I thought for a long time about whether or not I was going to write this post, which was why I went radio silent for a few days.
My brain was stuck on a pendulum.
One day, I’d be talking to the couple of friends I felt okay discussing this with, and I was very firm that I was going to write a post about the whole thing. My friends were supportive.
The next day, I’d realize that I’m still not fully sure what exactly happened and definitely uncomfortable with whatever that was, and it felt ridiculous to try and set down forever* how I felt about something so confusing. My friends were supportive.
Honestly, it was the support that finally got through to me. Because for my friends to be saying to me “However you need to deal with this, I’m here for you”… Well, that meant there was something to be dealing with emotionally.
So, after swinging back and forth for almost a week, I decided that this is an important discussion to have, and I’m going to give it my best shot.
Ladies and gentlemen, here’s what it comes down to: unsolicited sexual advice, questions, and descriptions are the conversational equivalent of a dick pic.
This is a very long story, so I’m going to set it up into three posts: the build up, the harassment, and the fallout. And after that we’ll talk about some resources for anyone experiencing sexual harassment on social media.
My notes are in blue bubbles. Director’s notes are gray.
Part One: The Build Up
At my last job, I worked in a department full of people who were inordinately close for officemates, both in and out of the office. I made connections with people whom I know are going to be friends for life. One of the hardest aspects of my decision to leave my job, really, was that I was leaving those people behind.
One of the male directors (married, mind you; that’s important later) within the department was known for being a bit lax about how he spoke to female coworkers. He would ask them questions or make comments that, while inappropriate for the workplace, might have been fine over drinks with a friend.
Example: an engaged female coworker told a story to a few of us at the office about a drunk guy trying to hit on her while her fiancée was in the bathroom at a movie. Her fiancée came back and calmly asked the guy if he could have his seat back. Funny only because the fiancée is 200lbs of muscle and the drunk guy was a bit more scared than he should have been. She made it clear that Fiancée wasn’t being threatening, so they were both bewildered when the drunk guy basically ran away.
Director’s response was something along the lines of “Does he get jealous when guys hit on you at the bar? I bet that happens all the time. He should be used to it.”
It’s a little weird to say that in the office, and also a bit tangential from the topic. But he’s also her friend. Would that be weird for a friend to say? (Depends on the friendship, I suppose.)
In retrospect, I can see now that Director was being careful, sorting through his options. He was poking here and there in ways that couldn’t get him in trouble. He was rooting out the women who would possibly report him to HR. He was looking for women who wouldn’t. And, when he found them, he would start slow, easy, test the waters to see how much he could get away with.
With me, it started with strange comments at the office. One of the first things he ever said to me was, “You look like you have a lot of weird dating stories.”
He said this in front of his boss, a female director, and his entire team. No one batted an eye, so I — who had only worked in the music industry and never somewhere so corporate before — thought, well, I guess that’s okay then.
Besides, he was right. I do have a lot of weird dating stories. What adult human in America doesn’t, am I right? People are weird, guys. Being on a date doesn’t make people less weird. (You all know this, but it bears repeating sometimes.)
For two years, that was the extent of it. Strange comments here and there, but, for the most part, just a friend I could chat with at the office. When my boyfriend dumped me out of the blue, Director made a point to come to my desk and check up on me. When I was having a bad day, he gave me a hug. When his brother was in an accident, I checked in every so often on how his brother was doing, how Director was doing, how the family was adjusting to the the kids living with Director and his wife for a while.
And then I quit my job.
The day I quit, my boss asked me not to tell anyone until the paperwork was settled with HR. She asked that I refrain from speaking to anyone in person and that I send a note to the department at large (proofread by her communications VP first) to tell everyone all at once.** I respected her wishes to a degree, but quitting had been my own decision, so I told my close friends at the office after most everyone was gone for the day. It was important to me that the people closest to me knew before the note went out the following day.
Director happened to be leaving on an extended vacation, so he wasn’t going to see my note for three weeks. I stopped him at the elevators to tell him I wouldn’t be there when he got back.
He told me I wasn’t allowed to quit. I said it was too late because HR had my letter of resignation already. He refused to hug me (hugs were normal in our office) and said it wasn’t going to feel real until he got back from vacation and someone else was in my chair.
The night I quit, I received this message:
And that’s how the Facebook messages started.
Listening to: “Do I Wanna Know” CHVRCHES
*The internet is forever, guys. That’s something that my generation seems to be forgetting, and I have a feeling it’s going to come back and bite us all in the ass one day. It definitely bit Director in the ass.
His Facebook has been shut down — either by his own decision, or because he was reported to Facebook — but he sent those messages to me. So they’re mine forever, unless I decide to delete them. Profile or no profile, he’s still lingering in that inbox because the internet is forever.
**I know this sounds a little intense for an EA leaving their position, and it definitely is. I kind of understood where she was coming from with that request. I think. But it’s a subject for another time.