Exposing sexual harassment in the workplace – just do it

protest sexual harrassment in the workplace

‘My friend Annette used to work for you. She left because you didn’t pay her enough’. Clive Simpleton was taken aback when my friend Mary sprung that comment on him at the annual Christmas party. He was standing in the midst of a bunch of blokey blokes who were having a laugh and swilling beer. Clive wasn’t up for an argument at that time, so he just laughed and returned to his beer. The rest of the blokes followed Clive’s lead even though they all heard what Mary had said.  That was the kind of response Mary had expected. But she said it anyway because she was not one to hold back on any injustices especially towards her friends. And she didn’t select her audience either. Or maybe she did that day.

That comment was a life changer

Many years ago, Mary had worked as a receptionist for the plumbing industry. In her position, she met many plumbers including Clive Simpleton who was the owner of a retail plumbing business. Mary really liked her job and the social functions that went with it. There were lots of BBQs followed by more BBQs that Mary attended whenever she could. She especially enjoyed the huge annual Christmas party, an event for all plumbing industry workers and their families. However, after that comment Mary became the victim of harassment by some of the men in the industry. She never attended another Christmas party. In fact, the way she was treated caused her so much angst that she could no longer do her job. So, she left.  

A bunch of imbeciles

Unfortunately, Clive Simpleton happened to be my boss for a very short time. I was taking a year’s leave without pay from the Education Department because I wanted to do something different. And different it was. I ended up working in a plumbing showroom owned by Clive Simpleton. Being the only female in the establishment, it wasn’t long before I was fodder for most of the men who worked there. They started off by talking about me in low voices and smirking when I walked past. This was followed by the lewd texts signed Shane Warne. Not an original way to sexually harass someone but they thought it was a great joke. I thought they were a bunch of imbeciles.

Plumbing fixtures: did that get them going?

That leads me back to poor Clive Simpleton.  He often went out for the afternoon because he could. He was the boss after all. That’s when the imbeciles used to stand at a long counter huddled around their computer monitors transfixed to porn and making intelligent comments such as Check out this site; look at the size of those babies; I like ‘em big. And unbelievably much ruder stuff than that. Behind where they stood were shelves of plumbing fixtures such as your pipes, adapters with male and female ends, ballcocks, a variety of nipples, nuts, pipes, couplings …. Maybe that’s what got them going.  Occasionally a customer would come into the showroom and want some plumbing fixtures. Given the men were all hard at work on their monitors, the expectation was that I’d assist the customer. It was interesting to watch the men scurry about hiding their porn sites as I headed towards the fixtures.

The ‘too long in the toilet’ incident

Clive Simpleton was one of those ‘stand over bully boss’ types who’d glare at you and raise his voice hoping you’d cry. I never gave him that pleasure. I remember the ‘too long in the toilet’ incident’ that went like this. I’d been to the hairdresser for a colour and trim before work. I arrived at work at 8.30 am half an hour before I was due to start. I was ‘under’paid from 9 am to 4 pm that day.  I was unhappy with my hair so after dropping my bag at my desk I headed into the women’s toilet to restyle my do.  I was in there for no longer than five minutes. When I came out the boss was waiting outside the toilet door glaring at me and tapping at his watch. According to Clive, I’d been in there for half an hour. He began a barrage of threatening comments beginning with ‘the moment you walk into the showroom, you sit down at your desk and start working’. It got to the point where I couldn’t take any more intimidation and harassment in that workplace so just like my friend Mary, I left.

This stuff happens everywhere

This story was instigated by the continuing misogynistic behaviour in the Australian Parliament.  The public is just becoming aware of the extent of this toxic culture which has exposed allegations of rape and sexual harassment of the worst kind. But women have been silenced until now for fear of losing their jobs or intensifying the harassment levelled against them. Recently a young Liberal staffer, Brittany Higgins publicly alleged that she was raped in an office in Parliament House. This caused an uproar worsened by the fact that the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison played dumb and maintained he had not been made aware of the alleged rape. Brittany’s public declaration effectively gave women a voice to talk about their experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s also made me think about the harassment I’ve endured in the workplace over the years. Not just by men but women as well. The ‘plumbing showroom’ incident was just one of those such incidents.

It’s OK to drea

If my two little grandsons ever read this when they are old enough, I hope they are absolutely shocked to discover that some men (and women) actually behaved like this in the past. My dream is that the world will be a different place for them as adults. A place where all people respect each other with equal rights for all. If the women of Australia continue to use their voices to initiate action against this bad behaviour then my dream may turn to reality. And it’s still OK to dream.

Read Brittany Higgins’ story in her speech.

If you have a story you’d like to share I’d love to hear from you.

Image: theeastlondonphotographer.com

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