I Was in the Middle of a Sexual Harassment Firestorm When Donald Trump was Elected, and This is How it Felt
The day after election day last fall, my white male boss was fired, and he blamed it on me. This was also the same day America, including myself, was coming to grips with the fact that Donald Trump would be our next president.
Almost a week prior, my boss (let’s call him Rob*) asked me to come into work to discuss something. He was the general manager of our newly opened restaurant, and I had been giving lead server permissions at the time after showing exemplary menu and beer knowledge shortly after opening. I assumed it was work-related, as he told me it was urgent and it could not wait until my shift the next morning.
I popped into the restaurant on my way home from dinner with my brother. After sitting down in the office, he said, “Actually, let’s go outside. This office feels so impersonal.” I immediately knew something was not quite right.
We walked outside, and I positioned myself in front of the exterior security cameras, being sure not to walk any further. I wondered why I was there. I wondered if my job was in jeopardy. I wondered what was about to happen and why I felt so helpless and confused in that moment and what it could all mean.
“I think you know what I’m about to tell you,” Rob said. I didn’t know. I didn’t have a damn clue. I cycled through any mistakes I had made at work recently, trying to figure out if any of them were fire-able offenses. I wondered what I had done wrong.
“No… I really don’t,” I said, still very confused.
“I think you do,” he said.
“I truly do not,” I said.
“Well, I think you deserve an explanation as to why I’ve been so weird around you lately.” Did I? I hadn’t noticed any change except for both of us speaking minimally to each other after a busy past weekend at the restaurant.
“Ok…” I said, still confused.
“And I want you to know I’ve been acting strange because I realized I’m in love with you,” he said.
I was floored. Completely shocked.
He had taken a liking to me in the beginning, but honestly this is not rare. My personality, I’m often told, makes people feel very comfortable around me shortly after meeting me. I’m reliable in the workplace. I try really hard and am resilient after small setbacks. I’m a positive person, especially when I start a new job.
I thought about what he just said. I tried to make sense of it. “I’m in love with you” is what he said. I tried to grasp at some kind of reason to call this “family love,” you know, like with a close-knit group of coworkers, but I knew that wasn’t what he meant at all.
We had worked together for three months. He was probably 10 years older than me, and talked about his wife and son often, who frequented the restaurant. I waited on them multiple times. He had been nothing but professional to me 99% of the time. He sometimes told me details about his marriage or life that I found too personal, and always vocalized that I wanted to move the conversation in a different direction, or I walked away.
I never thought this was a remote possibility. Because I’ve never thought that this would be a remote possibility with any of my male bosses. Because I assumed that they have the discipline and professionalism to control their thoughts and feelings and this was a line never to be crossed.
I started wondering what I did, memories of interactions flashing through my brain. I stopped myself and snapped back to reality, as he stood there waiting for a response from me after he had quite literally confessed his love.
I didn’t know what to do.
“Okay,” I said, nonchalantly.
“Okay,” he said.
“So… are we just going to pretend like everything is fine?” I wondered out loud, not really sure what I meant by that.
“I can do that if you can do that,” Rob said.
“Okay great,” at this point, I was getting angry.
“Has this ever happened to you before?” He said.
That made me more angry.
“No, it really hasn’t,” I snapped.
“Oh, I was just wondering since…” he trailed off.
“Since I’m just soooo great?” My voice dripped with sarcasm. Since why, exactly? Since I must intentionally turn on the charm to force married men to fall for me? No, that’s not how that works.
My mind started racing again. Did I do something to make him think that I had feelings for him? Just like that, I was back to blaming myself for this. But how? But why?
“Well, you are great…” he said.
“Are we done here? Can I go home?” I said, trying to hide how confused and flustered I was.
“Sure, unless you have anything else to say,” he said.
“Nope, sure don’t,” I said.
“Nothing?” He wondered.
“No, nothing.” I insisted.
I did have plenty of things to say, I just didn’t know exactly how to say them in that moment. I left abruptly, mind moving a million miles a minute, unsure of what to do next.
The next few days at work were a blur. I didn’t know what to do, I just knew that I needed to get through the weekend and I wasn’t going to let him affect my income stream. I wondered if my lead server duties were given to me because of his feelings. I started to question my value, my skills, and my success.
I told my coworker who I was closest to what happened. She told me that he had told her his feelings about me, and he that he was thinking about firing me, because he “couldn’t work when Krista is around.”
It didn’t make any sense. He told her he didn’t blame me, that I didn’t do anything to make him feel that way except be myself, yet he would still fire me.
“I have a wife and a kid and a mortgage,” he said to her. “I need this job. What does she even have to pay for? She can get another job. She’ll be fine.”
I was scared. I didn’t want to lose my job, but this pissed me off. For myself, and for women everywhere. I had to figure out how to get out of this situation with minimal damage to myself, and to have the blame placed where it was supposed to: on him.
On Monday, I went into work sure that I was going to tell one of my supervisors that day. But who? The owners of the restaurant were both males that I was not comfortable talking to, because I was sure they would blame me.
Taylor*, my female assistant manager, approached me at work before we opened.
“So, Rob asked me to only schedule you at times when I was working and he was not. That would cut back your hours significantly. Do you know what that’s about?”
I broke down sobbing. I knew exactly what it was about. I told her everything. It didn’t take long for her to convince me to muster the courage to approach our ownership.
The day of the election, which was the day after I exposed my boss for what had happened, I proudly voted for who I thought would be the first female president.
“The tides are changing in our direction,” I thought. “I don’t have to be scared anymore.” I was so hopeful.
We know the results of the election. I don’t have to tell you what happened that day and night. I watched TV, horrified, sobbing, with two statements cycling through my mind. Two statements that prove how little control I had over my life… because I am a woman.
“Grab them by the pussy.”
“I’m just gonna fire her. It’s not her fault, but I need this job more than she does.”
The following day was my living nightmare. The restaurant owners rightfully fired Rob, but he called me nonstop. As my phone was flooded with calls from my drunk former boss and voicemails were left, most of which I never listened to, I laid in bed, feeling scared and helpless.
My former boss was threatening me, and thoughts of my nation’s future president flooded my mind. If we do indeed live in a man’s world whether I liked it or not, how was I supposed to survive? I blocked his number. I was advised to get a protective order against him, “just in case.”
News of the circumstances surrounding his firing buzzed around the restaurant.
“I knew there was a reason he made you the lead!” They said, as if I hadn’t earned it.
“Wow, he really did treat you special.” They said, as if I didn’t deserve the rewards I had been given for excelling at my job.
“How did you not see it?” They asked, as if I was supposed to predict that he would be so incompetent at keeping it professional, and as if I was supposed to detect something earlier to stop this train wreck.
“It’s not your fault!” They all said. But some acted like it was.
The owners and managing partners decided I needed an escort to my car after every shift for my safety. I felt alone and helpless, let alone concerned about what would happen to women like me across the country under our new administration.
Jokes were tossed around the restaurant in the weeks following. Jokes that I never found funny. Jokes that will never be funny.
“You’re just so easy to fall in love with!” They said.
“Oh, but that was just because you were sleeping with the boss,” someone once “joked” when I explained an accomplishment I had at work. That one was particularly unfunny. I cried myself to sleep that night like many nights before, trying to convince myself that this won’t be something that haunts me, something that I didn’t have anything to do with.
What felt the most unfair is that I was being forced to participate in this mess whether I wanted to or not. I did not consent to this emotional chaos that I was being thrown into. I did not ask for any of this.
Rob doesn’t get to make his feelings for me my fault. I knew that from day one, because I’m a strong woman and a proud feminist. But despite that, I struggled for months, caring too much about how I was being seen by my coworkers and friends. I fought a silent battle, trying every day to prove that I could rise above whatever was being thrown at me. At the end of the day, I experienced this because I am a woman.
I experienced this with no knowledge that it was happening as he was developing feelings for me. I experienced it because I’m a positive, upbeat, outgoing person, and people called me “too charming” and “too happy.” I experienced this because my work clothes (a tee shirt and jeans, mind you) were apparently an invitation to fantasize.
I still have dreams. Some of them are silly or unrealistic, yet they all make me feel the same. Sometimes they’re dreams that Trump is encouraging Rob to fire me. Sometimes they’re dreams that Rob is hunting me down to hurt me because he lost his job.
At the end of the day, my subconscious wonders the same question that my consciousness knows I shouldn’t have to ask: do you think I am I less than you because I am a woman?
Our country’s president does. He won’t admit it, but he does. He validates behavior, thoughts, and feelings of people like Rob. And I know that, and I’m fully prepared to fight that every single day until women and girls across the world don’t wonder anymore if they are less than.
*names changed to preserve anonymity