I grew up with a brother and lots of male cousins, fighting over N64 games and Pokemon cards. In school, I was the gawky kid that was considered “one of the boys.” Fast forward to my 20s and I’ve never had an issue striking up a conversation about soccer, death metal and video games with male acquaintances and colleagues.
But I’m not gawky anymore. My boobs fit snugly into a 32DD, and with a splash of makeup in the morning my face isn’t all that bad either. It took me a while to realize that when I walk over to a male colleague’s desk to discuss 60s grunge bands, he’s thinking beyond just banging drums.
A few months ago after graduating from college, I got an internship at a renowned media company. I had never worked for such a big corporation before, and was hoping to turn the internship into a full-time position as soon as possible.
On my first day, as I wobbled about in heels, I was introduced to one of the editors of my site who was extremely friendly. He was in his late 30s, married with two kids whose photos beamed at him from every angle of his desk. For the rest of the week, every time I fumbled with any task, I’d approach him for help since he was the friendliest on the team. We discovered our mutual love for "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" and in his emails he would often reference them. I was ecstatic; an extremely influential editor liked me!
But a few days later, things got weird. It was Valentine’s Day and I got an IM from him wishing me a happy one. It was followed with a “So I’m sure a beautiful girl like you will be getting lots of flowers today.”
Whoa! That made me a bit uncomfortable, but I decided to ignore it. But the creepy messages continued. I refused to respond to them. Was this considered sexual harassment? Was this casual flirting or just being very friendly? Every time I didn’t reply, I could see him glance over at my desk. I hoped that he would take the hint, but after a couple of hours he would try to start up another conversation.
When we interacted in person, either individually or in a group, he was extremely polite and his eyes never wandered. It was almost hard to believe that this man was hitting on me via GChat! I contemplated complaining to HR, but as a new intern, I was terrified that maybe I was overreacting. About two weeks later, the IMs stopped.
Then one day I got a notification from him pointing out a factual error in an article I had just filed. I apologized and he told me not to worry about it and that it was his job as an editor. “Well, in that case you should thank me,” I joked. The reply was not what I expected.
“That is true. Thank you for making me feel the way I feel,” he typed.
I was disgusted. I blocked him and continued working. Fortunately, my position was changed a week later, so I barely have to interact with him anymore, even though I can see his perfectly parted, greasy hair a few desks away from me everyday.
Had the harassment continued, I planned on marching into HR with my IM history pages. My previous hesitance to complain disappeared when I learnt that HR can reprimand an employee for sexual harassment without telling them who had accused them of it.
I’m still not sure what had prompted his lecherous behavior. Initially, I blamed myself for being too friendly. I started to think twice before I put on a skirt in the morning, and stopped wearing make up.
But this isn’t the 60s anymore. Today, more women than men are graduating from college and it isn’t fair to let some sleazy man stop us from getting a job we want. In college, you are taught the importance of networking, which should go beyond the awkward “Hi, my name is…” conversation and become more personal. If a male colleague asks to grab lunch together, the first thought in our heads should not be “Is he hitting on me?” This is the start of my career, and some creepy man’s midlife crisis should not get in the way of that.