23/09/2013

(Girls) We Run The World?


When I was a bright-eyed girl, I wanted to run the world. I remember proclaiming proudly to my father and his friend that I wanted to dominate the world. I did not consider my gender or sexuality to be inferior than that of men, I did not feel that I was the weaker sex.

Listening to the "Girl Power" anthems such as Beyonce's Run The World, and even Icona Pop's I Love It celebrating the empowerment of women, I thought we have come a long way from our mother and grandmother. When I watched Mad Men a few years ago, up until a couple of months ago, I thought the unfair treatment and discrimination of women in the show (and back in the days) were appalling. I was thankful for how far we've come to prove ourselves equal to that of men, and that in today's workplace, our ability outweighs our looks and our sex.

How naive I was.

I had an extremely uncomfortable encounter with a work acquaintance recently, which bordered sexual harassment. Let's call him C, for creeper. C said some really inappropriate things at the water cooler and then shrugged it off with "I hope you don't mind me. This is how I am!" That was followed by unnecessary rubbing and touching of my arms.

As furious as I was, there was nothing I could do immediately. C is not an employee so I could not lodge a formal complain. He was a visitor and I had to extend the courtesy. I felt vulnerable, as opposed to his aggressive and domineering body and verbal language. I was also very embarrassed that such a thing happened to me.

You might think I am being overly dramatic, or maybe putting it in writing makes it seem more dramatic than it is. But for days afterwards, my bruxism came back as I contemplated what to make of this situation, resulting in extremely sore jaw and mild headache. I've also had a couple of restless nights filled with uncomfortable dreams. In the dreams I felt hopeless and powerless. I would wake up with dread, instead of hope. I was also angry that despite having attained a similar education level and busting my arse proving myself to be as good and efficient as anyone, men or women, I still had to endure such offensive actions.

So many questions filled my head: Should I talk to my boss? Was I being overly-sensitive? Will he believe what I have to say? What should I do when I see him next? 

The encounter made me rethink everything about my work - I started keeping a distance from my male colleagues for fear of coming across as too friendly. When they playfully/ gently nudged me like they always do, I flinched and kept a straight face. I also kept a distance from my female colleagues for fear of gossip. I became extremely cautious of my attire and would constantly pull my blazer down to cover my behind.

Finally, I confided in the general manager (one of the guys who are generally empathetic and has two teenage daughters). He was very supportive. He reassured me that he would keep a look out if C is around next time. In the following days, the manager would check in to see if I was alright and assured me that it was C at fault and I had never come across as a flirt.

A week has passed since C the Creeper said those things. I'm feeling much better now, though I'm beginning to question - have we really come that far from where we were 50 years ago? How is it that I am still viewed as a sexual object when I have proved to be equally, if not more diligent and intelligent than some of my male counterparts? In the encounter a week earlier, which I have come to reference it as "the coffee machine incident", C was forward and assertive. His sentences were statements, such as: "Too bad I was taken, or else I would've taken you home. You're a good sort." 

It was offensive and very disrespectful, but I also felt a deep sense of powerlessness in the days following that incident. It brought back memories of the time my father's friend, A, casually rubbed my thigh when I was a pre-pubescent girl (I am not sure if daddy knows about this, but I'm pretty sure dad has severed contact with A). I did not tell anyone about it, for fear of damaging dad's friendship with A, and because it was embarrassing, not to mention, shameful. Plus, A did not do anything more than that. What if I was just being over-sensitive, even though I felt uncomfortable? It will go away, I told myself. You'll forget it when you're older.

Today, C the Creeper was in the building again. The General Manager alerted me of his arrival and I locked myself in my office. C walked past. He looked into my office, smiled and waved at me like nothing happened, and walked across the office, laughing with the new girl, shaking hands with the guys. All the while I sat in my small cubicle office behind the glass doors, listening to humming of the air-conditioner and poking my head out of the door every now and then to check if he was gone.

It's not a big deal. I will get over it.

p.s. Compared to survivors of worse sexual crimes, what I had experienced was nothing. However, I am suddenly aware of their pain and struggle and my thoughts are with them.

Disclaimer: My workplace is an equal opportunity employer and following that incident, they have dealt with it efficiently and ensured that I am well taken care of. For that, I am grateful. However, sometimes things like this simply cannot be foreseen and my internal conflicts are borne out of my cultural upbringing and my own conscience. 

4 comments:

  1. You are totally right in fighting this back. If it makes you feel uncomfortable it is probably wrong and you had every right to say it. I am very proud of you for writing this and for taking action! You go girl!
    Dora
    http://adropofindigo.blogspot.ca/

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your kind encouragement, Dora. I really appreciate it. X

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  2. Hi Samantha, it takes some balls to share such a story and to speak up for yourself to your management, you are a strong woman and you did absolutely the right thing. However, I wished you personally addressed Mr. Creeper and put him in his place. Men like him usually scare easily and should be scared often to the point they no longer come out of their little holes. It's really tough for young women in the work world because no one takes us seriously, but we have to stand up for ourselves and earn respect, it's the only way to change things.
    I'm not sure if you will ever find closure, but you might grow your experience into a confidence that insignificances like these cannot touch. I hope sharing this helps you make peace with the situation!
    I wrote a post a few weeks back about a great book I read by COO of Facebook, who happens to be a woman. You would really enjoy it! I have a link to it in my post, hope you check it out:
    http://brandnamesus.com/2/post/2013/09/we-are-good-enough.html

    Best wishes,
    Irina

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    Replies
    1. Hi Irina, thank you so much for your kind words :) The experience and encouragement from people like yourself have given me courage and confidence to move beyond what I experienced. So happy to hear from you again! Hope you are well.

      Best Wishes,
      Samantha

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