Most of you may not remember a time when people displayed their porn instead of watching it on the Internet. My first full-time job was at a machine shop. Most of the employees’ red Craftsman toolboxes had at least one naked woman taped to it. One morning, after the gut truck left (that’s what we used to call today’s “Catering Trucks”), my boss gestured me over with his finger. I marched past half a dozen March pinups and stood in front of him with my donut. He leaned into my ear, his chin brushing my shoulder and confided, “I just wanted to see if I could make you c** with my finger.” I laughed and took it in the harmless, dirty-old-man spirit in which it was intended. The look on my face must have betrayed my laughter though because he never said anything like that to me again.
I wasn’t working in a monastery and didn’t expect the environment to change overnight. I tried to do my part to change it over time. Sometimes fighting fire with fire. One payday, when the guys had to come into my office to get their checks, I put up Play Girl pictures all around my office. Only one person said, “What’s this sh@t?” And only one guy took down his posters after that, but I think my message was heard.
I’m not saying the way to combat sexual harassment is to fight fire with fire or to grin and bear it. But I (and many of you will disagree) did not consider this harassment. There was no quid pro quo. I guess the work environment could have become hostile or better, had I treated the situation differently, but I just accepted it as part of working with the boys.
The one time I did feel harassed at work was not by a person but a workplace rule. In 1990, I worked in one of the most liberal, come-as-you-are places in the world, Santa Cruz, California. And I had to go through rigorous interviews to get my 30-hour-a-week bank teller job with no benefits. Imagine my surprise when I showed up for the first day of work and was sent home… because I had slacks on! That’s right, Pacific Western Bank required women to wear skirts or dresses only.
My $5.50-an-hour job didn’t give me many shopping options. Shopping was a must since the only dress I owned was my wedding dress. I was never more grateful for the neighborhood Goodwill that outfitted me with enough skirts to keep my job.
The dress policy infuriated more than any lame line from an old pervert because I didn’t see it coming. At least in a shop full of men and pin up girls, I knew what to expect. I have performed an amalgam of jobs over the years. And whether it’s the angry audited businessperson who conveniently stores her file cabinets of invoices in the men’s bathroom or the school official who won’t grant an interview; it’s always the flip-flop of expectation that is the hardest to deal with.
Guest writer Tracey Scharmann is a California transplant, avoiding triple-digit temperatures while currently living in Oregon. No matter where she’s hiding out, she can always be found on Twitter: @TraceyScharmann.