I’m talking about sexual harassment at work. In 1975, when I got my first job out of college there was no protection. Yes, everyone was aware of sexual harassment, but it was considered normal, just something you had to put up with if you were a woman in business.
I went to work for a small electrical supply company that as far as I can find is no longer in business, probably swallowed up by a bigger company. Most of the time there were only two of us in the office, Joe and me. Two other salesmen occasionally came in off the road and were there for a day or two.
Joe had had a sexual relationship with the person in my position before me and apparently expected that to continue. I was young and fairly naïve. I’d worked in the family business before going off the school, and nothing like what was coming ever happened there.
There were lots of minor incidents, which I tried to ignore – I needed the job. Joe had an amazingly foul mouth, unable to speak more than three words without inserting a f*ck or g**damn. I became immune to that pretty quickly. I didn’t appreciate him coming in and telling me his girlfriend needed another abortion, or listen to him screaming at people on the phone, but in an office that small there was no relief.
An aside here – we were in a small office building and we had the only Xerox machine in the building, so other companies came in our back door, used the machine and logged in their usage, which I billed back to them monthly. On more than one occasion the men in the other offices would come to the door and ask if I was okay, because they could hear what Joe was yelling pretty clearly. They could do no more. Challenging Joe would have been fruitless; they didn’t even work in the same company.
I came in one morning to find a magazine opened on my desk. In my naivety I thought of Playboy as a “dirty” magazine. This publication was beyond my wildest imagination, and I still think those posed shots more fantasy than possibility.
The final straw was when Joe came up behind me and shoved his hand down my sweater. I froze and when he left me alone, I did go to one of the other offices to get my breath back. I started looking for a new position then. I knew it would never get better there.
When I interviewed, the only question I asked was “Do you curse and scream very much?” I still can see the shocked face of the man I went to work for. I don’t believe he said as much as damn in front of me for two years. He did advise me that I would be taking a cut in pay for the new job, and I informed him that I had to leave, and I needed to do it before I couldn’t financially. I’ll always believe that answer got me the job. I didn’t give my notice to Joe, that was too scary, but when Gerry, another salesman, was in the office I told him. He offered me more money and I told him I was taking a cut to get out. He nodded and said he didn’t blame me. See, he knew as well, but nothing was every done in these cases.
I hate that things like this still continue – over 40 years and some women still face this crap. It needs to end.