MIA FREEDMAN: Most women have a workplace sexual harassment story. This is mine.

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Welcome to hell Harvey Weinstein and all the many, many men like you. The men who thought your power and your money and your fame made you untouchable.

The women you groped are coming for you.

That sound you can hear? It’s women roaring back at the men who have screwed us over, using their power to harass and silence us for decades. For centuries. It’s the sound of a shifting power balance.

The first time I was sexually harassed at work, I didn’t know what it was. Same with the second and third and fourth times.

It happened when I was working as a waitress in a restaurant after I’d left school. The owner was a loud, charismatic guy in his 50s and he was always there. There were two of us working the floor, me and another girl. I was 18. She was about 21.

It began as comments about my appearance – often in his native language, which he would helpfully translate. “Beautiful wet girl” he would growl at me sexually as I walked past him throughout the night between the restaurant floor and the kitchen.

It was creepy and off-putting and it made me intensely uncomfortable. Later, it would make me quite scared. But I had no name for it. “He’s a bit of a sleaze,” I said to the other waitress one night when we were out of earshot. She nodded and rolled her eyes. She’d been there longer than me but she was travelling on a working visa so she knew her position was more tenuous. Neither of us had any recourse, not that such a thing ever even occurred to us.

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I decided the best approach was to ignore his comments which were growing more overt and explicit, escalating with each shift I worked.

He soon started brushing up against me in the kitchen – away from the eyes of customers who all thought he was a large and lively legend – after I’d cleared tables. My arms were full so I couldn’t push him away. I soon began to dread going to work. I worked night shifts and I was starting to feel unsafe after the customers went home and I was there with just the other waitress and a kitchen hand, clearing up.

mia freedman columnist

Mia: 'When I worked nights, I started to fear what would happen when the customers left.'

It never occurred to me to report him or lodge some kind of official complaint. To my 18-year-old mind, he was just a sleazy guy being a sleaze and I just had to cop it. It's not like the restaurant had an HR department. Small businesses rarely do. It never occurred to me to tell any of the men who worked there either. Not that I needed to tell them. His disgusting comments and pushing up against me happened in full view of them. There was a tacit understanding that this was just the way it was. Just the way he was. It was all fun, yeah?

Not for everyone.

One of the most telling, heartbreaking tiny details in the Harvey Weinstein decades-long horror story uncovered by the investigative reporters at The New York Times and the New Yorker was the fact that so many of the victims told their parents. I told my mum, said Ashley Judd and many others - facts that were corroborated by the New York Times. I told my dad, said other victims of Weinstein's appalling harassment. How powerless and furious those parents must have felt.

Listen: I dive deep on the allegations lodged against Weinstein with Rachel Corbett and Jessie Stephens, on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues after audio. 

I didn’t tell my parents about it. I told nobody except the other waitress at the restaurant and she didn’t do anything. What could she do? I knew even then that it was something I had to deal with on my own. I remember feeling angry but helpless.

I quit.

Five years ago, I wrote here on Mamamia about sexual harassment. Naively or perhaps optimistically, I said: “How times have changed. Sexual harassment is now widely recognised as a crime. You can't pinch the bottom of a female (or male) employee or co-worker. You can't make suggestive comments or sexual propositions.”

Nah, who would do that? Who would systematically abuse and harass and coerce and threaten to destroy women for sexual kicks in this century? Who would do that?

 

The abuse of vulnerable women at work stops now.

That’s my story. What’s yours?

You can listen to our full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, below. 

Mia Freedman is the co-founder of Mamamia Women's Media Company. She is a proud patron for Rize Up, the charity supporting women and children fleeing from domestic violence, an ambassador for Share The Dignity, the charity which provides sanitary products to vulnerable women who are homeless, disadvantaged or the victims of domestic violence and an ambassador for Sydney Dogs and Cats home, a no-kill shelter where thousands of animals are rehomed with forever families. She is also a proud supporter of Ladystartups, an initiative she began to support women who have started their own business.

She is the author of the best-selling book Work Strife Balance for every woman who feel like she's the only one not coping (you're not) and the host and co-host of three podcasts: No Filter, Mamamia Outloud and Tell Me It's Going To Be OK (even though Trump is President).

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