As I was editing PHCC Educational Foundation Vice President Merry Beth Hall’s inaugural column for this issue, I found myself getting angry, but not with her writing, which is excellent, nor the content, which is extremely relevant and useful.
No, I’m angered by the fact that the statistics she cites about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace do not surprise me in the least. Because I’ve been there. I’ve experienced it.
The first time I said “no” to a man’s inappropriate sexual advances and was ignored, I was a doe-eyed 15-year-old girl who’d never even had a boyfriend. He was older, bigger, and stronger than I was. It wasn’t fair.
The first time it happened in the workplace, I was a slightly less naive 19-year-old college student working at a chain fast-food restaurant. He had been asking me out for weeks; I had been politely declining. One night, he cornered me in the back of the store after we closed and tried to force himself on me.
He was older, bigger, and stronger, and he was my supervisor. He had complete power over me. I got away and quit the next day.
A year later, I was pulling fireguard duty over a long holiday weekend when some of my fellow soldiers came back to post after a night of drinking. As they walked by, one picked me up in a bear hug, pinning my arms to my side so I couldn’t move before trying to carry me into the male barracks. It wasn’t the first time he’d violated my personal space. His friends had to make him stop.
Lately, the harassment is less pronounced, but it’s still there. It’s in the unnecessarily prolonged hugs that are too close for comfort. It’s in the friendly embraces that suddenly turn uncomfortable when hand placement dips a little too low. It’s in the conversations that don’t involve any eye contact because one party’s gaze never leaves the other’s chest.
It’s in the anonymous notes and phone calls telling me women don’t belong in this industry.
This is not an attack on men. Though it is far less common, women do sexually harass men, men sexually harass men, and women sexually harass women. But when more than 80% of sexual harassment is male-on-female, and when more than 50% of women report being sexually harassed, it may be time to seriously evaluate how women are being treated in the workplace (and beyond).
And if you think women in the plumbing industry and other trades aren’t being sexually harassed, I highly recommend reading Hall’s column. She lays out the statistics and then spells out why this industry needs to start taking a serious look at how it can protect and even promote women in the trades.
It all comes down to respect and equality. Everyone, regardless of gender, should be able to go to work and feel safe.
A good rule of thumb is to treat others in the workplace the way you want to be treated, or perhaps how you’d want someone to treat your spouse, child, or parent. And if you see something, say something.
You have the power to create change.