I wrote a piece on sexual assault and harassment a few weeks back. If I’m honest, writing that piece was hard for me. Every day of Trump’s presidency is hard for me. Every day since the release of those fucked up tapes has been hard for me. I think many survivors of any type of sexual abuse would agree: Trump’s presidency is a trigger.
I know that, personally, there’s a lot that came up in the days after I heard the tape. There’s even more that came up in the days following the election. Most of that I can’t go into here, but some of it is worth sharing.
In this piece, I want to focus on the plethora of women who have experienced sexual assault in the workplace. With some of the most “progressive” industries in our modern society falling under scrutiny for sexual harassment, this issue is just as important now as it has ever been. Whether the men in these companies are engaged in the harassment or simply acting as silent bystanders, they are complicit. And we need to talk about it.
A group called AWARE completed a study indicating that more than half of the people engaged in the workforce will experience harassment at some point during their career. Of these individuals, 79% were women. Out of curiosity, I reached out to my friends to see if they had any stories to share. The sheer number and nature of their responses astounded me.
One friend relayed that during her tenure as a waitress, she regularly endured harassment at the hands of patrons. She was working a night shift and was the only one in the front of the restaurant. There was one patron, a man in his 30s, who insisted on making comments about her ass. Another friend is working in sales. She gets asked all the time if she comes with the mattress they purchase. My cousin was on her way to a work meeting when a cab driver reached back and grabbed her by the genitals. Another friend, who is a dancer and educator, came to work one day to find that another coworker had spread a video around of her performance; this video inspired a male coworker to begin making sexual gestures and comments at her, asking if she performed like that for her boyfriends or if she was a “freak” in bed. Yet another shared that when she was dressed as a horror performer (blood and all), a patron decided to rub his hand up her body. And yet another relayed that the movers she hired to help her make her way to her new home requested that she be in a thong and heels when they show up. Finally, another friend reported that she was harassed on a regular basis by her supervisors. It escalated from the occasional comment to full on groping and coercive behaviors. She was fetishized, objectified, and taunted.
All of these stories hit me straight in the gut. I can’t even count how many times I have endured things of a similar nature. The first time was when I was barely a teenager, working at a local deli. I was scooping cream cheese out of a bucket when I got some on my arm. My boss, who was in his 40s, walked over to me and asked if it would be alright if he licked it off. I froze, he laughed, and we both just pretended it didn’t happen. Except it kept happening. I worked there for the next 5 years. During that time, that same boss asked that I only wear cutoff shorts to work in the summer so he could check out my “tight ass”. He asked me if he could bend me over the coffee cups so he could show me how a real man handles things. His partner was no better; he pressed his body against mine, reached his arms around me and counted money while he pressed his nose into my hair. This was just my first job…
What strikes me about each story, the ones I heard and the ones that are my own, is that all of us felt this same responsibility to keep our mouths shut about what we had to endure. We were taught that to be nice girls, we would just grit our teeth and bear it. In some cases, we were even told by people we care about that this was just par for the course, that maybe we were overblowing things, that maybe we were reading into it too much. We were gaslit and oppressed by rape culture as it is perpetuated in all of its forms. From the time we are little girls, we are taught that these things just happen.
I can say with certainty, my future little girl won’t be taught that. We need to do better. We need to teach our boys that women are not sexual objects. We need to teach our girls that they don’t have to put up with harassment. We need to put an end to rape culture. Period. That needs to be part of our resistance efforts because it is part of the reason DJT is president of this country.
That’s all I can say about this right now because, honestly, I could go on for entirely too long. But to my reSISTERs who reached out and shared their stories with me, thank you. And to the men who hurt each of us, go fuck yourselves :).