situation professionally. But personally, I was enraged. And confused. And conflicted. Piss Ant was my superior. Piss Ant was my friend, right? (Obviously wrong). What was I to do? Who was I to tell? What would be believed? Piss Ant was the company cash cow. What would this do to my career? Would this give me a tattletale reputation in the still small music industry Nashville?
WHAT THE FUCK WAS I THINKING?
This is what goes through minds when sexually harassed, assaulted, abused.
I stayed silent.
Piss Ant was promoted to CEO. I was promoted to the executive team and I had no problem going toe-to-toe with him and his dictator style of micro-managing. He once called me to ask what my employees were doing. When I rebuffed with a ‘what are your employees doing’ it turned into a two hour conversation about how he can run his division and I can run my department. He didn’t like that – but was always quick to apologize when he overstepped boundaries or knew conversations got heated for no reason due to himself.
He didn’t just bully me. He abused his power, he fucked with people for his own ego purposes and no one in the company was upset that he traveled 90% of the time. After I was promoted to his level as an executive, the work environment got extremely hostile and toxic for me. It felt like a personal witch hunt. Here was a man who used to show people a video I made while in an ‘80s cover band that showed a helluva lot of skin (you can’t see anything – trust me, my dad made sure of it) – to acting repulsed when he saw a photo of me modeling for a fellow employee’s jewelry line (who later became my direct report).
Said employee’s jewelry site was linked briefly (like 30 minutes) to our company Facebook when she was featured as the weekly team member. When Piss Ant clicked the link and found the above picture (that had been posted 10 months prior), he called and I immediately removed the link. You cannot tell it is me. My name is not mentioned. The company name is not mentioned but I completely understood why it needed to be unlinked. Problem solved, right?
Not so much. Three weeks later, I’m sitting in an office with Piss Ant, the president of the company, and an ultra conservative business consultant who knew (knows) nothing about the music industry and this photo is again brought to my attention. Piss Ant said an employee’s wife complained. When he told me who, I went to discuss the situation with him and he had no clue what I was fucking talking about. It was Piss Ant who had the “issue”.
One week later, the employee I had ‘modeled’ for – a member of my team – was terminated without my knowledge because they were ‘eliminating’ the position. A fucking social media position. Uh huh.
One month later, my position (which consisted of human resources, all administration, marketing, branding, production of new website, public relations, merchandising, company culture, company events, outside events, all things internal and external communication wise) was ‘eliminated’ and I was told by Piss Ant that I could now report to a new hire with 30 years of experience. The hired person was 29 years of age (who no longer is with the company – surprise – and has posted on their consulting website that they created everything I did at my tenure with the company. Classy fucking people, I tell ya). If I didn’t accept the new position offered to me (the social media position they eliminated just a month before), it would be considered a resignation on my behalf.
I was told that after almost four years with the company (who still had a former executive on a six month severance, which included healthcare and phone coverage) that they owed me nothing. As the conversation among us four executives got heated, we decided to take the night.
Well, you can imagine how that sat with me.
I came in the next day, knowing what was going to happen. I wasn’t going to be put into a corner, lay down and take it up the proverbial ass. When I brought the situation of sexual harassment with the note to a fellow executive, I was told to keep quiet, or I would receive no severance. The president had taken pictures of a box of wine I kept by my trashcan under my desk – again no secret that drinking took place at the office, as every single manager had either a mini fridge or a full bar in plain sight. I was told their lawyer was powerful, to take my severance, and they would send an email out to the company saying they eliminated my position and we would part ways (the email sent said I left of my own accord – again FUCK OFF).
After I signed termination paperwork, tears were shed by Piss Ant as he walked me out the office front door and he said he didn’t agree with the way things went down. He didn’t agree with my leaving. He didn’t agree with the hire that was made in my place (FUCK OFF. He went to lunch with the replacement, gave the replacement the budget I had created, handed my department over, etfuckingcetera). He said he wanted to help me find another job. He said he would call. AS HE BAWLED.
I have yet to hear from him.
I can only hope that no one ever treats his daughter the way he treated me. The way he treats women. The way he treats other humans in general. But I sure as shit hope karma gets him.
Sexual harassment isn’t new. Hostile work environments aren’t new. Men (and even women) abusing their status of power isn’t new. It’s also not going away anytime soon. But for me, this is about standing the fuck up for yourself. This is about standing up for those who can’t – or don’t – or feel unable (as I did). This is about awareness. This is about placing responsibility where it belongs. On the harassers. The predators. The abusers of power.
My takeaway from my horrible work experience(s), the career ruiner (what if I told? what would it do to my career in the music industry? would I be judged?), my anger (I still carry) is this – it elevated me and gave me the gusto to tell when I was raped a month later.
I will never be silent. Ever again.
I will shout forever.
ME FUCKING TOO.