Damian Davidson was sexually harassed by women at work, and he was too ashamed to admit how bad it made him feel. He never even told anyone why he quit that job.
I want to start by saying that I think men and women experience sexual harassment in different ways. And I will touch on that briefly further down. But my intent isn’t to provide definitions, just to relate my personal experience and how I interpreted and dealt with it.
I’ve experienced first-hand, perpetrated against me, sexual harassment in the workplace. It was emotionally and mentally traumatic at the time. But I’m over it. I don’t carry any scars from that experience, and if I do think back on it, it’s only to wonder if those women involved ever learned to treat their co-workers a little more respectfully. Yes. I was harassed by female co-workers. And a lot of people who read this might first think that I’m whining about nothing at all here. Which is sort of why I’ve written this. Men can be sexually harassed by women, and it can be harrowing for them.
I got a job, part time, at a clothiers. I got settled in pretty quickly with the other staff in my department; my floor manager, a supervisor and two other sales assistants. They all seemed friendly enough, and the work wasn’t taxing. At first, they would make jokes about finally having a man on the floor to take care of the grunt-work, and I would laugh along, giving it no real thought.
I was required to wear clothes sold by the company while on shift, to advertise the product. Pretty standard practice. Not necessarily a style I myself would choose to wear, but I was getting paid, so no big deal. I’d been there about a month before things started to get a bit dubious.
One morning while I was restocking before opening, I overheard an exchange between the floor manager and one of the sales staff. The particulars escape me now, but they were talking about how they appreciated the view of my arse when I stretched up to restock the higher rails. It made me a little uncomfortable, a bit embarrassed, but I ignored it and finished the task.
And yet that brief exchange made me suddenly a little more aware of the nature of the comments that passed between my colleagues. I was shocked when I realized they almost always revolved around the fit of my trousers, or how my shirt stretched across my shoulders; I became increasingly uncomfortable under their appraising gaze. And if they realized that I’d heard them? They laughed. Amused by my blushes and my discomfort.
I felt powerless to respond. What could I say?
Stop talking about how attractive you think my bum is.
Oh yes, not a bit absurd, that. I was too embarrassed to mention it to anybody. I could imagine the mocking laughter of my friends if I told them a bunch of women were lusting after me.
Gosh, didn’t I have such a hard life?
And this is part of the difference for men and women. A lot of men won’t have the emotional support network that women might. Or rather, it’s there, but neither the victim nor his friends will know how to access it. My female friends in this situation will complain about the comments to people they trust. They’ll receive a sympathetic ear. And they’ll know that they will, they’ll expect it. But most guys I know are going to bottle this up for fear of ridicule. I, myself, have sat on this for years.
It made me angry. I hadn’t done anything to deserve this, I didn’t want it. I started to resent my co-workers, to withdraw.
I would dread starting a shift, keep my head down through it, and then beat a hasty retreat home at the end of the day. My customer service suffered; I was constantly uptight, angry, annoyed and ashamed all at once. Worse, I felt completely powerless.
I was miserable working there, and my emotional confusion left me feeling exhausted. What could I do, realistically? I couldn’t see a way to resolve the situation. So I quit. Five months. Five. Miserable. Months.
And even when I quit, I couldn’t give the real reason. I told the store manager I just didn’t feel that I was a good fit for the job. Sorry, thanks for the opportunity, and I’ll be off now. Which is, again, absurd.
I’ve almost never told anybody about why I didn’t keep that job. Too embarrassed. Too worried that I would be ridiculed, or shouted down for complaining about something trivial. And this is because although I was being objectified, and subjected to sexual harassment…it would never have gone past that.
I never had to acknowledge that given the right circumstances, one of those women might try to sexually assault me. It wasn’t a remote possibility; I was twice the size of any of them. Hell, I can manhandle people twice MY size.
(No exaggeration; it’s my party trick. I’ll pick up bouncers and dance them around the bar for free shots.)
But those four women still made my life torturous, sucked it free of joy or pleasure.
Here are some generalizations about sexual harassment based on my own personal experience, and the bonds I observe amongst my friends:
I think the embarrassment factor is a large part of what stops men talking about this.
I think, too, that society conditions us to believe that this is something that only really happens to women.
I think the developmentally stunted construct we term “masculinity” prevents men from being able to believe they can speak out about this.
However, I also think it isn’t, as I already stated, quite as serious a problem for men in the sense that it doesn’t always automatically carry the potential for it to escalate to an assault on their person. I would expect very few men experiencing sexual harassment to list “fear of physical assault” among their woes. Might be wrong. Like I said, these are generalizations. I’m sure there are exceptions.
It’s an important conversation to have, this. Because nobody should have to put up with being made miserable, especially when it can lead to harmful habits in response.
But equally, it’s important not to focus only upon men’s experiences. Because I’ve noticed that tends to happen; we start to take a problem seriously when men experience it, as though it’s less of a concern for a woman to face this. Bad society, no! Wrong.
And the last thing I want is my experience being used to undermine valid complaints about the inequalities between men and women.
This is simply my story. I experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. It made me miserable, and drove me out of work, because I bottled it all up. I didn’t deal with it, I avoided it. I think it’s a serious problem that requires discussion because most men will feel unable to speak up about it due to lacking the necessary emotional support.
We need to (again, in my opinion) reconstruct the principle of masculinity and leave out that isolating stoicism. Because if we didn’t silence ourselves so often maybe we’d be having those larger conversations that we need.