It isn’t just the men in positions of power.
Unless you take into consideration that all men hold a position of power.
I’ve been thinking about this lately. I hadn’t thought much about it in years because there was no point in thinking about it. But the country is talking about this sort of thing and I can’t not think about it.
I had a boss who once told me over email that I would get a raise if I came to work naked. I didn’t keep the email and when I quit that job I was very explicit in my exit interview that the reasons were fiscally motivated. I didn’t include that incident, which was only one of many comments, because I wanted to come off as level-headed and not a reactionary little girl. Even in telling this story I am carefully to avoid any hint of exaggeration, any description that could be described as embellished.
I had another boss who was accused of sexually harassing a coworker. She said he called her into his office alone and asked her to take off her shirt. He denied it, of course, and there was no “proof” other than the accusation. He pulled out the excuses I’ve come to recognize as tired diversions: that she wasn’t attractive, she didn’t have much filling out her bra, she wasn’t a good worker. I didn’t believe her. This is one of my biggest regrets in my life. I should have. I see now that what she said happened absolutely did happen. I wish I could go back in time and believe her. It’s just that I often wonder, if I could do that, what could I have done about it?
The head of HR for that same company was fired later that year for asking interviewees inappropriate questions of a sexual nature.
But, you have to understand, it’s not just men in power.
I started working at Safeco Field was I was 19. I’d always looked young for my age, and was asked at least once a game how old I was, most often by men. I’d tell them and would often get the reply, “You don’t even look old enough to drive!” Sometimes this was asked out of anger, like when I was responsible for carding people in the Hit It Here Café (“You can’t even drink, how can you tell me I can’t!”). Sometimes it was when I wouldn’t let them bring prohibited items into the game (“You mean a 19-year-old girl has the final say on what I can bring into the game?”). Sometimes it was to see if I’d have them arrested for what they wanted to say or do afterwards.
There were a lot of opportunities for men to say things to me. I encountered thousands of them every game. The worst of it happened when the games were over. We would stand at the bottom of the stairs and look for people leaving with their unfinished beer. We watched thousands of people leave every game, many of them good and liquored up, but alcohol consumption is never an excuse for bad behavior.
All through the egress, I’d have men touch my arms, pat me on the back, and oh so subtly (you know, not at all subtly) brush up against me, their hands “accidentally” sliding past my chest, or their pelvis gliding along my body.
They’d say all sorts of things to me. “Can I take you home with me?” was probably the most popular. But I’d get questions on what I was doing after the game. I’d be asked if I was there was keep them in line, because they were naughty boys. I’d be asked if I was in a sorority at school and if I liked to party.
(At one point I started telling people I was dating a linebacker on the UW football team. That worked until fall when it was suggested that I must be lonely since he was occupied with football.)
There was the group of 20-something guys who discussed as they stood feet away from me in line whether they would have sex with me and what dirty things they thought I’d do. There was the man who sold Grand Salami magazines outside Home Plate Gate who salivated over me when I straightened my hair one day. He wasn’t actually jerking off in front of me, but he may as well have been for the looks and words he gave me that day.
I wasn’t silent about what was happening. I talked about it all the time. I was told all the time that there was nothing that could be done about it. I’d just have to deal with it.
Most of my coworkers then were a little older, mostly college age guys. I often wonder what they thought about everything they saw happening to me. Occasionally one of them would step in and tell someone to back off when they got a little too handsy or inappropriate, but mostly they joked that I needed to be put in a cage for my own protection against the crowds.
It was something I had to put up with if I wanted to work at Safeco Field. And I really wanted to work there because it was a cool job. It was fun to tell people I worked there. It was fun to see a little bit behind the curtain. It was incredibly fun to be part of the 2001 season.
I had to put up with the constant, unrelenting harassment if I wanted to work there. I worked for a company that was contracted by the Mariners to do security, mainly bag checking at the entrance gates. We had to be nice to every asshole who walked through the gates, no matter what. So I learned to laugh off the inappropriate comments, and I learned to smile and thank men for their comments on my hair and my body and their inquiries into my personal life.
One time I didn’t. One time I snapped and essentially told a man to fuck off (not in those words, but that was the gist). He complained to the Mariners about me and I was reprimanded for the way I treated a fan. Because you can’t expect middle age men to behave appropriately. The burden is on a teenager to accept-with a smile-whatever abuse that man chooses to bestow upon her.
I learned to deal with it. I decided to be flattered by the attention, as many men told me I should be. I learned to embrace the utter disregard of myself as a person and accept that I was a visual object. I behaved in ways that make me cringe with horrified embarrassment when I think back on them now. I imagine having conversations about what it was like for me with my male coworkers and having them tell me, “Well, you acted this way. You behaved that way. You brought it on yourself.” I imagine these conversations because that’s exactly what women are told, when we have the attention forced upon us and when we try to find ways to cope with it.
My experiences feel trivially minor compared to the abuse many women suffer at work. I feel lucky for this. Yet, they truly affected me negatively throughout my 20s. They influenced the way I thought about myself and the way I measured my own worth. They colored my outlook on the nature of men. I know, I know, not all men. But ENOUGH men.
It’s not just the men in power positions, except men know they have an intrinsic position of power over women in society. They know that women will face punishment for not accepting their pervertedness. They know when we are young and trying to find our place in the world that they can influence where that place is. It took me fully 10 years to get to the point where I realize how fucked up that is.
It’s the men you work with. The men you see walking down the street. The men who go to baseball games and see a 19-year-old in khaki pants and a polo shirt two sizes too big. It’s even the men who aren’t overtly doing anything. The men who would laugh as their friends would harass me. The men who shrugged their shoulders when I talked about it. The men who dismiss the behavior as something about which nothing can be done.
It’s so fucked up. And what I experienced was minor. I feel lucky about this.
It’s all so fucked up.