"Do I report him? If so, to whom? And will he know it's me?"June 26th, 2011
In Barbados, as in many other countries, sexual harrassment in the workplace remains a serious problem. Leigh Ann-Worrell, a 23-year-old Commonwealth Correspondent from St Thomas interviews three women about their own personal experiences.
Sexual harassment. It is possibly one of my biggest pet peeves. On the receiving end or not, it incenses me.
However, there is something about having to deal with it in the professional arena that makes it worse. Let’s face it: for the women born without that shining silver spoon, large sometimes daunting student loans bear testimony to the fact that sacrifices are made for education.
After endless papers and long nights, you get the degree and then you find a job. But, along with the pressures of dealing with the rigours of the actual work, do women have to deal with the perverts too?
While it is true that men are also on the receiving end of leering and lewd comments, it is less frequent. It is my hope that some day my country will become serious about its sexual harassment laws and public education to sensitize people to what is appropriate and inappropriate office behaviour.
Below are the stories of three young Caribbean women who have had their share of tense and uncomfortable moments in the workplace:
“Some things are synonymous with the workplace – office gossip, demanding bosses, long hours and…. sexual harassment. Yes, it seems sexual remarks have almost become institutionalised in many offices and as women, many of us feel powerless. Either that, or we hope that if we ignore the comments, men will take a hint.
“Two real life occurrences readily come to mind. In the first example a young woman walks past the desk of a male co-worker. He calls her name and she turns back. No, he didn’t want to ask a work-related question. Neither does he want to know how her weekend went. He has a much less innocent motive; one he sees no need to hide.
“’You can go ahead but walk slowly this time,’” he tells her, leering as she moves off. This scene disgusted me for two reasons: one, the man saw nothing wrong with what he was doing and two, no-one, including the ‘victim’ voiced their objections.
“Then I thought about my reaction when a much older colleague admitted that he had ‘ulterior motives’ for complimenting me on my work. Did I object? No. I played it off with all the class and dignity I could muster. Chances are the young woman in my example had the same thought process: If I don’t cause a scene we can all pretend it never happened.
“But as we all know deep inside, if we don’t cause a scene or voice our discomfort it keeps happening.”
“It wasn’t until I did my first gender course at university that I realised exactly what sexual harassment was. Before, I thought it was just men… being men. Education is indeed power and when I returned to the workplace after my studies I had intended to put what I had learnt into practice. The first ‘victim’ was my very “touchy-feely” co-worker Bruce (not his real name).
“Every time he saw me, his hands magically, if briefly, passed across my bottom. The first time he did it, it was so quick, I thought it had been a mistake. After the fifth time I was still in denial. It wasn’t until another workmate had witnessed the act that the full feeling of shame washed over me.
“Now the cat was out of the bag, I had no choice but to confront Bruce and tell him he needed to stop. Of course he acted like he wasn’t doing anything wrong besides giving me a warm and hearty greeting. He told me to ‘lighten up and relax’. So I did.
“Now let’s fast forward to the present. First day back to work, who comes ready to give me my usual greeting but my boy Bruce and he didn’t disappoint. But this time was different: ‘Bruce, the next time you pull that crap with me I am going to report you for sexual harassment!’ I hissed with pure anger in my eyes. Needless to say, it never happened again.”
“I worked towards my intended career from as young as 13, planning every step that would eventually get me there. At 18, I got my foot in the door as an intern at one of the biggest and best companies in the game. I was giddily excited, but still anxious to prove my worth, even as a teenager.
“One of the senior employees at the organisation introduced himself to me very early during my internship, and I just thought he was nice… until he started to kiss me. Yes, kiss me. The man was at least 30 years my senior, and every time he saw me, he would kiss me on my forehead, my cheek or my hand. I was at a loss for words – and my next course of action.
“Do I report him? If so, to whom? Do I have to fill out a form? Will he know it’s me? It got so bad, I avoided him at all costs. But eventually, I could hide no more. One day I asked him: ‘What if your wife came in here and saw you kissing me? Would she be okay with that?’ He laughed and sauntered away.
“I honestly don’t remember if it stopped immediately after, or if it took a few more tries, but it stopped eventually. I look back and wish I were more assertive. I also wish I had someone to talk to, or have an older employer – male or female, talk to him. Sadly, none of those things happened.”
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
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