It can happen
What would you do?
Some years ago I was sexually harassed by a man. It started with small things that I mostly ignored, comments like “you have a nice physique,” and “I’m available.” As he got bolder I fell into a pattern of ignoring him. We were working in close quarters on an ocean-going research vessel so I couldn’t avoid him. Several weeks of hard work and a lack of sleep had drained me and probably limited my ability and inclination to deal with the situation.
The next-to-the-last time we were in a room together, I was sleeping and woke to the realization that he was loudly and demonstratively masturbating a few feet away from me. My reaction was to ignore him. Is that hard to understand? It’s hard for me to understand, looking back. Why didn’t I do something, why didn’t I tell him to get lost or report him?
That was the worst of it. Soon our work ended and I never saw him again.
I could say the whole thing was no big deal, and in a sense that’s true. But I was surprised at a queasy feeling I got while writing this. I’ve told the story a few times, but never in public.
The only reason the story is worth telling is because I’m surprised at how I fell into being powerless and how I let the situation go on. That’s a useful lesson for me when reading stories about harassment of others. I tolerated too much. I let a creepy guy harass me. It developed gradually, he got bolder, and I never drew a line and dealt with him.
Now a bit more about context: I’m a man. I don’t think of myself as powerless. As if size matters, I probably don’t look powerless: I’m 6 feet tall. I’d like to think that I’d stop a creep for harassing me, that I wouldn’t let it happen. But I didn’t stop him. If you can’t imagine what it’s like, it reminds me of being bullied as a kid—a common occurrence for boys like me that were nerdy, brainy, and small.
I’ve read the stories about Bora and I’ve been following #ripplesofdoubt. Bora was helpful to me when I started blogging, as were others in the #sciox community. It’s hard to read the stories, but important. I hope I can contribute to making things better.
One thing I can offer is a comment, mostly to men: if other people’s harassment stories surprise you, realize it could be you and you might not react like you expect. Try to avoid thoughts like “If that happened to me, I would’ve…(done something to stop it)” because maybe you wouldn’t have. I didn’t.