Ask the woman next to you, there are Harvey Weinsteins in every industry.
Some of these power-harassers are even more garish than Harvey, some are charming, others are barbaric, there are the ones who try to “help” your career, the ones who laugh and tell the office you “can’t take a joke”. The ones who make you cry.
It’s true. There is no good exit from a sexual harassment encounter. Even when you do get out of the situation, you probably don’t feel like you’ve come out as any kind of victor. But we need remember: we can exit. We need to remember: our stories are powerful. And we need to remember: we are never to blame.
As Tolentino writes:
If you’re sweet and friendly, you’ll think that it’s your fault for accommodating the situation. If you’re tough, well, you might as well decide that it’s no big deal. If you’re a gentle person, then he knew you were weak. If you’re talented, he thought of you as an equal. If you’re ambitious, you wanted it. If you’re savvy, you knew it was coming. If you’re affectionate, you seemed like you were asking for it all along. If you make dirty jokes or have a good time at parties, then why get moralistic? If you’re smart, there’s got to be some way to rationalize this.
Here’s what six Australian women did in the face of sexual harassment.
I was a junior at one of Australia’s most well known current affairs programs. ‘He’s going to love you,’ a female colleague told me when I said I’d scored the job. On my third day I knew who she meant. I had to wear big headphones to transcribe big interviews, so the first time I felt his hands on my shoulders, I jumped like the chair had electrocuted me. He laughed and pressed his fingers into the squishy part of my back for a moment, moving underneath both my bra straps. I started to hear stories about how many women he’d slept with in the office. In the kitchen, he touched my cheek and told me I should teach him how to ‘take a selfie’ one day. That afternoon in my big headphones, when I felt his hands on my shoulders, a shocked noise came out of my mouth as I clumsily pushed away his hands away from my neck. I don’t know how loud I was or how I’d got to facing him in my chair. He gestured at me like I was a bucking horse and stepped backward. ‘Whoa whoa whoa, I’m not sure why you’re making such a scene right now,’ he said, meeting everyone’s gaze except mine. He didn’t do it again. Every time I saw him, he pretended I wasn’t there. I wished I hadn’t ‘made a scene’. But he never did it again. – Elizabeth
In one of my first jobs the owner fell in love with me. I know this because he took me out to lunch to tell me. He had just broken up from a long term relationship and I think he thought I would be happy about the news. I was very clear at that lunch that I didn’t share his feelings. He started acting weird straight away but I loved my job and didn’t want to leave. If male contractors came into the office he would become jealous. He would watch me all the time and talk about me to staff as though he knew me much better than he did. He acted as though he had some ownership of me, but it was hard to express exactly how he did this. I ended up getting advice from a friend’s mum who worked in HR. I had no idea how to deal with something that wasn’t concrete. She gave me some strategies, with the best being always making sure I was with colleagues when around him. That helped for a while, it made him more accountable for his little asides and what he said to me. Still, I left after 18 months because it was still unbearable. – Vicki