The views expressed are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of current or former workplaces.
I was born into a Middle Eastern family. My parents were typically protective, raising my sisters and me to be polite, truthful, smart, respectful women. To be ‘good’ girls.
This has largely worked in my favour. It is one of the first things people notice and remark to my mum about. How well behaved and respectful we are. How much we put others at ease.
I use my politeness a lot in professional settings, in the ways I converse with my clients and superiors; empathising with their needs; trying not to raise my voice even when they are being aggressive or unwilling to listen.
I was 18 when I first experienced sexual harassment at work. It was my very first ‘real’ job, having spent years helping out at my parents’ shop. I distinctly remember how excited I was to finally gain ‘independence’. When I told my parents, they worried about my safety, especially around people they didn’t know. But eventually they accepted it, their fears alleviated by the fact I only worked five minutes away from their shop.
He was in his mid-late 20s; a typically slick, wordy sales agent. I did not like the way he looked at me. Once or twice, I caught him leering as I leant over to pick something, and it made me feel incredibly unsafe. I started wearing singlets under my tops and longer skirts and pants to make sure that nothing could be seen, but still, the gaze lingered.
One night, I was left to close the agency alone. He came inside, and I tried my best to ignore him. Out of nowhere, he grabbed me, pushing himself onto me, trying to force me to dance with him. I was shocked, repeatedly telling him to stop, but he wouldn’t listen. I had to physically put a bin between us until he finally relented and let me go.