Image: Bridget Jones’ Diary.
Unfortunately, it remains an all too real issue for women today.
An anonymous writer on XoJane has reflected on her own experience of workplace harassment, and the regret she feels over her decision to not speak up.
At the time, the woman was working in a administration position at a “prestigious corporation that everyone has heard of”. Despite her initial reservations about the job, her colleagues were genuinely friendly and she found a mentor in her boss.
It soon became clear that one of her indirect superiors, ‘Bob’, perhaps didn’t grasp those concepts quite as well.
She’d been working with Bob to create a database, and one day he left her to brainstorm details while he attended a meeting. When he returned, things became uncomfortable quickly, as she recalls:
“I was just thinking about you –” I began, excited.
Now, the entirety of the sentence would have been, “I was just thinking about you and our database problem.” But he quickly jumped in before I could complete the sentence, deepening the timber of his voice to what I assumed was his version of a “sexy voice.”
Watch TV host David Koch discussing the status of women in the media industry with Mia Freedman. (Post continues after video.)
“Oh, what were you thinking about?” he asked suggestively.
“I was just thinking that we could –” I continued.
“Because I don’t charge,” he interjected, still in that suggestive tone. He then proceeded to guffaw at his “joke.”
It took me a few dumbfounded seconds to get the… joke.
“Charge for what?” I almost asked, but thankfully I didn’t, as I slowly realised the punchline of said joke.
Bob had obviously crossed the line — and although the writer was mortified, she laughed along before returning to the original conversation topic.
It’s easy to imagine doing the same thing in her situation; women are regularly ribbed by their male counterparts for “not being able to take a joke” and told to “lighten up”, so laughing along becomes the default reaction.
But inwardly, the writer wasn't laughing.
"As soon as he left my office, a sickly feeling grew in my stomach as his statement sunk in. I immediately chided myself — Why did you laugh? The 'joke' was totally inappropriate and made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, especially considering that he was my superior," she recalls. (Post continues after gallery.)
Her conundrum didn't end there. Although workers are instructed to report any incidences of harassment, the writer spend the rest of the day considering the repercussions she might face if she were to speak up. People might perceive her as too thin-skinned, or she might be passed over for other projects or promotions.
Eventually, she decided these possible outcomes were heavy enough to tip the scales.
"The department was small, and if I made an anonymous complaint, I had no doubt he'd know it was me. I was too embarrassed to bring up the matter to my boss for the same reason — Bob would definitely know that it was me," she writes.
"He was a superior, I was a mere assistant, and I really needed the job. I didn't want an innocuous joke to become an issue. So I chose to do nothing."
The writer stayed in the company for several years, as did Bob. However, she says the incident and the way she responded to it has played on her mind constantly — and she's regretted it ever since.
"I blamed myself for saying 'I've been thinking about you.' And then I realised that was victim blaming. There was nothing wrong with what I said," she says.
Though the writer hasn't been subjected to any further incidents of harassment in the workplace, if it does occur again she's adamant she won't laugh or remain silent.
It's a sobering lesson for any woman in the modern workplace. No matter how insignificant an incident might seem, sexual harassment isn't going to be curbed unless we start calling men on it.
Have you ever faced sexual harassment in the workplace? Did you report it?
You can read Anonymous' article in full on XoJane.