Captain’s Log

I’m in my last semester of college. “Leave (Get Out)” by JoJo is the earworm of the moment. About 40% of businesses report having no plan for preventing workplace violence this year.  A few months ago a guy I used to almost date threw stuff at my head when I tried to leave his apartment.

I show up at my job as a retail assistant manager and my co-worker Caroline* says “You won’t believe what just happened.” She points to her neck. Long, red, sausage-width marks paint a stretch of skin just above her collar bone. Our other co-worker Christopher grabbed her by the neck.

She explains to me that he was writing a love note to someone and she showed up for her shift and said “Ooh, what’s this?” and looked over his shoulder for a second, not knowing it was something so personal. He responded by palming her throat.

I’m horrified and she ends up telling management and security footage is confiscated. Caroline and Christopher are not allowed to work together until the investigation is complete.

They schedule him with me instead.

I don’t want to work with a neck-grabber but I need to pay my rent. I don’t know why he’s allowed to cover any shifts at all. We work one awkward shift, just the two of us in a mostly empty store, during which he defends himself to me and all I can say is “You’re just lucky it wasn’t me,” as if I would have been able to drop his 6’2” frame with my years-old Midwestern self-defense training. I’m mostly bluffing but it feels safer than admitting I probably would have frozen.

The surveillance tape showed an assault but he is ultimately fired only because he wouldn’t say he was sorry.

***

I’m out of college but not yet in grad school. “Smack That” is on the radio. 84% of the 12,025 sexual harassment charges this year will be filed by women.

A friend recently told me that one of her colleagues was being stalked by another colleague; he used her personal phone to take pictures of himself while she was away from her desk, and he followed her home at least once. A judge granted a restraining order. In response, their boss moved their desks the requisite 500 feet apart and told her she’d probably lead him on.

I work nights at a university with mostly adult students. By the time the last class lets out after 9pm, everyone else has long gone home. Everyone except a few lingering professors who are collecting their notes and dumping remnants of coffee down the drain. I watch car after car transform into faint tail lights outside my window overlooking the parking lot and stand with my keys in hand.

There is one professor, Mr. Johnson, who makes my hair stand up. My boyfriend Marc stops by one night to bring me dinner and he meets Mr. Johnson;  as soon as he’s out of earshot my boyfriend says “You’re right, he’s creepy.” The professor emerges from the hallway just as Marc is leaving, standing in front of the elevator bank and commenting that he forgot something in his car downstairs. Faced with riding two floors down with the man, Marc instinctually turns on his heel and walks back to my desk. Even he doesn’t want to be alone with Johnson in an aluminum box for 20 seconds.

Later that night, when the class is on a break, Mr. Johnson returns with an inexplicable set of intimate third-degree questions.

“Is that guy a serious boyfriend?”

“Yes, we’ve been together 4 years.” (Lie, it’s only been a year.)

“Is he a live-in boyfriend?”

“No, I live in a big house with like 5 roommates.” (Lie, I live alone.)

“You guys ever go to SeaWorld? He should take you there. They have a roller coaster that goes through the water and your shirt gets wet.”

“No, I’m not into rollercoasters.” (True, but accompanied by a fake outgoing phone call to end the conversation.)

Everyone in our small office knows that Mr. Johnson is creepy but the students love him. He has excellent student reviews on file. I repeat some version of the conversation to a superior and nothing happens. It doesn’t seem as bad has having to seek out a restraining order so I let it go because my student loan payments have come due.

Some time later he is ultimately let go, passively; they simply stop assigning him classes. It’s unclear if his creepy quotient plays a part in his termination, but I know he stops by to ask why he isn’t being rehired and he’s given a line about budgets and shake-ups. He is free to be hired somewhere else, presumably with a reference in hand, and no notion that his behavior has been noticed.

***

I’m about 10 years out of college. “Spotlight” wins best picture. A study from this year says 85% of women experience street harassment before the age of 17.

When I lived in London I was walking with a friend and a man turned the corner, grabbed her, and just kept walking.

The company I work for is expanding and we’re looking for new office space and rumor has it a top contender is in a neighbor that, while up and coming, doesn’t have a great reputation for public safety.

The women’s whisper network is concerned.

There’s no private parking lot at the potential new office and the perils of walking four to six blocks in the dark are unappealing. Our manager is annoyed. She is more concerned about our reputation as team players than what she sees as our high-maintenance request to address safe access to lit parking. We’re being “dramatic.”

I don’t want to forfeit opportunities because I’m in a rush to leave the office before the streets are barren and spooky. Heading home at the first hint of a sunset could mean missing an impromptu 5:30 pitch meeting or important client call.

I wish my concerns would be legitimized. I’d rather not open up about the way my heart races when I’m walking to my car after sundown, keys between my knuckles, and I hear “Hey!” from some vague distance behind me. We’re at work: why must I emote to be heard? Women having access to lit parking is a practical issue that should be taken seriously at face value. 

We ultimately move into a different neighborhood that has a huge parking lot. It’s made pretty clear our reservations had nothing to do with it. The other lease deal simply fell through.

***

I’m still working full-time but I’m contemplating going freelance again. “Big Little Lies” is an HBO hit. The most recent data says 48% of all women will be on the receiving end of psychological aggression from an intimate partner in her lifetime.

The entire company is working late under the dubious pretense that we are behind on myriad of projects, from marketing to storage room organization. Most of us suspect it’s an awkward attempt at team building and there is a bit of tension surrounding the event. A few days ago there was a team meeting and some of the major projects were outlined in front of everyone. Among them: Take apart the bespoke bench planter in the foyer.

On the night of the work-a-thon I’ve been writing for 11 hours and I can hear a group cheerfully sledgehammering the planter as instructed. Then, yelling.

“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?”

As it turns out, the planter was expensive and not supposed to be destroyed…and the aforementioned announcement regarding its demise apparently went over the head of the powers that be. A C-suite executive is screaming at a group (of mostly women) who are just trying to complete their assigned after-hours project.

A while later, in the group chat, Monica says “It was terrifying, but I scare easy.”

A few months ago Monica revealed to a few of us that she once escaped a very controlling, abusive relationship. It’s not my place to reveal her background but she deserves to feel safe at work. I’m tired and mad.

I open an empty chat window with HR and I’m at a loss. There isn’t a quick and appropriate way to say that maybe the boss just triggered a survivor of psychological abuse.

I just say “Gordon really freaked people out by yelling at them. He can’t do that again.”

***

It’s today. I’m sitting down to write this article. Men who have been accused of sexual assault and harassment by multiple women are set to host red carpets, star on Netflix shows, and indefinitely occupy the oval office. Approximately 100% of women are negatively affected by harassment, abuse, and discrimination.

We are increasingly confronting the overtly horrible ways women are treated at work. We have yet to inoculate our workplaces against more insidious behaviors.

Women park under the streetlight. We cover the top of our whisky sour with our hand at the bar. We take a different route every time we run. We stop eating lunch at 1:00 because that’s when Nate from accounting eats and we’re sick of his creepy comments. Women must make micro-decisions each day to avoid potential danger — it doesn’t stop at the office door and that’s a damn shame.  

We are sometimes afraid to speak up for fear of external consequences or internal guilt. In the first four drafts of this blog I included a blanket excuse for the managers I’ve mentioned so you wouldn’t think they’re all bad people.

***

It’s some time in the future. President Harris is killing it as the first woman in the oval. Policies driven by protecting women mean we are safer. Domestic abusers are actually penalized. There are more faces in boardrooms than those of the pale male variety.

It’s about time.

 

*none of these names are real.

Photo credit: Nastuh Abootalebi

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