4 times sexual harassment has interrupted my ability to do my job
As a woman in my mid-20s, harassment has become a fact of life. But sometimes it gets in the way of my work. That’s not OK.
I’m a journalist and news editor now, but before that I was a barista, a server, a freelance writer, an intern, a gift shop cashier and an ice cream scooper. As a woman in my mid-20s, harassment has become a fact of life, but here are a few times when my ability to do my job was diminished by it.
- While the editor of a hyperlocal newsweekly, I was reporting on a community meeting, and a middle-aged man I’d met a few times at previous such meetings came up behind me and grabbed my shoulders. I jumped, and he hissed in my ear, “There’s my sexy, gray-haired lady!” (My hair was dyed gray at the time.) Then he pulled away and laughed. I laughed, too, and turned back to continue taking notes on greening initiatives and neighborhood watch shifts, shaking. (Age: 24)
- While at that same job, I met the office manager of my coverage area’s state representative for lunch to talk about the politician’s latest initiatives. The office manager, who was bald and exactly twice my age, kept directing the conversation back to me and my interests — what kind of music I liked, if I had a boyfriend, where I had gone to college. After that meeting, he began texting flirty messages to my personal cell phone on a weekly basis, especially holidays, despite my blatant non-response. (Age: 23)
- While I was interning at an entertainment magazine in London, a visiting, male executive commented that I was much more attractive than the previous intern. (Age: 20)
- While I was holding down my first job at an ice cream shop during high school, my much-older boss would occasionally make comments in front of my male coworkers along the lines of, “You’re going to be a slut someday, huh?” The point was to make me uncomfortable because I was naive, which was funny to him. (Age: 15 to 18)
In all of these situations, I smiled and laughed the actions off or ignored them because I thought it necessary to be polite. I’m just now, at nearly 25, getting to the point in my life where I can call these discrepancies out or at least react in some way that makes it clear that they’re not OK.
Being a female journalist means having to second-guess your decision to meet an interview subject at his house once you’re already inside, even though the story is about the house itself. It means considering whether you should text your location and the name of your subject to your roommate in case you don’t come back. It means insisting on public meeting places, and dealing with sources who stick around a little too long when the interview is over because they mistake your friendliness and professional interest for something more. However, in all situations, I am literally just doing my job.
That is, I’m trying to just do my job. These harassers are making it harder by directing our interactions’ focus to my sexuality, marking me as something to fuck rather than someone with a bachelor’s degree. They’re making it harder because I’m a woman, because they have the power, because they can.