A Minute to Myself (91)

Sexual Harassment: A Lose-Lose Situation

I have been mulling over this posting for quite a while. Not that I am concerned that it’s too controversial, but because it bothers me so much that in the twenty years since this happened to me there don’t seem to have been any changes in the way the world goes round. Yes, sure, there are cracks in the ceiling, but if you can still call it a ceiling, then things are still the same.

Why am I instantly bringing together sexual harassment with gender-based workplace discrimination? Well, because it seems evident that that is where so much sexual harassment happens—as in my case. I don’t want to go into the details because they are not what is important, but I was told that I would get a raise and a car if I agreed to meet my boss once a week in a hotel room. A week after the rebuff, I was fired. While the details will make for some fun reading (for example: the business trip to Paris that my boss arranged for the two of us the week of my birthday thinking that this would make me so grateful that I would agree to his intentions—that took place a mere week before the proposition and then the firing) it is, instead, the implications that sexual harassment can have on a woman that I want to discuss. The implications do not “just” extend to losing a job, but to the differently damaging impact on self-esteem.

Up until that time I had believed that if I worked hard, tried hard, had the smarts, was a good girl who did her best and didn’t hurt anyone (intentionally) that I would be treated fairly. But no, that is not right. No, someone can swoop down and take that naïveté from you with a swoop of his own ego and self-interest (lovely term that, for lust). Loss of naïveté is a bad thing for a young woman, how are you supposed to stand before all of the naysayers with confidence when you have just been told that your value is your value as a woman, not as a person?

I was fired from my first real job because I wouldn’t sleep with the boss. Yeah, that’s a bedrock for a confident career.

As I discovered years later in therapy, it was telling, too, that I did not tell my future ex-husband because I didn’t want him to: a) accuse me, b) divorce me, c) handle it himself. So while I was good in not succumbing to the temptations of a car (as if), I was bad in not telling my husband about what had not happened. It was bad that I didn’t trust him. It was bad that I didn’t trust that he would trust me. It was bad that my boss put me in that situation (especially since I was in the blush of married life; for goodness sakes he danced at my wedding). It’s not good that the two men in my life at that time could not be trusted to treat me with the respect I thought I had earned—that I deserved as a woman, as a person.

Sexual harassment, it’s not just about the innuendoes, the pressure, the repugnance, the power-play, it affects one’s being, how one sees oneself. Not only do you second-guess yourself, but you learn to be wary of others, unsure of how you are judged and viewed.

And to be honest, I don’t know how many people are honest about this with their partners. At first you don’t even realize that anything is happening: that the smile might be too big, the sitting too close, the conversations too wide-ranging. How do you even broach the subject to your partner if you are a responsible professional? Aren’t you capable enough to handle your work life without suggestions from your partner? And what if your partner is a bit controlling and would decide for you what to do and say, and if you don’t adhere to his guidelines you have now failed him? Oh, the twisted weave that is woven for us.

I naively do not believe that the victim has brought this upon herself. Someone tell me how a woman who wants to keep her job, who likes her job, who needs to work with her boss can be said to be at fault? At that time my husband was in law school and I was supporting us, so I was scared to quit and be left without a job. There were certainly financial pressures that enabled me try to talk my boss down from his imaginary life without walking out in a huff of self-righteousness.

I was good at that job (technical writing and copywriting), but my confidence in my abilities was sorely shaken. Was I on the fast-track because of my abilities or my potential? And the lie, the lie that I was never able to confront forced me to be other than who I thought I was, and to get a glimpse—without acknowledging it enough—of marital troubles of the personality-clash type.

But I think I am talking to the choir. Where are the men? Are they reading this? Are they acknowledging the damage that they can cause a woman’s esteem just for an ego boost? So is this a win-lose situation: your ego or mine? Maybe they need to realize that it’s a lose-lose situation before things can begin to change. For how can anyone really give himself a pat on the back if he has forced someone to have sex or a relationship just so she wouldn’t lose her job? Do you hear that guys? You lose. Coercion is not a thing to be proud of, it is shameful. Grow some self-respect.



I'm sorry that you lost your first professional job, and that you were not able to get the support you needed from future ex-husband. (I am loathe to capitalize his title.)

I think there is no polite, reasonable way to change a person who stoops to coercion. It'll only stop when society is ready to shame the offenders before their wives and children in the public square. (Yes, I'm cynical.)

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

Christine, I think the only way to stop people from trying to control others or to be controlled by others--in whatever way--is for people to have healthy levels of self-esteem, not too much and not too little. That is not something that only parents need to do for their children, but our whole society, as you noted. The village is a powerful place, too bad that the powerful set such bad examples.


Wow. I also like where you wrote in your comment, "too bad the poeerful set such bad examples."

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

So many problems seem to be rooted in the narcissists in our midst. And wouldn't you know it but people who have inflated levels of self-esteem or such low-levels that they need to trample on people to feel good are the ones who rise or push themselves to the top. Maybe if we really did respect the writers and the intellects and the thinkers and the inventors and the artists more there would be a better balance against those who crave control.

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