Bill O’Reilly’s exit from Fox has me thinking of sexual harassment in the workplace and how it has not changed in the last forty decades. Except for money. I have to think that the almighty dollar bill has something to do with people coming forward to talk about their experiences with high-profile people and their discomfort with what they say has been said to them. Forgive me if I sound disgruntled, or jealous, because I’m not at all. I admire Wendy Walsh for not asking for money and simply telling her story. That’s what this should be all about.
This is about sexual harassment and how it makes a woman feel. It is about disempowering a woman, about taking your stature, your power in the workplace and using it against an employee. It is about using your lack of morals and grinding them against who you suppose might be vulnerable and might not fight back. That’s the key. It’s a sickness that the perpetrator cannot stop. They calculatedly pick people who they think might not turn around and tell them they’re dicks and go back to Human Resources or whomever is at the head of the office. It just takes one person to speak up. In Bill O’Reilly’s case it only took one until the cup spilled over and then the story broke. Fox News had been paying how many women to keep their stories quiet. But this type of sexual harassment has been going on forever and women have not been talking about it. I did. Back in 1977. Here’s my story.
I was fresh out of college and had acquired a temp job at Dutch Boy Paints. The same day I was hired, my boss asked me if I wanted to go full-time and not permanent. How lucky, I thought. First day in on a new job and I was being hired full-time. Little did I know of the harassment to come.
Next to my desk was another man who I’ll always remember as a gentleman. He was a few years older than I, and he came to be my protector. I have no idea why, but he took it upon himself to keep my boss away from me. He was the liason of sorts between that boss, myself and I. It was a strange situation that the boss had no idea his underling was trying to stop.
My boss was married. That didn’t stop him from inviting me out to lunch on a daily basis. I would bring in my own lunch as an excuse, but since everyone went out to lunch, I didn’t like being alone in the building. K (the protector) always went to lunch with him. They would take long lunches at fancy restaurants and clubs. K would tell me how during the lunches the boss would talk about me. He didn’t like it as much as I didn’t. I had only been married about 6 months at the time.
On occasion, when K would invite me to lunch, I would go. The boss would interject himself along, but I would pay my own way. I would be careful not to sit next to him. K would always watch him. The boss would drink heavily during his lunches too, which would antagonize him to harass me more. I always stood my ground. I threatened to tell his wife when she called. He would threaten to fire me. I would say I would go to HR with this conversation. I was 22 years old on my first job that I knew I was not going to stay in.
At times, the boss would go to a bar across the street from the plant and extend his lunch/drinking hours. He would call my line and beg me to come to the bar. Since I had to answer my phone at the office, I would have no idea it was him. I would hang up once I knew it was him on the line, drunk and his tirades. K called one time. He told me to pack my things and go home. He said the boss was that drunk and didn’t want to tell me what he was saying, but that it wasn’t good. He said for my safety I needed to get out of there Now, and before anything happened, and he could only contain him for so long. He begged me to leave. I listened carefully to what he wasn’t telling me and I knew. I picked up my things and left before anything could happen. To this day, I always thank K for being a Protector. For knowing what was wrong.
But that wasn’t the only harassment going on at Dutch Boy Paints. As I said, I was young. I didn’t dress provocatively. As a matter of fact, I wore suits most of the time. I hated dresses. It was a plant with offices and at times, I had to go down to the industrial part, so suits were the better option.
I was delivering copy to another office one day, when a particular executive passed by me. As he did, he brushed up against me, and grabbed my derriere. That’s the politest way to say it. Then he quickly walked away. I was stunned. What? I thought. This man just grabbed my body. Ok, I’m pissed. I wasn’t sure who he was, but if I ever saw this dude again, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but not smile, keep away, and certainly say something.
Sure enough, next time I see him, he manages to grab me again and disappear quickly. The executive does it again. Now I am Seething. I go to another woman in the office that I know who does payroll and ask her who he is to get a name. She tells me. So now I have his name and what position he holds. I have the dates he harassed me physically. I’m thinking what to do with this information. It’s 1977. Men could care less back then and women’s attitudes …. well, if you were a feminist back then you were considered a radical. I think I was always a feminist since the day I was born. I was not going to be a pincushion for this man’s hands.
Sure enough, the third time he sees me, he gropes me. And I turn to him, blocking his way, and I tell him, that’s sexual harassment, and I’m reporting you. He laughs. And walks away. Which drove my anger and determination more. I immediately went to the office of the General Manager of Dutch Boy Paints and made an appointment for the next day.
I had all of my dates ready when I went in to talk to him. I calmly explained to the GM when and how this executive sexually harassed me. I told him the workplace was not a place for this type of behavior. I told him that I was not going to stand for this. My body was my own. The GM leaned back in his leather chair, wrapped his arms around his head, smiled at me and said, “Do you really want to ruin this guy’s career? He’s a nice guy. He didn’t mean any harm. He was just being friendly. Besides, he has kids.” I’ll never forget those words and the condescending tone of the GM that day.
I looked at him levelly and with a very cold voice, I said. “He should be thinking about his own career before he places his hands on a woman in the workplace. He is a sick man who cannot keep his hands to himself. Either you bring him in here, you dictate the law to him and slap penalties on him or I will hire an attorney. The choice is yours.” The smile left his face quite quickly and his chair snapped back into sitting position. “You’re serious?” he said. “I am.” I responded. “I won’t wait for days, either. Today.”
The executive was suspended for 30 days from the workplace. So I was told. I did ask for proof, which I received. I also asked for a letter of apology, also received. I also knew that my boss would get wind from this story. And that it would have an immediate impact on him. I thought that I would be able to kill two birds with one stone. Basically, I did. He started ignoring me and office life settled down. I’m sure the few other women in that plant were harassed but no one had ever stood up. It just takes one.
Be That Voice. Find your inner strength and stand up for yourself. No means no. Never allow yourself to be a victim of someone else. The law for sexual harassment has been in place since 1964. Use it. Do not allow predators to circumvent the law and use you for their pleasure.
If you or anyone you know is a victim of sexual harassment, you may find this document helpful: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-sex.cfm.
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