Ever wondered what it’s like to be a woman in a sexist culture? Or maybe you think sexism is all over now and why don’t we women stop our whining already? Check this out. A reader at Feministe wrote in, asking for advice because a co-worker sexually “harassed” (actually this qualifies as assault) her after she informed him (in the context of a Prop 8 gay marriage debate) that she is bi-sexual:
A few minutes later, he got up from his desk, walked over to me, put his hands on my shoulders, and kissed me on the cheek. I was so startled, I froze. Then he tried to kiss me on the lips. I shoved my hand in between our faces and prevented him from doing so. He then tried to kiss me on the neck. I shoved him away. My only exit from the room was to run past him. He easily outweighs me by about 80 lbs. I was scared shitless of what would happen if I fled. I sat at my desk and shook, while he told me repeatedly that I “made” him do it. I “made” him kiss me. It nauseated me. He then told me that we’d keep it between ourselves, and said that the “other guys” won’t take kindly to me being bisexual and that he “has your back, sweetie”. That it would be “our little secret”.
But that’s not the worst part. No, if that was the worst part, it wouldn’t give you the slightest clue what it’s like to be a woman. The worst part is the company’s response:
Finally, today, I called and asked what the hell was going on. He said that they have “substantiated your report”. When I asked what was going to be done, they said that he will remain an employee (zero tolerance policy MY ASS) in my department, but that I will have zero contact with my assailant and any “contact would be accidental”.
There are three of them working in a satellite office. She and this man are two of them. They are to avoid so much as looking at each other, but he will still be allowed to attend meetings and other functions she can’t afford to miss. And – get this – the company says if they have to interact at meetings, to remember “we’re all adults here.”
This is what it’s like to be a woman. To know that if a man chooses to intimidate you, your company won’t understand why that bothers you. Boys will be boys, right? If you don’t like boys being boys, which is often used as a euphemism for straight-up rape and sexual assault, then you should stay home, quash your humanity, and learn to enjoy nothingness. We have drugs to numb you to it – open up and swallow like a good girl, and soon you’ll forget you ever had any feelings about anything.
Meanwhile, men like that keep right on using sex to hurt people. This is not the action of a typical man who’s made a mistake. This is a deliberate, calculated, carefully scripted technique for intimidation. I suspect he’s practiced it a number of times because he seems to have thought of such things as putting himself between her and the exit. He’s someone who makes a habit of using the implied threat of physical/sexual abuse as a form of emotional abuse.
But the company doesn’t see that as a real problem. Just a little misunderstanding.
I encourage you to read the comments at Feministe, because it gets pretty glum. Basically, she has a few options: call the police and have him charged with assault, sue him and/or the company, go to the EEOC, etc. But a number of commenters stress that there’s a fair chance she’ll lose her job if she takes any action. Having rights isn’t much help when your living is held over your head in an economy where jobs are hard to come by.
At no point was this man’s job in jeopardy. The company wants him. They’re probably hoping this woman leaves, since that would make it easier for them.
And that’s one snapshot of what it’s like to be a woman. It’s not just the individual psychos you have to deal with; it’s all the enablers who back him up because it suits their plans and they don’t really see you as a person they way they see men as people.