Many years ago, while in a job that I hated, one of my bosses ‘offered’ to spunk on my legs, among other delights. There was no preamble. We had barely spoken more than 50 words to one another in the ten or so months I’d worked there; there was precious little overlap in our duties in the workplace. I was chatting with and standing next to another female co-worker at the time: the offer was not exclusive to just me, as his magnanimous hand wave suggested. My boss was very, very drunk (moments after the proposal, he stumbled over a small step and fell face first onto the floor) and my co-worker and I exchanged a look before ‘jokingly’ saying a cheerful “no thanks!” and panic-walking away. I was in my 20s, independent, not especially timid in nature and certainly not afraid to speak my mind in almost any situation. I did not speak my mind in this situation. I walked away, upset and more than a little shaken.
Later I thought about what I’d been wearing that evening. It was our Christmas client party: a short black dress, bright blue tights, a mid-heel. I think I had long braids, but I can’t remember. I thought about what I could have done to encourage such a ‘request’. I went through the scene over and over again, discussing it with my co-worker to make sure I hadn’t imagined it (I assume she was going through a similar process with me). And I was repulsed anew, every single time.
We mentioned it (I hesitate to say ‘reported’, because I don’t think that’s what we were doing – we were just saying it loud, as though to cement it in real time) to our immediate line managers, who nodded slowly and asked us, “he said what?! Oh my god.” It had happened in the lull that happens after most parties – the in-between time when the guests have left, but the minimal tidy-up has yet to occur. After speaking to our managers, my co-worker and I shared a rueful smile and got into the work-provided cabs to go home. The big boss was slumped in a corner of the bar, largely oblivious to his surroundings.
The next morning, I went to work as normal. I was called into the boardroom and interviewed by a panel. I forget who they all were in terms of office hierarchy, but they were fairly important. I was asked to go over what had happened the night before. I hesitated again: this was my job; he had been unbelievably drunk; he was barely ever in the office, so with careful manoeuvring, I never had to share air with him again. But I told them what had happened. At one point, I used a euphemism and was asked (sensitively but firmly) to repeat his words verbatim. I did. Thank you, Bim, I was told. That will be all. My co-worker had had a similar interview. Later that day, we were all informed that my boss’s directorship had been suspended. There were other disciplinary measures taken, though I can’t remember them now. It felt good, it felt awkward. Three months later – and not a direct consequence of this incident – I left that job.
In the last couple of weeks, there has been a ‘debate’ about how women should ‘handle’ groping and inappropriate advances in the workplace (and other arenas). Most of the ‘advice’ has been of the “shrug it off – men are so stupid, amirite ladies?” school. Men – and women – are saying to treat such activities with contempt: “laugh in their faces and stalk away. Because you are an independent 21st century woman, whom feminism has liberated!” There are those who believe every time a woman reports something of this nature, she is weakening the bargaining power of all women everywhere by dealing in ‘trivialities’, when we have ‘real‘ problems to be dealing with. Because there are finite ‘issue fucks’ to give, and we can’t waste them all on the small fry issue of inappropriate bum-touches, yes?
Bollocks to it all. Report. Say something. Tell someone. Make a fuss. No one should be touched without their consent. No one’s arse – however comely – deserves to be pawed at. Thighs too. No one should have a co-worker or boss or person in the street tell them exactly where on their body they would like ejaculate. For every woman who delivers a stern “fuck off” to an idiot like that, there are hundreds of women who don’t, can’t or won’t stand up to the culprits. They shouldn’t have to deal with this shit. So in every instance that you have the ability, say something. Do something. You shouldn’t have to ‘toughen up’ or even deliver a ‘swift kick to the shin‘. You shouldn’t have to deal with this shit in the first place, for fuck’s sake.