This post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers.
The author of this piece is known to Mamamia but has chosen to use a pseudonym. The feature image used is a stock photo.
I’m facing away from the camera. The lens captures a side of me I can’t see in the workplace – the small frame of a young woman, cramped over a desk and starting at a screen, unaware she’s the object of her manager’s gaze.
Moments later, he calls me out and tells me to smile. Obediently, I turn around. Confronted by the lens, I give him a playful thumbs up and bare my teeth in a grin. He captures me again.
Standalone, these two snapshots may appear to reflect a fun moment between colleagues at work. But when this 11-year-old Facebook Memory shows up in my newsfeed today, the name of the photographer attached, I’m immediately drawn back into the trauma of five long years in which he sexually harassed me in the workplace; the trauma of being trolled online when I spoke out about it.
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I wrote about my experience, once. My online story was published under a big Australian masthead, securing my confidence, authority, and – I’d assumed – safety.
But it was still a few years before #MeToo had hit social media. Choosing to keep my name anonymous next to that story had been a good idea: men left comment after comment debating whether or not my trauma was valid, or the events truthful.
It reads like a Mills and Boon novel.
You couldn’t have been harassed, because you wouldn’t have worn such formal clothes if you were working in that job.
This is just your sexual fantasy.
At the centre of what these trolls had deemed sexual fantasy was this: me, fresh out of college, working in a confined studio with hardly enough space for its desk and two chairs. Due to the nature of our work, shifts would often run into the early hours of the morning.
There’d be nobody but my manager alongside me. Nobody else there as he told me that my breasts looked nice and small; the same size as his wife’s.
In my story, which trolls dismissed as romantic fiction, I’d answer my manager’s questions about whether or not I was on the pill: he didn’t want me getting knocked up with my boyfriend and staying home from work.
In my story, my male-assumed fantasy, my boss asked me if I’d ever sat on a washing machine. Girls like to feel the vibrations – he’d seen it on the internet. I was asked about my first sexual experiences, and told – without being asked – about his. He’d celebrate that I “got my legs out” when I wore a knee-length skirt, and lament that I looked “fat” when I wore a thick jacket.
My manager called me “fat”, and the trolls said it was my sexual fantasy.
When #MeToo hit, I felt a deep sadness. If only I’d waited to share my story: the world might have believed me. Other women might have spoken out, too, rather than a continuous stream of comments dominated by men who thought my trauma never happened – and if it did, it was just a bit of fun. Or I was asking for it.