There are many ways to handle a bully in your workplace or professional life. “I’ll see you in court,” is one of them.
“Zip up my dress or I’ll deck you,” is another.
Those words belong to Australian media icon Kerri-Anne Kennerley. They’re clear, firm – and they worked.
Speaking to Mia Freedman on Mamamia’s No Filter podcast, Kennerley explained that she learnt quickly that standing up for yourself against sexual harassment when it happens is often the best way to deal with it. She noted that in the early part of her career (which commenced in 1967), there wasn’t a human resources department to turn to. No policies and procedures. And certainly, there were no laws against workplace discrimination and harassment for women.
Kerri-Anne talks to Mia about the time she threatened to “deck” her boss.
So when she found her dress being unzipped by her boss (the owner of the network), Kennerley knew she had to “draw that line in the sand” on her own. She told him, “zip up my dress or I’ll deck you”; a phrase which would become her standard response to repeated incidents of sexual harassment over the next few decades.
But what if someone feels they don’t have the confidence of Kerri-Anne Kennerley?
After 50 years in the television industry, the actress and host thinks that fighting spirit is a skill that all of us need to learn, even if it doesn’t come naturally. She states very clearly: “You have to learn to stand up for yourself without running to a court.”
“You’ve got to learn, ‘cos stuff happens, it’s not a matter of if, but it will…it’s been going on for donkey’s [years], things will never change, it’s how you handle them.”
Kennerley’s stance is a dose of pragmatic tough-love that we all need to hear. She’s suggesting confrontation. She’s suggesting an aggressive tone. It won’t be easy. But it’s got to be done.
Because, think of the alternative.
The alternative would be to allow the sexual harassment to proceed, possibly opening the door for it to happen again, and certainly destroying the confidence of the victim. So women need to apply, and protect, their confidence proactively. Legal recourse is not the first line of defense – you are.