This is the first draft. Looking forward to getting your feedback on this article I wrote for musings.
Sexual Harassment — It Goes Both Ways
For many, a place of work becomes a second home, because they spend a large portion of their day there. This is why work environments are important. A positive environment encourages workers to grow and improve professionally. On the other hand, an unfavorable environment dampens workers’ moods, which negatively affects their work. Ultimately, individuals may have various perceptions as to what constitutes a negative environment; however, there are few circumstances that clearly contribute to them — sexual harassment being one of them.
It’s not uncommon (but definitely wrong) for men to sexually harass women in the workplace. But after my supervisor made sexual advances, I scoured the internet for brethren who’ve experienced this. The few resources I did find, were accompanied by sad, tasteless, jokes about why men would complain about a woman making sexual advances.
I tried to see their perspective. What if one of your deepest, darkest fantasies itself, would you act on it? People fantasize about doing inappropriate things with co-workers, whatever the profession. The thing is, I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to sleep with a co-worker — let alone, my supervisor.
I’ve had office sex fantasies (on a copy/fax machine and office furniture) — so sue me. And the opportunity to act on these fantasies with my former supervisor was a mentally straining. It was a tad weird when she told me what she was into sexually; like being choked and offered to reward me in her car’s back seat after I fixed her portable car vacuum. Did I do any of them? No.
As tempting as it was to bend her over her desk, logically, it wasn’t a good idea. (Wait, men don’t think with their genitals?). I turned her down, gently (twice) and here is why:
It took me more than four years to get my Bachelor’s degree and, when the sexual harassments took place, I was gainfully underemployed at a university. I didn’t enjoy the job — and it showed in how I performed at work and my interactions with grumpy customers
Like many recent grads, I was frustrated because I hadn’t started my career. I felt that my supervisors weren’t utilizing my skill set — the ‘work’ I was doing wasn’t challenging. I went from doing (what is considered) higher education executive level work to mindless robotic work.
Getting yelled at by people because they own tuition was mentally draining. Departments created issues from the lack of communication, direction and efficient procedures — so my supervisors mumbled (they actually did that). Unfortunately, childish behavior and toxicity started at the top, among mid-senior workers and trickled down. I was also experiencing health issues, which, thankfully, I’ve overcame.
As far as the harasser, she is married (not sure if she still is) and has children. She admitted she wasn’t happy in her marriage. And, you guessed it — she was not getting her bread buttered. I won’t go into details, but from the information I was provided, it was clear that her husband was unhappy and was projecting negativity by starting arguments. Ironically, she was trying to make things work.
If I caved and slept with her, our situations probably would have become worse; her marriage would have gotten messy, especially with kids involved. Because I was easily affected by my environment, my mental health would have been affected. So as much as my supervisor wanted me to eat and pound her cake, it was not the best idea to think with my genitals.
I, however, could understand why someone in her situation would make sexual advances; we have things in common and I’ve been known to be shrewd and witty. For a married person who is being denied basic emotional and physical needs, it can be tempting to cross that boundary with that attractive co-worker. Is there something wrong with two people wanting to jump bones? No. But it becomes a problem when only one person is interested.
Reflecting on this experience, my conscience was feeding me the idea that my personality was the water that harvested the seeds of sexual harassment I realized I was blaming myself.
I went along with the flirting initially as I thought it was harmless and I was flattered. But flirtation doesn’t always equate to sexual desire. I felt powerless because my supervisor, a person who was in power, wanted more than just my skills in the office. She wanted sex, for the lack of better word, while I did not and that left me feeling cornered. This is when things got out of hand.
I explained that we worked together and reminded her that she’s married and has kids. She was a bit upset when I refused to have an affair. We conversed about me not reporting her and during this fuzzy exchange of words, I remembered taking control of the conversation and reassuring her I wouldn’t report her, because her advances weren’t a big deal. Truth is, they were. I regretted not filing a report.
The mistake was realized when she advanced and was rejected a second time. I hadn’t thought that I would be treated differently, but I was. I recalled making a personal phone call with a company phone, which was no longer than two minutes. Additionally, it was also made when I was free. Her snide remark still rings in my brain, “make personal calls on your own time.” To make things worse, a co-worker was having, a good ten to fifteen-minute conversation using a company phone; the supervisor walked by her at least twice and didn’t say a thing — she didn’t even bat an eyelash.
Maybe this was just in my head. Maybe not. But it’s not necessary to bring them forth — and to be honest, they’re not important. Maybe she was stressed out? Maybe this is me rationalizing.
Was I treated better treatment than my co-workers? Other than being offered sex, there were many times I was allowed to take off because I wasn’t feeling well. She also tried to accommodate my schedule so I could complete homework, submit job applications and more. But wait! I believe she did that for my co-workers, too.
In the end, I was removed from the toxic environment and was happy to be out. I’m still learning to cope with the idea of being sexually harassed by a person (senior or not), and the feelings I experienced — vulnerability and having my sexuality challenged, because as a man, how could I say no to a woman? My heart goes out to women who’ve been sexually harassed at their place of work, because it’s a total mindfuck.
Being sexually harassed tested my boundaries changed how I view gender roles in the workplace, work friendships and work environments, marriage, desire, love and sex. Looking back, I should have been more firm with my harasser and I didn’t realize how much power I had at the time; I had messages from her that insinuated sexual harassment. I should have reported her to HR with a screenshot and requested a transfer to another office, as I continued to look for full-time work. I also should have filed suit with the company, as this has happened to other people who’ve worked there.
Ironically, my supervisor left to work at another university. On the last day she said, “you’ll be alright — you’ll do great.” In some twisted way, she was right.
I never realized how prevalent sexual harassment was in the workplace until I was a victim of it. I knew it always existed, but I never knew how uncomfortable it would make me feel, as a man.