It was back in the early 1980’s. I was young, single and stupid. I’d gotten the job at a local software services company in 1978. I was 19. It was my first full-time job.
When I first started there, I was shy. Extremely shy. Normal social interactions were hard for me. I spoke softly, and I had difficulty making eye contact. I’d never really been out in public around people before.
Yes, I’d gone to public school. I’d babysat for the next door neighbor. I’d had a co-op job while in high school at my former elementary school. I’d worked a ten week temp job at a bank filling in for someone out sick. I didn’t have a lot of real world, work experience.
I was easily half everyone else’s age. I remember thinking at 19 that they were so “old”. It’s funny now. The big boss had just turned 40. The others were all around the same age. They were married. They’d been around. I hadn’t.
They seemed to delight in saying or doing things that would embarrass me. I blushed easily. I’ve always been told I wear my heart on my sleeve so I know most things I feel or think flash across my face.
There are two distinct incidents or experiences I can recall now that make me uncomfortable just reliving them. The first one I will describe didn’t involve a supervisor nor did it involve a man. It involved female coworkers with more experience on the job and in the bedroom. Why they felt anything they said or did was appropriate I have no idea. As I said, it was almost forty years ago. It was a different time. There were no sexual harassment laws.
Two older women I worked with enjoyed discussing sexual activities and comparing “notes” at work. One was divorced and dated questionable characters. She liked sex. She had her tubes tied so she could have more sex. She told us all about it. The other one was married but her husband was in the Army Reserves and was often away from home for long periods of time. She was always saying he was on his way home and she was going to [blank] his brains out. I always suspected she was having a fling with one of the male bosses. She was always in his office for hours at a time with the door locked.
Anyway the incident that makes my skin crawl still to this day involved me and a popsicle I was innocently eating. These two alleycats decided to critique my “performance” out loud. Graphically. I had never even been kissed and here they were telling me how great I’d be at “giving head”. I knew what they were talking about, of course, but I was still mortified. I had done nothing to invite such disgusting comments. They thought my embarrassment was hysterical.
The other incident was definitely sexual harassment. A new manager was hired. He was an older man (likely dead now). He was in his 50’s, he resembled Paul Newman in that he had startling light blue eyes. He had been a Major in the Marines. He was very military in his bearing and very no nonsense. He was married. I met his wife many times. She was very sweet. Together they had raised six or seven sons. They had many grandsons, too.
He could be very nice. He certainly had charm. He could also be a jerk. He was fond of barking out, “Bottom line!” when he wanted someone to stop rambling and get to the point. I don’t remember when the sexual innuendoes started. Maybe they were always there.
He began to ask most of the younger, single women in the office (me included) if we wanted to have a son. He could just about guarantee it. He liked to brag about his ability to produce boys. He’d grin and flash those blue eyes. He was trying to be funny. If someone had taken him up on his offer, I’m not sure what he would’ve done. Maybe he would’ve shut the door and followed through. I don’t know. He liked to make us all blush and squirm.
One night we all went out to dinner as a group after work. It was to celebrate some financial milestone the office had achieved. We went to some fancy-shmancy restaurant. A place I’d never been. It was beyond my means and experience. I remember they all ordered lobster. I didn’t. They insisted I try it. I didn’t care for it. They also ordered drinks. Lots and lots and lots of drinks. I didn’t. I have never been a drinker. I’m glad today that I wasn’t fuzzy-headed.
I used to dress up for work. I wore business suits, fancy blouses, jewelry, and high heels. I was single and living at home so I spent my money on fancy clothes. The evening in question I had on a skirt and matching suit jacket and a gauzy blouse. It was the style at the time. I had on a bra and camisole underneath. I wasn’t exposed in any way.
The Major had several drinks along with the others, and I’m not sure how it began, but he was suddenly insisting he wanted to “touch” my “boobies”. It escalated from there. The jackass actually got up and chased me around the table several times. My inebriated coworkers thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen. Luckily he was drunk enough that he never caught me or touched me in any way. I certainly had no one in my corner that night. If I’d been drinking, too, or if he’d been less wasted, he probably have groped me if he’d caught me. He eventually tired of the game and sat back down. I left as soon as possible after that. Nothing was said the next day. No apologies. Nothing. He likely didn’t remember any of it.
As years went by, and all the sexual harassment policies began to filter into the working environment, I was glad. I’m not sure even if they had existed forty years ago if I would have been comfortable reporting those who had harassed me. Perhaps not. I was so shy. I would’ve been afraid of the repercussions. Maybe if they had existed douchebags like the Major would’ve thought twice about things they said and things they did. Maybe the possibility of being reported and reprimanded would’ve deterred jerks like him. Maybe not.