Content warning – this is a post about sexual harassment, assault, and general assholery in various forms.
(I wasn’t gonna do this post – I previously thought it was way too personal and complicated – but hell, it’s almost four in the morning and I decided not to sleep ’cause a longtime friend just got engaged and I’m all feelingsy about that so… here, have another one of my open wounds.)
A couple weeks ago, we had an Incident at my work. Of the “holy freaking hell, you’re almost 40, you should REALLY know better than to say that in public!!” variety. Of the “I would’ve physically attacked said dingbat if I hadn’t had the brains to tell one of my friends about it first and said friend came up with a better solution” variety. And of the “oh lookit FLASHBACKS” variety.
See, at least this time I was an innocent bystander who could only tolerate so much assholery. That’s my normal status at work. I started at my current job a month and a half after shaving my head during a manic episode (in the middle of winter no less) and it took various coworkers a couple months to figure out I was female. Worked out great for me, in the grand scheme of things. The boy I crushed on that year had no trouble seeing my details; meanwhile, the various creeps and reptiles missed whatever chance they would’ve had to sink their teeth into a pale-as-hell and ultra-naive 20-year-old woman. I got LUCKY, and even after my hair grew out, that’s held pretty well. I’m not the girl who gets hit on by coinflip-sober customers or entwines herself in workplace romances gone horribly wrong. So again, in this particular case of wildlife who should’ve known better, I just happened to be close enough to overhear and not in the mood for putting up with bullshit on that scale that day.
But GOD, now I think I understand why most girls aren’t brave enough to report.
I had panic attacks about it after maybe the sixth time I had to repeat the exact same incident report to yet another person who agreed that yes the situation had an obvious solution but there was still PAPERWORK and forms to file to cover tails in case someone miraculously found enough money to start a lawsuit. I think I almost drove one of my friends crazy the day I figured out that most of our coworkers had traced the incident back to me – this, somehow, was the event that showed me the limits of superhuman patience. Never mind that everyone who’s spoken to me about it has been completely on my side and several have offered their own fixes for if something like that happens around me again. It’s still a LOT to be the victim on paper. More than I signed up for.
At least this time – perhaps because of the circumstances, perhaps because of who vouched for me, I don’t freaking know – people believed me.
Flashbacks are fun. Memories of being nineteen and telling my mother about an incident that had happened half a decade earlier, a boy in a homeschool group who had some interesting personal space issues but probably hadn’t meant actual HARM, and her practically laughing and then telling me how much worse it could’ve been. Because hey, at least the boy was around my age and not related to me (that we know of), at least all he did was put his hands on my questionably-existent thirteen-year-old breasts, at least I could still claim some form of innocence. To this day, I don’t think that boy knew at that time that he was doing something WRONG, but the fact that homeschool parents as a general species don’t teach their male offspring about moderation when in the same physical space as girls is a whole other monkey. I just… at nineteen, two or three years after I even realized that the incident even WAS an incident, I should’ve known better than to expect sympathy from my mother. And yet I did, because that situation screwed me up a bit and, despite me not knowing at the time, led to suicide attempt 0.5. And yet I didn’t get any. Figures.
Hell, I got a little more of a reaction when I almost got raped by another woman during the long weekend in the psych ward about a year later. At least that one was a bit harder to blame on me.
But still, I’m not used to being LISTENED TO. I enjoy my natural immunity and don’t question it, and I usually keep my secrets close to my chest because most people do. not. get. it.
Honestly, it’s a little ironic that the first incident that publicly bestowed the title of VICTIM upon me was the first one where I was barely even involved.
I’m still processing, but at this point I feel pretty badass. As much as my job frustrates me at times, I’m proud to work in an environment where that kind of shit gets taken very seriously. (Other incidents, not my story to tell, have confirmed that the harassment policy at my particular store holds a LOT of weight.) Obviously that ought to be standard in any environment, but the world sucks and it isn’t so let me have this one. We’re a zoo, but we don’t let anybody – outsider or insider, we don’t care – prey on our girls. First time I’ve ever felt loyal to the company I work for, honestly.
And going forward, when I herd around the teenage throwaway girls who imprint on me like the awkward baby ducklings they are, I have a few new points to make. Like a former coworker’s infamous “avoid if young and female” warning speech that all the other new girls of my era (but not me because again, awkward and accidentally butch), but so much better because this one has resources and battle plans.
So. Much. Better.