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
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I think one of the worst night’s of my life was at the office Christmas party. I was very young and new and trying to do the right thing by chatting and being “nice” to everyone. It wasn’t even toward the end of the evening and it was from a man in the office, above me in the hierarchy, he was in all the important meetings, but I never had much to do with him. I didn’t think he knew my name. Then he sat next to me in a booth. I was literally jammed between him and the wall and he wouldn’t have even asked me two questions before he stuck his hands up my shirt and grabbed my breasts and started touching me everywhere. I tried to move his hands and I couldn’t. I’ve always thought I was strong but he was stronger. I had no idea what to do. It was a crowded room but everyone was in their own world dancing and laughing and we were the only two people in the booth. So I tipped my drink in his crotch and in the moment he kind of yelped I flung myself over the back of the booth chair and got away. No one even noticed. That was the best I could do. I got away but I still feel like I failed. – Kris
I had a male manager who would make a point of stopping by my desk and leaning over me to talk. It never felt right. He was too close and too intimate. So I decided to stand up. Every time he came over to “share” something, I stood up and it changed the whole power dynamic. We were more equals and everyone in the office could see what he was doing rather than it being our “little secret”. After I stood up three times, he stopped wanting to “chat”. – Caroline
I was working in a bar when I was on a gap year and the staff would often have a drink or two after their shift. The bar manager “took a shine” to me. He was married and kept talking to me about his wife and how she had stopped looking after herself when they had children. I was not flattered that he took me into his confidence, because he wasn’t taking me into his confidence – he was betraying his wife and trying to establish a more intimate relationship with me. I made sure I never asked a question about his personal life and whenever he strayed onto it I had work questions in my head all ready to ask him. He soon tired of it. The only reason I knew to keep away from his personal life was when I was at uni back in Australia the exact same thing happened. That had ended horribly one night when the manager physically tried to have sex with me against the bar when everyone had gone home. He kept saying things like, “But I thought you understood me. My life is shit.” So now I make sure not to “know” them. – Sarah.
I would take shopping tours and one weekend my regular driver called in sick and I had this horrible old man who would slap my bum every time we got on or off the bus. I ended up asking him to stop – and he’s response was “Oh – it’s just a bit of fun… all my other hosties let me have fun”. One of the ladies on the tour was eavesdropping, called my boss, and had him off the bus and a new driver at the next stop! – Jamie.
How have you dealt with your office’s Harvey Weinstein? Tell us your stories in the comments below…
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