This picture has nothing to do with this post. I merely like the desert, and it's an image of being alone, which could be the premise of this post.
There have been a lot of men (and women too) in my life to tell me the following:
- You're crazy
- You lack empathy
- You're a bitch
- You're overreacting
- You're dramatic
- You don't respect authority
- You have an attitude problem
- You make everything harder than it needs to be
- Why can't you just let it go, so the problem goes away?
Some of these people were close to me at one point in my life, and one would think this is the hardest part of hearing these seemingly harmless phrases. But the harshest apart about them was the truth; nobody believed me. I was classified as being dramatic or a bitch for having an issue with another person. I wasn't heard, and me feeling unsafe was an inconvenience. I'm thinking of two particular incidents, both are professional, but I'll only share one.
Right after college, I got my first official and professional job. I was excited since I had been unemployed and borderline suffering from drinking too much wine during the day problem. This new job was construction-based and dominated by men. Which at the time didn't bother me. I've always been classified by my peers as 'one of the guys.'
The issues at this job, though, started after my first promotion. I started as a receptionist in an office with two other girls. Then my boss moved me to an isolated part of the building in a dark corner. Then I was promoted to a buyer. Meaning I helped with all of the contracts, purchasing, etc. I shared an office with another female coworker who was pregnant at the time. She and I became close and are still friends today.
My boss quickly realized that I had more to offer than receptionist work and the work I was doing. So he promoted me to also help with HR and accounting related items.
As a young, fresh out of college girl, I was proud of myself. Financially I was struggling, and professionally, being a receptionist wasn't something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. This was a big deal for me. This feeling, though, dissipated quickly.
Derogatory and sexist comments had been made plenty of times before. I had been called kiddo by a man because he felt since I was young, although an adult, I didn't know what I was doing. I had been told that my other female coworker and I needed to come out on the annual guy's golf trip and be the beer maidens wearing crop tops. I had been told to smile more because I was such a pretty girl. I took in stride these comments because if there is one thing we females learn, it's to quickly become desensitized.
Anyways, I was promoted and was allowed to continue to share an office with my coworker. Still, whenever I needed to work on something HR/Accounting related, I had to go work in an empty office next to my boss's. Things started to get weird after this half transition.
My boss started watching when I clocked in and out of work. There was one time I clocked into work and was going over items my coworker needed help with for the day, and my boss called her phone and asked why I had been clocked in for ten minutes and hadn't seen him yet. Then when I clocked out for lunch, he would ask her where I was going. It started off tracking when I clocked in and quickly moved to when I arrived back from lunch. It got to the point where if I was not at my desk, say using the restroom, he would go around the office asking where I was. I think the scariest time was when I had just returned from lunch and finished clocking back in when I got a call where my boss said, "you're back from lunch, come to my office."
My coworker even said he's watching you clock in and out. So, she would start covering for me. Telling him lies about where I was just to have some breathing room. I felt very uncomfortable but didn't tell anyone because my boss was also our HR department. I told myself this behavior was normal.
My coworker left for maternity leave, and I had our office to myself. It was also around the holidays, so I felt a little more relaxed since I had to fill in for her, and my boss couldn't assign me random assignments just for me to be near him.
When my coworker returned, I was permanently moved to the office next to my boss after being promoted again. This time, the promotion didn't feel right.
My new office was in the back of the building. There were three offices: my bosses, a sales employee, and mine. My office was right next to my bosses, and it faced the sales employee (he was seldom in the office because well he worked in sales and was out on jobs). Because he was never in his office, the glass window was dark, and it showed a perfect reflection of me from my office and into my boss's office. He would sit there and watch me. He would watch what I was doing, and when I would leave, he would always follow. If I had to go down the hall, he would follow me but walk past as if he was doing something else. I always tried to escape my office from being watched and visit my coworker and pretend we had something work-related to work on because my skin crawled.
I started wearing baggier clothes and not wearing makeup, hoping this would be an easy fix. It didn't matter.
I tried bringing up my concerns to another female at the office (who had been working there all her life). She told me that my boss had done a lot of good things for this company. That he is a good guy. I knew immediately, she wouldn't believe me.
I stopped going to her, and things kept getting worse. My boss would come into my office and show me how to do something. But he would do it standing directly behind me, sometimes even touching my back; he would lean over me and then grab the mouse and show me how to correctly complete a task. Imagine a cheesy move in a movie when a guy tries to show a girl how to golf, shoot a basketball, or something stupid like that. I wish I could do this part more justice.
Or he simply would come into my office and stand behind me and watch me work. The worst was when he would pat/squeeze my shoulder and tell me what a good job I was doing.
Things continued like this for a while. He'd watch me in that window, he'd follow me down the hall, or stand behind me at my desk. All of these things became daily occurrences. For those of you wondering, watching when I would clock in and out was still happening as well.
He started assigning me tasks that were way over my head, like employee tax-related items, and had me figure out how to do them just to stay late. There were times when he and I were the only ones left in the office. I can't stress this enough, my anxiety was incredibly high.
I finally found my breaking point. One day, my boss called me into his office and asked me why I thought I was promoted to this position? To which I said, I assumed you promoted me because you think I have potential, I'm a quick learner, and I am hardworking.
He then told me no. He told me that the only reason I was promoted and in this new role is that he put me there. He followed that with a comment stating that I don't respect authority and wasn't doing enough to deserve my position. He then said to me, you only got this far because I did you a favor, and I don't feel like you appreciate what I've done for you. So, how are you going to pay me back for the kindness? What are you going to do for me to show your appreciation?
I didn't really know how to answer him, so I told him that I was sorry he felt that way, and I'd try to do better. He then went on a tangent about all of these professional books he was reading and was trying to impart knowledge to me. I didn't care; I wanted out of that office so bad.
For those of you reading things, I don't really know what you're thinking right now. I've had some people tell me that I was being dramatic, that it's not a big deal. I've had others tell me that they would have quit right then and there. Leaving wasn't an option for me because I really needed the money.
So, what I did, is a few days after that, I went back into his office, and I told him that I felt harassed by someone in the office. Now, as our HR department, he took this very seriously. When he asked me who, I didn't tell him because I was terrified of what he would do if I told him it was him while we were isolated in his office. The following week, we had an investigation into my claims of harassment.
A female lawyer came in and spoke to everyone in the office. When she talked to me, I basically vomited all over the place with my story and information. I had printed off emails between my boss and me. I saved the post-it notes he wrote me. I documented the only proof I had to support my boss's harassment. If you know me, this is a huge deal; I even started crying. My hands wouldn't stop shaking, and I was begging her to believe me. At the time, I thought she did, that was until our second meeting. The female lawyer looked me in the eyes and told me that only one person supported my claims. Everyone else only had positive things to say about my boss. There wasn't enough evidence to prove anything happened. Window watching isn't a crime, she told me. To which I repeated, but what about him doing this, or him following me, etc. She just reiterated the fact that the investigation was completed, and no sexual harassment was discovered. She said that it just seems like I'm struggling to adjust to a new job out of college.
Remember the older female coworker I mentioned, who had worked at this company here whole life? When I went to her and asked her thoughts during the investigation, she told me, honey, I don't care. I just want this thing to be over. I want to get back to work.
I was dismissed again and again in that office, and things didn't get better for me. Vacation days were revoked or claimed to already have been used. Previously promised things were taken from me. Everyone in the office, except my friend/coworker, didn't look at me the same. I was told and seen as just being dramatic. I was an inconvenience, and the fact I didn't feel safe, didn't matter because nobody believed me when I said, this guy isn't who you think he is.
Eventually, I quit and found a new job. But not before my boss started stalking me. I never reported it because I have no proof. I would just see his car parked near my house, driving behind me on my way home from work, or trailing when I would go places, only near work. I tried mentioning this once to a friend, and they told me I was paranoid. When I finally did leave, my old workplace would look at my Linked in a lot. The most recent this has happened was about a year and a half ago.
I haven't worked at that place for fiveish years now, yet I have experienced many sexist situations. Not all of these instances have been from men, but I'm not sure that even matters.
The point is, I have been called many names in my life, but I would instead be labeled as crazy if at least I'm taken seriously. If that means that when I come to you and tell you, I feel unsafe, that you'll believe me.
Because after years of situations like these and the mass number of times I've felt unsafe, I have learned the best way for me to be safe is to keep my mouth shut. It's professionally (and personally) safer for me to be labeled as a bitch, abrasive or dramatic because admitting that I feel unsafe puts me in an even more vulnerable position. And that never ends well for me.
I'm so scared of admitting it that I will try to tell you in every other way possible when I feel like this. I will never use the words I feel afraid or unsafe.
Instead, I'll probably say things like something feels off about them. I don't trust them.
I might attempt to play it off and say things like: I'm not trying to be dramatic, but (insert example here), I'm probably just overreacting but (insert example here).
Or from never being believed in the past, I'll ask for help understanding my own reality by asking, "am I overreacting, or are my feelings about (incident here) valid?" And sometimes, they are not. Sometimes my anxiety gets the best of me.
But, my most significant indicator is when it's all I think about. Then I'll regularly talk about it because I'm in a constant state of anxiety.
The point is, there's a lot of ways I'll go about asking for help without stating the obvious because I can't trust that I'll be heard.
I don't really have an ending to this post. The idea to write this came to me this evening, and it spilled out on paper like ink without any thought. When I started my attempt at branding, The Human Zoo¸ I would make sure that I shared parts of my life with you as all the other people on my blogs have done so far.
Well, here is one from me to you.