I recently read an article in The New York Times where Quentin Tarantino was quoted saying "I knew enough to do more than I did." Let me make one thing clear from the start, if you know about sexual harassment/assault, and do NOTHING, you're just as guilty as the perpetrator. It seems as if everyone in Hollywood knew about the Weinstein assaults, yet, it was just accepted - the ultimate example of rape culture.
I work in a male-dominated industry, the audiovisual industry. For the most part, I have been well accepted and treated as a professional. However, like many females, I have experienced sexual harassment. For the first time, I'm going to publicly detail a major incident. I won't name names to protect the guilty.
For about seven years, I worked for a man who sexually harassed a large number of our company's female employees; he was also verbally abusive, but that part wasn't exclusive to women. The first incident I can remember happened about a year after I started at the company. He called six or seven women into a meeting and then proceeded to scream at us - not just yelling, I'm talking vein-popping, tomato red face screaming - followed quickly by the throw of a chair across the room. After this, one of the women went to HR and he was forced to send all of us a formal apology and review sexual harassment guidelines.
Over the next few years, I wanted so desperately to be part of the "boys club" and didn't want to be "that girl" who gets offended over every little thing. So I listened to him go on, sometimes for hours, about his sex life with his wife, his drug-fueled escapades in college, and all kinds of other insane stories that should never be told in the workplace. During this time, I would be randomly yelled at for things that, most of the time, had nothing to do with me. I had been called into HR a few times during this period to confirm incidents I had witnessed between him and other women.
One afternoon, I was told, several times, I was "FUCKING WRONG" about a product spec. (I wasn't actually wrong and I didn't work on the products team so it didn't even apply to me). This incident was so loud that several people went to HR to let them know what happened. Once again, I found myself in HR's office. I had become so conditioned to comply with his behavior that the only thing I would say about it was "we've always had a good working relationship."
At this time, I had started managing several young women. I began to see the impact his behavior was having on them and I didn't like it. One woman told me he had recorded a test video of her and implied he would save it and masturbate to it later at home. This was not okay but we still just accepted it as something we had to deal with. After all, this man had been reported countless times and was never fired.
Then, one day, a drastic incident occurred. I was at a co-worker's desk when I asked her to cut the hanger strap from my shirt. Our boss walked by and said "Oh, look at that purple polka dot bra!" when he caught a glimpse of the bra strap as she cut the hanger strap. We laughed and moved on with our work. Later that day, I was in his office with a male co-worker. Mid-sentence, mid-meeting, he stopped, looked me dead in the eye and said "Are you wear matching panties?" You could have cut the awkward silence with a knife.. I just got out of there are fast as I could and hoped he'd forget about it, deep down knowing this was going to be a long-term topic of conversation for him.
Over the next two weeks, there were multiple references to this incident with him inquiring about my bra. Then it stopped and I thought it was over. Two weeks later, he was at it again. I was humiliated. I started spending 20 extra minutes each morning getting dressed, ensuring there was no way to even catch a glimpse of my undergarments. I began having anxiety attacks driving to the office and couldn't wait to get out of there every day.
I realized I couldn't go on like this and spoke to a trusted male co-worker and friend. He was shocked this was going on, especially since I was known around the office for sticking up for my values, opinions, and beliefs. He encouraged me to take it higher, but, I was terrified. I imagined my boss would get another "slap on the wrist" and I would have to work with him after. I contemplated quitting without even having another job lined up. Luckily, my friend helped me through it and convinced me to speak with the Executive Team.
I first spoke to a Vice President with whom I felt very comfortable and had a congenial relationship. Despite our friendship, it was nearly impossible to get the words out. He immediately went to the President of the company, who was kind as can be as I repeated my story, which I also had to tell HR. I was MORTIFIED having to talk about my undergarments at work, and especially to so many high-level executives. The entire process was humiliating for me., despite all of them being so incredibly understanding as I detailed what had happened.
Luckily for me, the company took swift action this time and he was terminated as soon as he walked into the building the next day. I was later told more details about the process, like how a male co-worker had said he couldn't recall witnessing some of the exchanges because he "didn't want to get involved" or when my harasser said I "showed him my bra," or why HR couldn't understand why I didn't come to them sooner...uhhhhh...because he's never been fired for sexual harassment or verbal abuse and I thought I'd still have to work for him?
While going to work didn't get immediately easier, it got better every day. This situation had a lasting impact on me (and my female co-workers) - I would break into a sweat if I saw the make and model of his car anywhere near me. I saw him once at a tradeshow and immediately hid away in our storage closet so I could ensure he did not approach me.
After all these years, writing this still gives me an "icky" feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was repeatedly told not to discuss it (despite no legal action being taken on my end of theirs), I was repeatedly asked by co-workers why I didn't tell them sooner, and I was told I was being too dramatic about the entire situation. SO many people in the company knew he continuously harassing women, yet, we all accepted it as part of our workplace culture. I'm including myself in that list - I wasn't part of the solution early on, which means I was part of the problem.
Never again will I be silent when I see things like this happening. We need to take action to stop rape culture. None of this is okay. We need to stop the "pussy-grabbers" of the world and let them know we will no longer stand for inappropriate touching, verbal abuse, harassment, etc. It stops now.
Learn about the start of the Me, Too movement here: www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2017/10/19/the-woman-behind-me-too-knew-the-power-of-the-phrase-when-she-created-it-10-years-ago/
Megan A. Dutta