It’s been a year since my last post (busy year), to kick off re-igniting my gender bias blog I thought I would write about a personal experience, and not hid the fact that this post is about me as I am now far removed from this experience, physically, as it happened over a decade ago.
I used to work in an architectural firm where the in-house IT specialist used to regularly “hit” on all the women that worked there. And would somehow always need to stay late when one of us needed to put in an extra hour to wrap up a project. Once he saw he was alone in the office with one of the women he would proceed to try and put his hands on them/me.
HR was immensely unhelpful when we complained... all individually, not knowing the other women in the office were going through the same thing. They neglected to let us know he was a serial harasser, whom multiple women had complained about. In fact, their sole solution to this “problem” was to offer to build a higher wall of shelves between the designers and him (it was an open office with area separated by low shelves and cubicles), so we didn’t have to see him, and suggested we no longer worked late, goodbye overtime.
It was around this time we (the women of the office) finally realized he was harassing us all. Upon talking to the other women in the office I found that some felt they could not turn down his “shoulder rubs” and instead dealt with the situation by simply wrapping up what they were working on at expedited speed so they could leave.
I personally told him his “shoulder rubs” were unwanted, and pointed out I had a boyfriend, to which he responded “I didn’t know you were that serious”, to which I simply responded “we are” and then never allowed myself to be alone with him again.
Looking back on this situation, now I am so far removed from it, I question why I felt the need to qualify my lack of interest in being sexually assaulted with the fact I had a boyfriend. I get equally annoyed that he defended his actions with “I didn’t know you were that serious” as if to say “oh you are another man’s sex toy, my bad”. I am glad I shut his advances down as quickly as I could. But, I vividly remember the chill I would get every time had to walk past his desk the rest of the time I worked there. Which was multiple times a day as I had to walk past it to exit the building or gain access to the other departments in the company.
So what does this have to do with gender bias? Well, for me it all goes back to the stereotypical sexualization of women. I was clearly suffering from the effects of this stereotype as displayed by my need to justify my lack of interest in the assault by bringing up my boyfriend rather than just saying “back the hell off”. He clearly thought being sexually aggressive was his manly right, as did HR who seemed wholly unconcerned with his actions.
Upon talking to my female friends over the years more openly about these kinds of instances it is apparent that most have a #MeToo moment, if not multiple ones (I do). Gender bias is by no means solely to blame for this, but it definitely is a key player in the acceptance of these situations.