How I dealt with Sexual Harassment at Work
Back when I was 19, I did a co-op assignment in the UK for a year. I worked at a small specialty chemicals company that dealt with a lot of cyanide chemistry. I worked in the lab doing various experiments and it wasn’t long before I got the nickname “Sandra the Destroyer.” I’m a bull in a china shop in labs and I can’t tell you how much glassware I’ve broken over the years. One time I was working with an iron fertilizer that was very close to the chemistry of hemoglobin. The nickname was sealed forever when I smashed 2.5 gallon container of it all over the lab. It was maroon and smeared just like blood. I swear it looked like I murdered somebody and was cleaning up the aftermath. Anyway, I digress.
In this lab, there were 4 other chemists that shared the space with each other. There was one other female and 3 men. You know how there’s always one person at work or in a group that people can’t stand? Well in our case, this was one of the male chemists. He was short and always had his arms and shoulders puffed out like he was carrying invisible briefcases. He was not respected by his peers and thought the job he was doing was beneath him. One day, he even left his resume on the printer by accident and much to the delight of the rest of his peers. We had the joy of reading the tales of fiction that he managed to fabricate for it…one of which was that he had his PhD (and he didn’t).
Anyway, people tolerated him and he was particularly touchy feely with the other female chemist. She didn’t like it, but was such a shy lady, that she never said anything. She confided in one of the other chemists, so he knew she was annoyed by this guy too. I think in the UK, they call them Pratts. One day, I was standing at my lab bench mixing up some chemicals when the #1 pratt came over behind me, put his hands around my waist and moved me aside so that he could get at something in a drawer I was blocking. I looked at him and said “You know, in America, we say excuse me”. I wasn’t trying to be a smart ass but that’s just the first thing that popped into my head.
Well, wouldn’t you know, my other chemist friend had witnessed this whole thing. He knew what was about to happen and was observing so that he could bitch about his insolent behavior later during our tea break. To his glee, I actually stood up for myself. You know it’s almost 20 years later and he still loves telling that story every time I see him.
Guys Like Real Feminists
Back when I was renting, I had an introverted neighbor who grilled his dinner outside just about every night in the summer. He was a strange looking guy who kind of reminded me of a curly haired version of Fredo from the godfather. My driveway and back door abutted his grilling area. I would see him outside often and would always say hi. He would just nod his head but never ever said a word to me. One day after work, I decided to change the oil in my car. Back then, I had a Toyota Corolla and it was the world’s easiest car to change the oil in. I didn’t even need lifts or anything I could just slide under the car and reach the oil bolt without too much trouble and it was the same deal with the oil filter. I could get at it from the hood without doing too much contortions to reach it. I could have the whole thing done in like 20 minutes.
As I slide from under my car with the hood open and wiping my hands of oil, I look next door and my neighbor is looking at me with his mouth agape. This was the last thing he expected to see me doing. I’m not butch. Back then, I was 25, very thin, with long hair and blond highlights. I’m sure the most complicated thing he thought I was capable of doing was painting my toenails.
Suddenly he starts talking to me, for the first time ever. You change the oil in your car yourself? “Yup, this car is very easy.” He then asked how long I was doing it and why. I told him it was a lot cheaper than taking it to Jiffy Lube. Then, he was like “Wow..I wish my wife would do stuff like that. Do you want a burger?” I happily accepted his burger and after that day, he actually talked to me.
What Feminism Means to Me
I’ve never been what I’d call a vocal feminist. In fact, some of the most vocal feminists I know are often posers who would rather have their spouses do things for them but then yell to the world that “I could do it too if I were so inclined, so don’t you dare try to stop me.” It annoys the hell out of me when people don’t practice what they preach.
Feminists don’t need to talk about what they’re capable of, they need to do it. The women I have the most respect for are leaders in business and their community and can take on any challenge with confidence. You don’t have to be in a male dominated field to be a feminist. You don’t have to dress a certain way or be vocal about it. You just have to have the confidence that you can learn anything if you put your mind to it and there are no barriers to entry. Maybe I was just naive, but I never ever thought of gender as being the reason why I was having an issue with someone at work. Even if that is the case, the only way to have someone get over their prejudices is to have them respect you, regardless of your gender or race or sexual orientation. The way to get respect is to be good at what you do. It doesn’t matter if you’re a SAHM or an Executive.
So that’s it in a nutshell. Feminism is about being great at everything you put your mind and heart into. It’s also seeing that there are no boundaries that keep you from trying new things.
Feminism is not:
- Trying to act, dress or be like a man.
- A way to compete with other women and put them down so that you can look better.
- A way to get ahead with mediocre performance.
- An excuse for anything bad that’s every happened to you.
So if I sum it all up in one sentence it would be this:
Feminism should never be about why you can’t achieve a goal but instead be the reason behind why you can.
Can you tell me examples of your ideal of feminist role models? What’s your definition of feminism? If you’re part of the sisterhood, are you mad that I’m not fighting the good fight more vocally?