Some of the shade I was thrown yesterday was “If it bothered you so much, why didn’t you tell him to f*ck off?”
Okay. Let’s talk about that. Because this is a key takeaway I want you to have from this conversation. And this is a conversation. I welcome the discourse because we all grow as people when we talk about our disagreements.
This point, however, is unarguable: Unless I said YES, unless I told him explicitly that I was okay with this behavior, then he didn’t have my consent.
Consent makes the world go ’round, guys.
But a lot of you out there are still going to argue I gave tacit consent, which is so problematic that it makes me sad. So let’s break that down a bit.
My discomfort was obvious. I avoided and then stopped responding entirely whenever he made sexual comments. That alone would tell him I wasn’t interested in having those conversations with him.
Don’t believe me? Let’s chat about ghosting for a minute.
In the modern dating world, ghosting is a term used to describe that awkward moment when someone suddenly stops responding to messages with no explanation. Millennials have been devoting precious profile characters railing against ghosting for years. Mention the idea of ghosting to anyone who regularly uses a dating app — or any messaging app, really — and you’ll wind up on the receiving end of a diatribe that basically amounts to “How dare they not want to talk to me?”
You probably already knew what ghosting was. You probably already knew what ghosting meant.
So, let’s use a little logical deduction here.
If ghosting on a dating app is commonly accepted as a statement of disinterest, then exhibiting the same behavior on another messaging app would also be a statement of disinterest to anyone with even a modicum of intelligence.
As much as I dislike him now, Director was not unintelligent, and we’ve established that he used messaging apps and social media regularly. Therefore, he knew I was not a willing participant in the conversation.
And, therefore, arguing that my distaste wasn’t obvious is just plain wrong.
Despite that, his behavior didn’t stop. And that’s not because he didn’t understand I was uncomfortable, or that he didn’t understand I didn’t like it (see above).
He didn’t stop because the whole point was making me uncomfortable. My discomfort was his goal. The sexual pleasure derived from these conversations was not about sexualizing or objectifying me or my body. The sexualization was in the power he felt doing it. The power trip he got off on because I couldn’t stop him.
But my old coworker did.
Part Three: The Fallout
Director has been fired. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty on that because I’m not aware of the full details, but here’s the basic overview of what happened.
An old coworker and current friend texted me to say they thought Director had been fired because they saw him being led into a VP’s office by an HR director,* and he disappeared after that conversation. The idea of him being fired was shocking and confusing news because Director was one of the department’s key players and favorite employees. He was consistently promoted every promotion period he was eligible until he reached a Director title. The rest of the peons of the department fully expected he would be promoted to Sr. Director within the year. (At my old company, there was no title between Sr. Director and VP.)
Director was the lead for his team and handled a lot of issues with HR, so I could have pointed out to my friend that Director might be facilitating someone else being fired. But I just knew. I knew I couldn’t be the only one. So I asked if it was a sexual harassment complaint because he had been sexually harassing me since I left. My friend was shocked but confirmed that a woman (they would not name names, bless them) had made a sexual harassment complaint to HR, which my friend only knew because the whistleblower had told them herself.
Since all of this was over text, I don’t know if they were shocked because they didn’t believe me, or if they were shocked that it had also happened to me. They didn’t offer much in the way of condolences or sympathy, so…
I’m left thinking they didn’t believed me.
I have since found out from several other ex-coworkers that the employee who complained asked around the department to see if any other women had anything to add to her report. Basically, she was asking if anyone else had been sexually harassed before she finalized the complaint.
She found two more people who were willing to go on record (two is my understanding from multiple accounts but that number could be higher or only one), and she knew of at least one other who had already left the company so couldn’t be included. (This was not me.)
I didn’t tell anyone when it was happening to me. Not a single person. Not even Max.
And I’m aware that’s because, on some level in my mind, all of this became my own fault. So let’s address the thoughts that kept ricocheting around my brain, trying to find a way to make this my own doing, because I’m sure someone out there is thinking the same thing.
“I must have flirted with him…did I flirt with him?”
NO. I don’t flirt with people in the workplace because I have a simple rule: don’t crap where you eat. A breakup or relationship gone wrong in the workplace is such a nightmare that I don’t engage with my coworkers on that level. Ever. (I also don’t date neighbors for the same reason. I have a lot of romance rules.)
Also, I didn’t find Director attractive in the least, and he’s married. I don’t flirt with married men, thank you.
“I didn’t say no. I didn’t tell him to leave me alone.”
All of my life, male friends have made comments about my body and attractiveness, in both positive and negative ways. Men have rated me to my face on both a number scale (1 being ugly, 10 being, you know, a 10) and with letter grades (A, B, C, D, F — why is there no E? I’ve never understood that.). And I can guarantee I am not special. This happens to pretty much every woman you know.
By the time we’re in our twenties, this behavior is something women become inured to, unfortunately, but that’s a subject for another day.
So, NO. Still not my fault. I thought he was my friend, and I was trying not to hurt his feelings or make him angry. So, instead, I just ignored him or tried to laugh it off or pointed out that he was asking questions I had already answered for him.
“He never said anything overtly sexual about me…only his wife.”
NO. I never invited him to share details of his fantasy life. I never asked him to let me voyeuristically watch his sex life with his wife. No. Not my fault.
And his questions about me were sexual, so that thought was just ridiculous.
By my count,** we know about four or five women he was doing this to simultaneously:
- The Whistleblower
- Corroborator 1
- Corroborator 2 (possible)
Please note the two ex-employees (myself plus one other). We have no way of knowing whether or not he was harassing others who had left the company. Most people when they leave a job don’t keep in touch with their ex-coworkers. So there could be others, like us, who had no one to tell.
And a lot of people don’t feel comfortable talking about harassment, especially sexual harassment. Take me for example: If I had been directly asked, yes, I would have told someone. I readily offered the information when my ex-coworker brought it up. But I had no plans of telling anyone it was happening until that text came through. I was just relieved it seemed to have stopped. So there could be others, like me, who felt they couldn’t tell.
He was actively harassing at least two** people at the office. When the whistleblower asked around to find anyone else who might want to have input on the complaint, people didn’t believe her. People told her she was blowing it out of proportion. Imagine how demoralizing it would be to open up to someone you think is a friend only to have them low-key call you a liar. So there could be others, like her, who were told telling was useless.
My point is this: Behavior this widespread throughout Director’s life didn’t just randomly begin in April. No harasser or abuser wakes up one day and decides to start targeting five separate women.
No, they start with one. To have worked his way up to
four ten**? He’s been doing this for years.
Behavior this widespread is systematic, ingrained, practiced. And bold. He was harassing women with whom he worked, which just seems stupid, right? I made a bit more sense. I no longer worked at the company. I was no longer protected by the company’s sexual harassment policies.
Again, abusers and harassers start with one. Director was harassing multiple women that he actively worked with on a daily basis. That means he was confident that no one could touch him, that HR wouldn’t stop him, that treating women this way was perfectly fine, and no one cared.
Director was doing it on Facebook, for Pete’s sake. That’s easily shareable evidence. I mean…that’s bold, you know? And that means his experience has taught him that no one was going to share that evidence, or, if they did, no one was going to care.
After the HR investigation was closed, Director was fired, and crazy rumors began to spread. At one point, a friend of mine who also used to work with him asked me a chilling question: “How many complaints do you think HR got about him before they did anything?”
And I had to tell her, “I have no idea.”
Considering how quickly they acted once the whistleblower presented her evidence, I’m really hoping that answer is zero. But I have no way of knowing.
Listening to: “Goodmorning” Bleachers
*At my old company, HR never appeared on the floor unless they’d been summoned by the C-level head, or because someone was being fired. That’s just how HR operated.
**I’ve received a lot of messages in the last few days from women who were harassed by this man. My current count is 10.