#MeToo

In my twenties, I was employed in a number of global enterprises. In this particular company, I was a Secretary/PA for one of the senior executives in the UK.  Looking for more challenge in my working life, I was keen to develop my career within the company. It was a good place for that. If you performed your current responsibilities well, canvassed for support and advocacy, sought advice from seniors and then followed it, demonstrated enthusiasm and commitment, then doors to new opportunity would open.

So it was that I came to be moving on from my secretarial position, to take up a role as a sales trainee. My boss, for whom I’d worked for two years, was – he said – reluctant to lose me, but he was supportive of my career ambitions.  Worth saying, he’d been an excellent boss and I’d very much enjoyed working for/with him.

He wanted – he said – to thank me for my services. Would I like to come out for dinner? I said yes, not because I desired to have dinner with him, but because it would have been rude to decline. I was his direct report, and we’d enjoyed a good working relationship for two years. He had never been even the slightest bit inappropriate with me. I was, the very next day, to leave his office and join a sales department whose manager reported to a manager who reported to him. I had no inkling that this dinner invitation was anything other than the professional thank you that he said it was.

He had meetings in London on the day in question and had asked me to book him into his preferred hotel. He said he hoped I wouldn’t mind coming into London and suggested we would eat at the hotel restaurant. You may look askance at my naivety – but I promise you, I did not suspect a thing.

He met me at the hotel and we went to eat; the meal was enjoyable and the conversation convivial. Until, that is, he suggested that we continue the evening up in his room. I thought at first I’d misheard him. I think I may have ignored his suggestion, so he had another go round. Surely – he said – I understood why I’d been invited into London, to his hotel. Didn’t I realise? I was about to cease being his direct report and – he said – this meant he was now free to behave differently towards me. With my move away from his office, my place in the order of things had – he said – changed.  Apparently, that meant I was fair game.

He delivered his little speech with his usual gentle charm, but there was an edge to it, something I’d never seen before. It was abundantly clear to me that he wasn’t joking, or teasing. He was deadly serious. I was totally blind-sided.

Falteringly, as I remember, but very politely, I told him I did not want to go to his room. I didn’t know what to think, but I genuinely feared what my rejection of his invitation might do both in that moment, and to my nascent career prospects. Was I sure, he asked. Yes, I was absolutely certain. I suggested it was time I went home.

It was all very surreal. He wasn’t angry, upset or even embarrassed.  He pretty much turned back into ‘good boss’ again, almost as if it hadn’t happened. It seemed he was not in the least bit bothered. It was as if I was just one of many he might proposition in the same way – a sleazy numbers game.  His attitude seemed to be, some you win, and some you lose. That really made me think.

Rather than let me go home by underground, he came outside with me to see me safely into a black cab. I stood away from him, but as the taxi drew up, he pressed cash conspicuously into my hand to pay for it. He may just have been being thoughtful, but I remember thinking, the taxi driver probably thinks I’m a prostitute now. I was shaking with, I don’t know what… anger, shame? Whatever else, an acute sense of betrayal – betrayal of a professional relationship I had valued and trusted.   Damn it, I’d been to his home, I’d met his wife.

I was so upset that the taxi driver asked me if I was alright as we drove away.  He was very kind, but I couldn’t explain what had happened. I was close to tears. I felt so stupid. In that moment, my boss had undermined the sense of achievement I’d felt at gaining the career progression I’d so badly wanted. He’d made me doubt that I had got this on my own merit. He’d made me wonder if he’d nudged it along for reasons that had nothing at all to do with my professional capabilities or potential.  And he made me dread the possibility of similar situations arising in the future, at company sales and training events for example.

And then… because his sleazy proposition had seemed such a run-of-the-mill thing to him, I began to doubt my interpretation of what had happened; I actually began to think I might have imagined it, or read too much into something that was… nothing. So I carefully approached one or two of my female sales colleagues to see if anyone else recognised the position he’d put me in, or had experienced anything similar with this man. What I learned shocked me all over again. It seemed he was a prolific offender. Not only that, but these professional ladies all assumed I’d known all along and, by implication, tacitly turned a blind-eye to his behaviour. After all, I’d been booking his hotel rooms for long enough, hadn’t I? I don’t know whether I was more embarrassed by my naivety, or by the realisation that these colleagues of mine had all assumed I was ‘in’ on his behaviour.

My career didn’t suffer as a result of my rejection of this man’s advances, and the situation didn’t arise again. On the contrary, it seemed to me that his some you win, some you lose attitude served to make this a totally insignificant event to him. I avoided him where possible but I barely saw him thereafter anyway, so far ‘up the tree’ was he from me. I don’t know either which of my female colleagues ever felt the pressure to comply with similar invitations.

There’s a lot being said in the context of the whole Harvey Weinstein business about women speaking up, or not. It’s easy to be a judge of this in hindsight. It’s not so easy though, when the object of any allegation holds a position of seniority, power or influence. It seems to me that women with far greater assertiveness and confidence than I possessed at the time, had chosen to stay silent. One simply didn’t make a thing of that sort of situation. Who was I to stand out, and where could it go, except somewhere damaging? I can make no apology for my twenty-something reticence – I never even contemplated making any kind of official complaint. With a great deal more mileage on the life-clock, I like to think I’d respond differently today. But who really knows, until it happens?

Advertisements

Author: Jools

Abundant, Bold, Confident, Determined, Empathetic, Forthright, Grumpy, Healthier, Individual, Just me, Kind, Loving, Mellifluous, Natural, Optimistic, imPatient, Quirky, Real-world, Single-minded, unTreatable, Unwound, Verbal, Wilful, eXtraordinary, Young and old, Zero-tolerance.

20 thoughts on “#MeToo”

  1. Oh Jools, it was a culture of silence then and how could you have known? I am sure we all have similiar stories (I certainly do) and these kind of men adopt the ‘spray and pray’ technique. Innocence is held up for question by men like this and the responsibility is placed on us. We are made to feel that it’s normal and we are the ones out of step. When I was propositioned all I could see in my mind’s eye was the chap’s wife, who had danced with myself and the girls at the Christmas do. He did damage to my reputation when I turned him down and that still stings. Of course, many moons later we would handle it differently. I admire your courage for sharing this story. Hugs Xx

    1. Sadly it’s no surprise that there are so many similar stories out there – and so many much, much worse too. I’d like to think that times have changed. I think more women are more likely to be more assertive – but there is still some way to go. Thanks so much for your comment, Jane.

  2. I dread to think how many such incidents have happened down the years; even worse is how many more before there is some sort of clear understanding, on the powerless’ part, how they – he or she – can complain and stop this happening.

  3. Yet again, another wonderful piece of you has been revealed, you wonderful, strong lady. I love reading your work and learning about your life experiences. Each little bit recounted, explaining to me how you have grown and become the wonderful person you are today. x

    1. That’s so lovely of you to say. I tend to think I’ve stumbled through life grabbing a bit of insight here, a touch of self-knowledge there… oh, but where am I! What am I doing?… Why am I here??! I’m supposed to be… what?! Whoever we are, life is an enormous accident, a conspiracy of chaos…! 😏😊😏

  4. Good on you for putting this experience out there Jools. It’s a worthwhile thing to do and it will hopefully give others the strength and clarity to push back and speak out in instances like this.

    Big hug x

      1. There’s another dimension to this which (not willing to detract from this being something women face and not men) is that as a guy it’s hard not to feel that the more stories come out like this the more the world’s default opinion of men turns to one that they’re deviant predators or paedophiles.

        It’s something that I’m continually aware of – particularly as a single guy. Years ago I was a care worker and I realised how as a man you’re often automatically under suspicion (in terms of not letting yourself be in any lone female support situations) whereas female colleagues fly completely under the radar.

        It’s a sad fact however that most predators are men – and it’s this that leaves me feeling lower and lower each time a Saville, Harris, Weinstein or other high profile case comes to light.

        I sometimes wonder what man in his right mind these days would become a primary school teacher, a counsellor or volunteer with children?

        Sometimes I hate the way the world makes us so cynical. I know these things have to be put out there to make solid progress in women’s rights etc – but every time it makes me wonder if when I’m out walking in the park alone whether someone looks at me as a threat or just a guy enjoying a stroll. I hope it’s the latter…

        Here’s hoping one day for a world where all of this behaviour goes away. I’m not holding my breath though…

        1. You make a very good point. And it’s fair to say that many women have encountered the ‘predatory man’ in one form or another. I certainly have, more than once. The experience about which I blogged was the least damaging of several experiences, but the most relevant in terms of the Harvey Weinstein thing. However… there must be balance. A minority of men are predators. A minority of men who reach positions of power and influence abuse this privilege when it comes to women. A minority of men take advantage of their physical strength, ability to intimidate and overpower. I know many lovely and good men who, like you, are horrified by the behaviour of the predatory few. But for their own protection and sanity, many women – especially those with some experience of the predator in one of his forms – will be inclined to be overly cautious with *all* men. Once bitten, twice shy, and all that. Sat but true.

  5. As always, a very impressive piece of writing, even when describing something so personal and awful. So sorry that you had to go through such a horrible situation, it is so unfair, as this type of behaviour has so many potentially negative effects and can change your perception of the world in an instant. Hopefully, the one positive outcome from the horrific accounts we are now hearing about is that cultural change will occur. I like to think that things have improved over the years and now shining a light on previous grim situations can but help re-enforce appropriate behaviour. I do think that ‘balance’ is a good term to use, as I do believe that fundamentally most people are decent and only a small minority of folks behave in such an appalling way. Unfortunately, the behaviour of a minority and the media can give the impression that this is the norm. I still believe that most people have good intentions, until proven otherwise. Take care. Love, light and peace. Brian

    1. I think we’re on the cusp of a very dramatic change. Hopefully it won’t impact the behaviour of the vast majority of decent men, many of whom might be wondering just now if their own behaviour could ever have been considered ‘questionable’. To which the answer, by the way, is… if you’re a good and decent man, you instinctively know what constitutes appropriate behaviour, where the boundaries are, and how to interact without breaching those boundaries, causing offence, or worse, creating fear and a sense of violation. Good men have perfectly normal, friendly, genuine and non-threatening interactions all the time. How could the world turn without these? So I hope this current climate doesn’t change any of that. Good points are being made in the debate though, which should result in some degree of empowerment for those women (and men) who suffer at the hands of those who use their positions of power or influence to harass – or worse.

      1. Totally agree Julie. Hoping the current revelations will change the behaviour and attitudes of some that still appear to be living in a past that I hoped we were evolved from. My nephew and a number of his younger friends do cheer my heart, as their approach to friendship of all types seems to be pretty mature in general.

        All the best, Brian

        1. I think the young hold the key to this. It is the ‘dinosaur’ behaviour of older men which has featured so prominently. Let’s hope that as the young acquire positions of power and influence as they develop in their careers, they don’t forget the importance of acceptable behaviour towards their colleagues, both male and female.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s