As posed in my last #MeToo post, interpersonal relationships at work are challenging–how’s that for corporate jargon? They’re complicated because, no matter which way you look at it, a corporation is a melting pot of hundreds nay thousands of people from different backgrounds, generations, cultures, educational levels, core values, beliefs, etc. You could even have more of those things in common than not with a colleague and still experience miscommunication.
My experiences of misogyny and harassment, however, are not miscommunications. Sexual jokes should not be made in a work setting. Work is not a fraternity house or a bar. And yet, so often they were made.
When I was working a job I hated but was trying to improve my skills to get a different job I thought might be more suitable, I was taken under the wing by someone who’d recently started in the company. He expressed he wanted to be my mentor if inside sales was the direction I wanted to go in. I wasn’t sure why he wanted to help me, but I was grateful. He was quirky, but married with a couple children so I anticipated nothing inappropriate from him. That is to say that I don’t usually anticipate inappropriate or mean things from people. Why shouldn’t I give people the benefit of the doubt? Why should I expect the worst from others?
We met up to 5 times a month for a couple months. The meetings were often alone in his office. During those alone times, he didn’t say or do much of anything that was inappropriate, actually. When he had me start to work on a project with his team of 2 other women, however, his tone and subject would change. During those meetings with his team, he would make jokes of a sexual nature. That often made me feel uncomfortable, but I tolerated it because I didn’t want to be perceived as a whistleblower.
When news of my dating someone he knew had spread to his team, our mentoring meetings discontinued. He kept pushing them out, and when the date would arrive he would ask to reschedule. When I left the company (I’d gotten an actual job in inside sales so I wouldn’t have to do a day job in addition to a side project), I wrote him a polite thank you note expressing gratitude about working on a project with his team. I also acknowledged that without that experience, I might not have gained the skills to move on. I neither saw him before I left, nor did I hear from him regarding the note which I’d slipped under his closed office door.
About a year after I’d left, I heard he and his wife were divorcing. In addition, he started dating a new hire to his team shortly thereafter.
Could it have been that he was singling me out to groom me for someone he could date? The timing of his vague and abrupt end to mentoring me and then hearing about the dissolution of his marriage is quite coincidental. The fact that I possibly almost fell into his trap is quite disturbing to me.
I feel like I could’ve been a potential prey to a predator. This is such a strange revelation, but I’ve got a feeling it’s quite common. Is this objectification? Partly, perhaps. His team is primarily made up of a gaggle of women (4 to 1 now). One of which is a long-time friend of my family, but her mother works there and is friends with his boss so I feel that must keep his preying in check.
It’s difficult not to take the self-blaming mindset when certain instances appear to repeat themselves. But I know that’s not the right way to look at it. Every time I revisit these memories, the possibility comes up. And every time, my rational mind is right there to appease that possibility and say rightly, “No, no–rest easy. You’re not at fault. You didn’t earn this.” Nobody earns this.
May good things come to you always.