I’ll always remember the first time I encountered sexual harassment in the workplace. I was 17, new to a small company where I was the only female employee. I was encouraged by my boss to be “one of the boys” and join in with the office banter which seemed to revolve around critiquing the tits of the models in lads magazines. I shared an office with Peter, who was in his late 30’s and proudly displayed pictures of his wife and children next to his desk. Peter became really interested in finding out about my life and would quiz me on my breaks. Did I have a boyfriend? Had I had a lot of previous boyfriends? Where did I like to go out? Had I ever had plastic surgery? I felt uncomfortable with his questions, especially when I found out he was relaying my answers to the rest of the team when I wasn’t around.
Peter kept finding ways to come over to my desk, usually under the pretence of borrowing some stationery. He liked to put his hands on my shoulders and slyly look down my top or he’d reach past me and brush his hand against my chest. I started wearing high necks and baggy clothes to deter him. I told him I didn’t like having my personal space invaded but he didn’t listen. I was friendly, smiley and chatty with anyone who came into the office but when we had client meetings I’d often hear one of the guys say, “Watch out for her, she’s a maneater.” I’d blush with embarrassment and tell them to shut up but it just seemed to encourage them.Read More »
You might not know what the word means (it’s not about women refusing to shave under their arms) and this morning you may have joked that “every day is International Women’s Day” but whether you like it or not you are a feminist.
The foundation of feminism is equality of the sexes. You raised my brother and I as equals. You brought me up to believe I was capable of anything I put my mind to. You were more disappointed than Mum when I left school at 16 because you felt I was throwing my life away. Now you brag to your friends about how hard I work when you think I can’t hear you.
You taught me how to cook and secretly enjoyed putting on an apron to make rice crispy cakes after a hard day at work. Despite getting up at 4am every day you always sat with me after school, helped with my homework and answered endless questions with minimal teeth gritting. Although I am still waiting on a satisfactory answer to “why is the sky blue?”
When I studied the Second World War at school you watched the entire series of The World at War with me (all 22 and a half hours). You cried watching the tapes; it was the first time I had ever really seen you upset. Now I see you cry all the time – at the end of Erin Brockovich, watching Call the Midwife, Toy Story 3, The Green Mile… Of course you swore me to secrecy on the tears because it’s not the manly thing to do (sorry).
When I left home at 17 you didn’t attempt to stop me. You made it clear that I had to make my own mistakes and learn from them. At the age of 20 I stood on your doorstep with a couple of bin bags of my belongings, fleeing an abusive partner. At the time you had no idea that opening the door to me and allowing me to stay actually saved my life.
You are by no means perfect but you gave me the tools to survive in a world where women are still seen as the weaker sex. When I suffered from depression you did your very best to understand what I was going through. Since Mum died 18 months ago you have had to fill both parental roles. I don’t ever say this but you’re doing a good job.
Thanks for the stubborn streak and encouraging me not to back down in a fight.
Love from your “pudding”