When one of my best friends told me she had acquired a job, I was overjoyed. An art gallery. She had been through a lot over the last year, and this was a job where the hours were reasonable for her and the tasks at hand were not only doable, but something she was interested in and knew about. “Which art gallery?” I asked her. When she told me, I bit my tongue and continued to celebrate with her, hoping that if I didn’t voice my concerns out loud, that maybe they would be proven unfounded. After all, she knew I had had some significantly creepy experiences with her new boss in the past, and she made the decision to work there, even knowing that he had the capacity to be a creep. Now, I wish I had shared my concerns.
The Boss is a prominent member of our community: a business owner, a councilman. I voted for him a few years ago because I saw him around the downtown often, supporting local businesses, including businesses owned or managed by intelligent, entrepreneurial young women. I heard a few stories about his strong personality and his willingness to pick young, intelligent, pretty women to mentor…but these reports were always given in hushed voices, with a hint of reservation. I met him briefly a few times while visiting a friend who was working at one of the local downtown shops and I immediately noticed that he was the kind of man who undressed me with his eyes when he looked at me. But I had become a bit used to letting that kind of behaviour fly since moving to this Small Town.
When I became heavily involved with a local charity that had a history of inconsistent support from the Municipality, I made it my goal to help bridge the relationship between the organization and the Town. So, I reached out to The Boss and asked if he wanted to meet for coffee, hoping to gain some perspective from someone at the Municipality about what kind of information the Town would like from the organization. This happened a few times, and each time he treated the meeting as a date. He commented on my appearance, made sure he always got his hug, and made a point of touching me at any opportunity. He also made a point of telling me how beautiful and intelligent I am and joked about dating me, kissing me, even having sex with me. Although he was joking, the way he joked clearly communicated that if I were to accept any of these offers, he would jump at the opportunity. Regardless of the fact that I am younger than his children or that we are both married.
I am ashamed to say that, in hope of minimizing conflict and forging a better relationship between the organization and the Town, I laughed off The Boss’ behaviour and managed any major physical risk by only meeting with him in public places. I did not communicate to him that he was making me feel uncomfortable, because he held the power to fund an important charity program or not. He held the power to ruin my reputation among professionals in the community. He held the power to make me feel like I wanted to throw up when I saw him on the street. Eventually, after he got mad at me for meeting with a friend instead of carrying out plans he and I had, I stopped engaging with him unless it was necessary, at which time I was polite and distant.
When my friend started to tell me about some of the comments The Boss would make to her at work, I encouraged her to stand up for herself, which she did. She was clear and communicative. When she decided to leave this job, as it was affecting her emotionally, I told her I would support her in sharing what happened to her, and I would share my experience to support her voice. So that’s what I’m doing.
One evening, when I was especially upset after hearing this friend and several other friends talk about sexual harassment they were experiencing, I posted a status on Facebook that was something like “I’m hearing a lot of stories about old men in our community who are sexually harassing young women and if you want to talk about it or if you want to know which names I keep hearing so that you can keep yourself safe, send me a private message.”
Over and over, smart, pretty, young women messaged me with his name.
I’m not speaking out because I think this person is a bad person. On the contrary, I believe he can do better. Until more women speak out about the ways men treat us that make us feel unsafe, it’s not going to change. As my friend says so clearly in her blog post on the topic,
“I want so desperately for him to admit to his abuse, to take responsibility, and apologize for it. It destroys me to think he will go on to subject other women to the same abuse. I don’t want to be just another casualty in this systemic abuse of power.”
It’s important that this doesn’t keep happening. I would like to see the man who has behaved his way acknowledge what’s he has done and that it is wrong. I would like to see him do better, and to truly treat women with respect and authenticity rather than objectifying us for his own amusement and pleasure. I would like a real apology- not just for myself, but for all of the women he has treated this way and for our community, who he has committed responsibility to.