almost didn’t write about #MeToo. I almost decided it wouldn’t be worth it. There were already so many women sharing their stories, and my own weren’t “that bad” in comparison. I almost sat this one out, but here we are.
For every woman who has shared her story over the past couple weeks, there are many who have not. Not all of us felt safe opening up and putting those experiences online, not all of us felt that we could participate without facing some kind of negative repercussions. And that is understandable. However, these are not the untold stories that I want to discuss here. For every woman who has shared #MeToo, there was a man who made her feel unsafe. Who catcalled her on the street. Who followed her in the dark. Who sent her unwanted pictures, or begged for pictures she didn’t want to send. Who groped her at a party. Who ignored her “No.” Who gave her that bruise. Who took of advantage of her when she had too much to drink. Think about how many women raised their voices to share their trauma with the world, to let each other know “you’re not alone,” who mustered up all of their courage and elaborated on those two little words and let their friends and family know exactly what they had been through, even though they knew some people would still not believe them.
How many men perpetrated this issue had the luxury of silence? Who could completely ignore the hashtag and never reflect on their actions, because they got away with it? How many of them never faced any consequences for what they did? While women had to be brave, once again, had to relive all the harassment and abuse and misogyny that we’ve been dealing with our whole lives? It’s always on us.
Because the nature of this blog is mainly about creativity and my career, I won't go into detail on the men who have catcalled me, even when I'm wearing layers of clothes. Not that my wardrobe choices should be any consent in the first place. The dates I went on that put pressure on my denials. The men that used the convenience of a closely tied crowd at a concert to grab my breasts or would invite themselves to grind against me at a nightclub. The time I was downtown with a friend who was taking a photograph of me and a man stopped, grabbed his crotch, and voiced some obscene explicitive. The constant times I've been walking alone and stared down, looking like prey to a group of men on the prowl. The times I had to use the denial of "I have a boyfriend", whether it was a lie or not, because he respected another man's "ownership" of me more than he respected my own agency to say no. I want to focus on these threats in a workplace. Where some men feel so threatened by a woman's potential, passion, and perseverance that they have to do something to keep themselves one level ahead.
I've had customer service jobs where there were the signature "creeps". The usual middle to older aged men that would go out of their way to chat up the women employees, particularly the ones in their teens and twenties because they were easy to charm. The ones who would scan their eyes up and down and use nicknames like "sweetheart" or anything else they find cute. I can think of maybe one circumstance where one of these types of customers were banned from the location, or at least warned that their behavior made the victim uncomfortable. So many times we're told to take it as a compliment and get over it.
But what happens when these uneasy feelings come from your boss or people of authority in your workplace? It's one thing to report a co-worker of inappropriate behavior, but where do you turn when the person you should tell is the one who's at fault? I took a job where I was the only woman in the office. It was a very small business, only employing 6 other individuals. At first, everything seemed great. When I started to feel more comfortable and knowledgable and started to make my own success in the workplace is when things started to change. My skills quickly surpassed others in almost all of the operations performed at the business. I was quickly told to, in more words or less, "sit at the front desk and look pretty to attract clients". My talents as a designer suddenly didn't matter, despite being more qualified than one of the males on staff. I was already making less money than he was, despite having more work coming into my inbox. In many other cases, I was told to dress up more and be "the face" of the company by attending networking events and become the puppet figure that handed out flyers and business cards. In company meetings, I was always interrupted and my voice was always the last to be heard from, once it seemed like they had come to a solution and were letting me speak just for the sake of letting me have my two cents.
Because I was now placed and seen as the bottom level of the company, somehow that made me more appealing to all of these (mostly married) men. Some started to lean in too close to look over my shoulder at the computer screen, while others would make more obvious gestures like offering me to move in with him and live in his basement. Forget voicing my unhappiness and feelings of threat to the authority figure because he was too busy trying to control his own wife's everyday activities and was constantly on edge while in the office, blowing up after being triggered by who knows what.
I'm fortunate that nothing extreme happened to me while working this job. Many women experience much worse. But that doesn't mean my feelings of abuse are any less relevant, or shouldn't be taken seriously. I escaped this situation as quickly as I could, but it still left damage on my views of the design industry. For those reading who aren't in the field of design, there is quite a higher male-to-female ratio. I still am terrified of any client or any group of people I work with that may pose as a threat or create a toxic environment again. I’ve never really thought about this but at the time, I started re-analyzing everything that has happened from the start of this situation to where I have come to now. I’m beginning to identify these smaller moments where there were differences in how I was being acknowledged, treated, and spoken to in comparison to others on the team. Even as I meet with my current co-workers, or talk to other males in general my senses have enhanced to be aware of every detail of differences I am receiving. I’m beginning to wonder if this has effected my own performance or willingness. I question myself more than I have before and I feel more pressure to do better and try harder. It‘s discomforting to be in this position and to doubt everything I have been up until this point. I hate being the person that pushes themselves to be a certain way to gain certain perspectives from people. I’ve always known to just be who I am and people will understand and accept that, respect it even.
I now see my silence may have been detrimental to others who’ve had their own confusing experiences. I’ve found unexpected comfort and validation hearing other women, and some men, open up with similar feelings. This is why we need open discussion. We need to hear the stories - ALL of them, even the inconclusive or seemingly innocuous, and those that don’t fit into traditional narratives of harassment, assault and abuse. Our stories can become a valuable archive of information by exposing the many complicated levels of harassment, assault and abuse. They can help people who’ve felt victimized feel less alone, and educate perpetrators who don’t recognize all the ways they can, and have, hurt people. Reality isn’t clear-cut. It’s messy as hell. If we acknowledge that, we can talk about these violations in a way that people can feel more comfortable speaking up, and the rest of us can be more open-minded when they do. So for those women who walk in to their place of work (or ANY sort of situation) and are emotionally, verbally, and/or physically abused, you are not alone. The volumes of "me, too" are the hands you can grab to walk you through it.
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