One Reason I’m Retaliating Against Google, Or Foot-guy
How Google “Handled” a Grown Man Who Kept Eye-fucking My Feet
Content warning: sexual harassment
In part inspired by the laughter I’d draw narrating my ridiculous experiences at Google,
in part in retaliation against Google for retaliating against employees for standing up against gendered and racialized abuse, I introduce to my fellow Silicon Valley hoi polloi The Chronicles of the Coding Curmudgeon: tales of a sweet (but spicy!) Filipina navigating the bland faces of corporate patriarchy.
Each piece is dedicated to a man who has stalked me, harassed me, or otherwise made me uncomfortable here. (I’ve reported 3 men for sexual harassment in the 2 years I’ve been at Google. Can I get a Hell yeah! for more content?!)
Before I begin, I want to say I couldn’t have possibly written these stories without The Men™, who quite literally made these stories happen.
I wish I could Rupi Kaur a poem of all the ways he’s made me feel.
On one hand, Foot-guy was but another enthusiast of Asian women’s feet, another victim fallen prey to that infernally irresistible and irresistibly ethnic female hoof.
But on the other, he was the catalyst for the slow, mental divorce of my career aspirations from a long-term at Google, the place I would have died to to get into all four years of college.
“He was the catalyst for the slow, mental divorce of my career aspirations from a long-term at Google.”
Ain’t that life? That all the small things are really big?
I wish I was Rupi Kaur, but all I’ve got are a number of tasteless foot-related puns crowd-sourced from my friends on the Internet, sprinkled throughout this piece like Google Easter Eggs. Yee-fucking-haw!
A little over two years ago, a couple months after joining Google, was when I first noticed him. A white man in his fifties who must have toe-tally mistaken the Google shuttle for his personal Tinder account because he was using it to hit on multiple Asian women, including myself.
I had just settled in for the long ride. I remember watching him board the bus, bee-line for the seat right next to mine, then stare at my feet like it was his job for Three. Whole. Hours.
At first, I thought, There’s no way this dude’s been staring at my feet for this long! But as an engineer adherent to rigorous testing, I moved my foot to gauge his reaction, and his whole goddamn head moved with it. I swear to God, if I’d been bobbing my foot up and down his head would have been bobbing too, like Chris Kattan to “What is Love?” in Night at the Roxbury.
I looked around desperately, trying to lock eyes with ANYONE who could save me, but no one seemed to care his SOLE objective was my feet. (Alright, that was a reach.)
By the time we got to my stop, it was dark, and I was terrified. Foot-guy followed me off the bus for another 50 feet before touching my arm and letting me know: “I love your shoes.” We both knew he meant my feet.
I don’t know about you, but my fucked up ass thinks the funniest part of this story is anyone who’s seen my feet knows they’re nothing to write home about. They’re built like LaCienega’s feet from Proud Family. Quentin Tarantino wouldn’t film my feet, not even for the gorey scenes.
For a year after that bizarre encounter, the endearingly dubbed “Foot-guy” would make effort after effort to get close to me in public spaces, despite body language I patently hated it.
He’d take the seat right next to mine in the cafeteria, and I’d move tables mid-chew. He’d wait to board the same bus as me, and I’d get off it and wait for the next one just to spite him.
Some people may call my behavior avoidant. “You bitch! How the hell was Foot-guy ever supposed to know you don’t like your feet fetishized if you never told him to stop fetishizing your feet???” And that’s where a good understanding of :
~ Statistically significant numbers of men killing women for rejecting them
~ And it’s not my fucking job!
comes in. :-)
About a year ago, Foot-guy was moved to my building.
I immediately contacted HR to let them know a potential stalking case was a-foot. To my chagrin (but never my surprise) my HR representative victim-blamed me. He may not have known he was doing this, We need to relay this back to him so he can confirm he actually did it… Etcetera, etcetera.
She told me I could pursue investigation, but that my identity would likely be revealed in the process since my report was so ridiculous and therefore, identifiable.
I asked her what Google would do if Foot-guy retaliated against me, to which she kept responding, “Google has zero tolerance for retaliation.” To which I kept retorting, “But what if he does? How do you enforce zero tolerance?” To which, she finally snapped, “Just call the police.” I elected not to pursue investigation.
A couple months later, Foot-guy was moved to my room.
I remember walking into work, seeing him at his new desk — 20 feet from mine — and feeling the beginnings of a panic attack, adrenaline trickling from the top of my scalp down my face like a trip gone fucking bad. I asked HR why Foot-guy had been moved even closer to me. I reminded them this was the exact opposite of what I’d wanted when reporting him. They told me that since I hadn’t chosen to pursue investigation, it were as if I’d never flagged him in the first place.
Again, they pushed investigation back at me — but this time, with a shit-cherry on top of an already shitty shit-cake: even if I pursued investigation — even if I risked retaliation from a man who’d shown how little he cared whether I wanted him back — HE WOULDN’T BE MOVED.
That’s right, he would be given a “stern warning.”
And if you’ve followed the Women’s Walkout, you know stern warnings at Google can mean anything from no warning at all to a multi-million dollar severance!
Indignant, I made a big racket up my reporting chain until I got the attention of my VP. But when I plead with her to make exceptions in an unforgiving system, her face didn’t crack an inch . She offered to move me to a different office, but not my perpetrator.
“She offered to move me to a different office, but not my perpetrator.”
In a matter of weeks, I was scrambling to find a new team
and the Universe finally threw me a fucking bone, an opening on a team in the San Francisco office. At the same time, I was completing the legal documentation and psychiatric examinations to initiate medical leave, the first I’d ever taken for mental injury. With every HR meeting, with each diminished sense of agency, my mental health had tanked.
And so did my output. Google never demoted me (like they did to the organizers of the Women’s Walkout) but my performance reviews suffered. I went from “Strongly Exceeds Expectations” to “Meets Expectations,” an evaluation most new grads my level receive in their first quarter at Google. I’ve been here ten.
I don’t blame my manager for any of this.
She was extremely supportive of me, doing everything in her legal power to alleviate me of this burden that had suddenly become all mine. She fought alongside me at every HR meeting, and even offered me her own desk when they wouldn’t move his.
Neither do I blame my HR rep for handling me the way she did. I believe she presented me the same crappy options she was corporately bound to present anyone else.
Who I do fault is our executive leadership
— for enforcing “recourse” that nominally handles survivors without really handling them at all, then toting bi-annual performance reviews based on “meritocracy.” For punishing me for doing “everything right”.
I don’t know what else to say besides I feel… I feel de-feeted.
A couple months ago, almost a year after I’d reported Foot-guy, I saw him again. I’d just returned from medical leave, but needed to take the shuttle back down to Mountain View to collect my old stuff. Sure enough, as soon as I reached my bus stop, Foot-guy was there. We locked eyes, but this time he knew he’d done yee’d his last haw. I wasn’t afraid of him killing me anymore; I was just angry. He immediately walked over from where he was standing and began pacing back and forth, back and forth, right in front of me, almost tauntingly. What are you gonna do about it? I kept my cool.
The bus arrived and we all boarded. As I walked down the aisle I could feel his fiery gaze all over again. I began to feel that suffocation, that trickling of adrenaline down my face. But as I passed his seat, I turned towards him, looked him dead in the eyes, and whispered: Fuck. Off. He looked perturbed. I felt amazing. Jubilant! I was the one who made this man — who’d been making me uncomfortable for years — uncomfortable! It was I, not he! *chef’s kiss*
Neither me nor my feet ever heard from him again. The end.
A note from the author:
This piece blew up way more than I expected; it resonated with many others, especially other Googlers, and I’ve already had a number of people reach out to me with their own misconduct stories. While I feel affirmed in speaking my truth, this is unbelievably hard. I am afraid of the same retaliation Google inflicted against Meredith, Claire and so many other women for fighting injustice. That said, if you support what I’m doing, please follow me on Twitter for updates and feel free to (generously) clap this piece. (I took it off the metered paywall.) Thank you!
Lea Coligado (she/her) is a Vietnapina software engineer on Google Maps, Stanford Computer Science grad, and the Founder of Women of Silicon Valley, a “Humans of New York” spin-off that tells the stories of resilient women and non-binary folks in tech. For her work in the Diversity & Inclusion space, she was named one of the BBC’s 100 Inspiring & Innovative Women of 2017. Read more at leacoligado.com.