At my last job, I was sitting in orientation and the lady next to me mentioned she had quit her last job because of sexual harassment. Not towards her, but towards girls around her. It had made her uncomfortable, and she had told the supervisor, but he wouldn’t do anything because the actual girl the harassment was targeted towards refused to complain or come forward. I’ve seen this too often at different jobs I’ve worked at. Girls will come up to me and complain about sexual harassment, whether it’s inappropriate language, or texts, or calls. First off, I ask how the offender ended up with their number. Then I ask if they have told the person to stop. These women seem to think that they shouldn’t have to say anything, the man knows what he is doing is wrong, and therefore he is harassing by continuing. Whether he does or not is something she won’t know until she tells him to stop.
I’m not sure what it is that makes us women so reluctant at times to tell an attacker off. Even I have been in the awkward position of wondering if the harassment is worth pissing off a coworker or boss and delayed reporting it. And I think many of us wonder if reporting it would do more harm than good anyway. In my experience, reporting it means nothing unless you have told the harasser to stop what they are doing because it offends you.
I’ve noticed that I rarely get harassed now at work. The creepers pass right over me for other girls, and I’ve realized a pattern in who they select for the most inappropriate behavior. I decided to analyze how my behavior has changed to make me a more undesirable target than I used to be.
It’s all body language. Sexual harassers seem to always do little tests before escalating behaviors. They will rub your shoulder, ask for your number, and do other little things that while minor, seem a bit inappropriate. They might make a dirty or inapropriate comment, they might curse, but they will always be looking at you to see how you react. Watch your feelings, if you feel a bit uncomfortable, make sure you react honestly. If you are nervous and smile back, or laugh, or turn away shyly, it has sent them the message that you are okay with what they do, or if you aren’t, aren’t going to do anything about it. Then by the time you are ready to do something about it, it has escalated to a point where you hate your job and feel like he has all the power because if you report him he will say it is your fault too because you didn’t say anything.
It’s simpler than you would think to make yourself an undesirable target. I just do what comes naturally instead of hiding it behind politeness. If a man rubs my shoulder, I shrug away and look at him like “what are you doing?” Sometimes I say “what are you doing?”. If a man (or woman) says something offensive at work I say “That was offensive. Ew.” Etc. People innately don’t like these reactions from other people, and it will often stop them in their tracks.
Now there are other cases, cases that won’t stop, cases that are more rare and pernicious. But it’s best to figure out which these are early on, for your own safety. If he’s the slightly awkward and creepy coworker who thinks you’re cute, he’ll back away when stood up to. If not, you want to know early on so you can get to a supervisor.
It’s a lot like taking precautions while walking at night. Make yourself the least safe bet to attack. If you show in the workplace that you don’t like inappropriate behavior and call it out quickly, the really dangerous ones should be less likely to see you as an easy target. This has worked for me. At first it was hard to feel confident calling others out on their flaws, but you don’t know who is harassing on purpose or on accident otherwise.
You have the right to be comfortable at work, regardless of gender of victim or harasser. You have the right to tell other people when they make you uncomfortable, and doing so will keep you much safer, even if it’s scary at first. I feel that as a woman there is an innate need to please, to not cause trouble. But avoiding conflict doesn’t alleviate trouble, it leads to it.
Just a few thoughts.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed on damsel in defense are just my personal opinions and not professional or legal advice.