Ok. So. In light of the “Me too” recent resurface – which has furthered the awareness of sexual harassment we endure in present times, I don’t think it’s fair to withhold personal experiences. In order to honor all of the women who are speaking out, and deciding to refuse silence, I too will speak. IT’S TIME TO SCARE THE PREDATORS THAT THINK THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO DISRESPECT AND DEHUMANIZE US. IT’S TIME TO LET THEM KNOW, WE WON’T STAY SILENT FOR THE SAKE OF THIER REPUTATION.
As I type this I re-vist another open tab on my laptop: “From aggressive overtures to sexual assault: Harvey Weinstein accusers tell their stories” by The New Yorker. Reading through this article fuels my incentive to speak up. I may not have experienced assault to the degree of these women, but I can taste their rage, their panic, their humiliation. I see myself in every woman he’s ever taken advantage of. Every woman he’s felt the right to overpower, and manipulate. I see them in myself when I walk down the street to my car and someone decides to say “hey mama” which in turn makes me literally drop my keys because I didn’t see the motherfucker and he scared the shit out of me. Or when I am terrified because the coaches at my Gym schedule us to run around the block for a warm up, and I’m scared to, because I’ve been followed by a man driving a car before in the same neighborhood (Not to mention I’m hesitant to even mention that to my coaches because – maybe they won’t believe me). I am those women when I have an internal battle to throw a jacket on in in 100 degree Miami weather, because maybe, I’m “asking for it”. I am all of those women, everyday.
So…. I would like to step into a safe zone, and share my most recent experience with harassment at the workplace with you :
(“he”, “him” and “my boss” is referring to the same person who’s identity I won’t 100% reveal)
I studied advertising, and I have always been interested in social media management, and concepts. I found an opening for “social media strategist”, and I knew this was the perfect job for me to experience working in an agency. Just the thought of being hired by an agency made me feel accomplished.
I was so excited I even followed up via email 5 times before I was able to schedule my second interview. My follow up interview was my first red flag. The small company was lead by two men. One of them was reserved, and respectful, but the other one was very difficult to wrap my head around. My background has always been very professional, and this person was extremely unconventional. The artist in me found it thrilling, and I did my best to mentally organize myself into believing his behavior was “normal”.
I remember sitting in his office during that interview- the final interview. I was nervous but confident, until he began to scream. What’s funny is the office was very small. The other people working there heard his screams, and didn’t react. It was as if he was some kind of an unprofessional monster screaming away at his desk, but everyone acted as if it was ok, and “just another day at the office”. There was something about this I found charming, I believed there must be a silver lining, a reason why everyone accepts this behavior- I wanted to know what the fuck it was.
He screamed for about 20 minutes about how I was too capable for the job. And how I’d be wasting my talent working for him. I explained how interested I was in an agency job, and I needed a steady paycheck at this moment to support my family. Looking back, I’m not sure why I didn’t leave the office during his ranting about how I wasn’t the right person for the agency. I realize now, I became part of the problem right at that second, normalizing his disrespectful behavior.
We went outside to discuss what salary I would be working for, and I remember I was wearing lace-up pants. As he walked by speaking numbers, he grabbed one string from my lace up pant, and pulled it. I can’t fucking believe I still stayed. He offered me a salary I hadn’t seen in a while, so I took it. I think in that moment, I felt like I needed to pretend it was ok that he did that- in order to prove my masculinity. There was only one other woman working there at the time. And I thought If I could prove I was “tough” maybe I would be respected eventually, and build my place there based on my work ethic, not my gender.
My first week was exciting. I was learning new ways to manage social media, and I was surrounded by people who all pretty much managed themselves. I was absorbing techniques, and concepts for my field. I remember when he would walk in, I would tense up. I felt uncomfortable knowing he could scream at any moment, or say something inappropriate. Everyone else normalized it. So I did my best to ignore it. Nevertheless, he continued to say inappropriate things. I once walked into his office to speak about a project we were working on, and I happened to say a couple words in Spanish. He asked me to repeat the words because they “sounded sexy”. I rolled my eyes, and took another story to put into my collection of ‘the bullshit men have said to me throughout my life’.
The conference room was a small room with one large communal table. One day, we met with a client, an older white male in his 50-60s in the conference room. I was the only girl sitting at the table and the client proceeded to sit next to me. In between breaks during the meeting, he would make comments under his breath to me, when no one else could hear him. The first thing he said to me was “What’s it like being the only woman here?”. He also said “If I was your age I’d be so excited to be sitting next to you”. The icing on the cake is when he said, and this time not so discreetly : “Are you shopping for shoes on there?” I remember looking up from my laptop at the other men that I was now working on a team with, and expecting a reaction, but no. Everyone stayed silent. Even me.
My second week….also known as my last week, I was asked to attend a dinner in order to meet some of the clients behind the accounts I had been working on. These businesses included a club, a restaurant, and a bar. My boss asked me to meet at 9pm at the office, and mentioned his wife would be going in order for her to “feel me out”. I thought this was a sign of loyalty on his part to his wife, so I agreed. When I arrived that night at the office, I made sure to introduce myself to his wife with a professional greeting – a hand shake. At the time she was chatting with my coworker and briefly acknowledged me, I made eye contact and said “nice to meet you.” She looked away rudely, and disregarded my introduction. I engaged in a conversation with another coworker who happened to be there in order to ease the tension because I felt so uncomfortable with the whole interaction.
He then came upto me and asked “where’s your fiancé?” I wasn’t sure what he meant considering this was a work night, and I didn’t think it would be professional to invite my fiancé. However I took his request into consideration, and called my fiancé to meet me at the restaurant we were headed to. We had spoken about me catching a ride with him (my boss) and his wife the day before, so I stepped out into the parking lot to meet them.
Before I was able to walk into the parking lot, I heard her screaming. I wasn’t sure what was going on and I immediately assumed their conversation was internal and I should respect them instead of going out there. But then I started to hear her words “she’s a slut… she’s blonde, why would you hire her… she comes to work with her tits up?” I then realized, they were fighting about me. She said things like “you need to fire her immediately” and I saw mr. screaming boss man, just nod his head nervously and say “ok”. I walked right by them and gave them a peace sign as I cried my way down Wynwood trying to grasp what the fuck had just happened. I knew I was out and never turning back.
My angel of a fiancé picked me up, and we went to our favorite brewery to talk about what had just happened. I was shaken up, and really upset and confused. As we sat speaking about it, I received a text message from him:
He then called me to tell me “I had fucked around with a girl that looked like you in the past so my wife took it personal”. JAW DROPPING. I was honestly in shock of it all and enraged. The calls continued, even some from male coworkers, who by the way agreed that I was the disrespectful one in the equation. What’s funny to me is how weak men travel in packs. They pat each other on the backs while they disrespect women, and it starts with the women at home. The texts continued, this time his wife texted me:
And they continued:
My position in the company was being dangled over my head with a nice little sprinkle of sexual harassment. My lack of a bra, and my decision to NOT ALLOW HIM TO BUY ME ONE, essentially – got me fired. I was presented with an ultimatum, and I chose to lose my job. The whole situation was dressed as an unfortunate misunderstanding in which I : overreacted, was disrespectful, and displayed the trait of “can’t let shit go” – according to them.
His WIFE later posted this on her public social media account:
Wow. It is still hard to believe now looking at it all again. The craziest part is there were NORMAL people working with, and for this person. He was surrounded by people I felt generally safe with. People that idolized him. I assumed maybe I was exaggerating when I got little hints of sexual harassment, or discomfort. I assumed that I was not right, I denied my intuition, my gut feeling.
I know it’s hard to believe I didn’t leave the job the FIRST RED FLAG, but I truly believe its a part of how we as women have become conditioned to silence. I am a mother, I respect myself, I am in a healthy relationship, and I consider myself successful, but I still allowed myself to be in a situation of harassment. I didn’t even mention the smaller red flags to my fiancé when they happened. I am so immune to those interactions of men imposing their sexuality on me casually, that I just ignored it. Ignoring little hints here, and there, that’s what gets you really hurt.
As ugly as my experience was, I have learned so much from it. This happened nearly 3 months ago and it feels like an eternity ago. I struggled with my personal style immediately after, and even felt a sense of guilt. I hesitated to wear anything “revealing” and even avoided looking in mirrors for about 2 weeks. Everyone knew what happened, and that made me feel shameful, like the laughing stock of the agency. My so-called “dream job” was enabling me to help out at home with finances and I had convinced myself it was where i was supposed to be. Just like that, it was taken away from me in an abrupt, emotionally damaging way. And it affected my integrity, my identity, my experience in an agency, but only temporarily – because I am now speaking out, and I am stronger, and happier than ever. Moving forward, I will NEVER ignore the small signs, and I will do my best to use words to defend myself in every day situations like : “Could you please not disrespect me?”, or “You’re making me feel uncomfortable”, or even “FUCK YOU” instead of just taking the jab.
To be honest, I was not sure if I would every tell this story in this way, so public, so transparent. BUT if this story can help anyone feel connected to me in a human way, and not just in a “woman way”, and if it can also inspire someone out there to find courage to leave an abusive space- like I did, then exposing my truth – would be beyond worth it.
ps: I am aware that I was VERY lucky to be in a controlled situation. I can’t imagine the pain or the complexity of physical harassment, or being taken advantage of. My heart aches for the women that have endured physical abuse, and I will always be open to listening to any of your pain. #metoo