Sexual Harassment: It's Not Right, Even If It’s Slight
BY: T. DEMURE
Reading time: 5 minutes
We all have been hearing about the monumental #MeToo movement and the bold, silence breakers who are speaking out against sexual misconduct. I cringe when I hear the disturbing details and the number of victims impacted. Many of the assaults, or cases of harassment, occurred in the entertainment industry, which sent the media and public spiraling. Many people were shocked when certain celebrities were accused of condoning or committing these heinous acts against individuals. I wonder if people would be shocked to know that sexual misconduct takes place more frequently than they realize. Many of these cases, we never hear about due to fear, lack of popularity, or insecurity about the severity of their situation; some may think it was not “serious” enough to speak about.
Personally, I didn’t want to share my experiences with workplace sexual harassment because I felt that they were too subtle, or slight, in nature for anyone to care. I wasn’t raped, touched inappropriately, or required to perform any obscene acts to keep my job, as other women experienced. However, there were uncomfortable comments, stares and advances made that pierced my chest and made me dread my work environment. Despite the uneasy instances, I didn’t feel that it was important enough to speak on or share. Also, I felt that maybe I was blowing things out of proportion due to pasts experiences and personal insecurities.
Growing up I have always been a busty girl that was insecure about her blooming bosoms. At the age of 9, I was wearing underwire bras because I completely outgrew training bras, even though all the other girls were just starting to wear training bras at that age. Therefore, my breasts started demanding the unwanted and unwarranted attention that I loathed, since the 4th grade. To remedy this, I desperately tried to adopt different techniques to deter any attention targeted towards my body. In middle school, I wore sports bras over my real bras, and an extra t-shirt under my uniform shirts, in effort to mask the things I deemed too massive to embrace. Sadly, my acts of desperation did not live up to my expectations and I was still teased for doing a horrible job of hiding the fleshy friends on my chest.
As I grew older, my breasts grew as well, right along with my insecurities and all the negative attention. I transcended through high school and college still battling the blossoming boobies.
These were questions I was often asked that made me feel even more embarrassed and uncomfortable than I already was. Not only was it hard to find cute tank tops for the summer, cute bathing suits for spring break, or strapless bras that were actually supportive; it was hard to walk around with a burdened back from my heavy breasts and the constant uncomfortable comments. Ultimately, I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts in Human Communication, a 36G bra size, and a sense of sensitivity regarding my breasts.
Post-graduation, I was a 22-year-old millennial, excited to embark on a new career. I thought it was my dream to work my way up the corporate ladder, and eventually become the CEO of a company. I was ready to enter the “real workforce” where I thought adults would be more mature, or at least more respectful than the petty people I left behind when I graduated. I wanted to be the black, baddie, boss that destroyed the glass ceiling and inspired other women to do the same. So I obtained an entry-level position at a Fortune 500 company to start my post-graduate career. Almost every day I would receive compliments from men and women about how pretty I was, how nice I dressed, or how polite I was. The comments were definitely nicer than the ridiculous comments I was used to. It was nice to hear these positive affirmations from the people I worked with, but this was only the beginning.
We had to endure about 10 weeks of training to ensure that we learned the functions of our new roles. I was in the training class with about 30 other strangers. After a few weeks of training and hundreds of icebreakers, people became comfortable with one another and started revealing their expressive personalities. Stares became longer and words became stronger as time progressed. One day during training, the innocent compliments turned into concerning comments.
A female coworker blurted this out, drawing attention to my breasts and making me cringe with embarrassment. I smiled faintly and didn’t allow myself to get upset. However, once the ice was broken regarding the sensitive subjects on my chest, more comments started coming my way. Shortly thereafter, my breasts became the topic of conversation during a small group project in our training class. The same coworker took it upon herself to acknowledge my breasts more explicitly and publicly than the first time.
She was talking to other coworkers about me, male and female, as if I wasn’t even in the room. Even though she was a woman, it still affected me because she was drawing other’s attention to a part of me that I never really came to terms with. Now all eyes were on me, perusing my body to identify the big breasts she raves about. Again, I just passively dismissed the comments, continued doing my work, and plotted on a subtle way to fix this issue. I decided to cover my body with loose cardigans & sweaters in effort to hide once again; just like I did in middle school. Of course, the method still did not work and I began blaming myself for allowing this to affect me.
Ultimately, I dismissed her comments and decided to focus on my aspirations with the company. I did not want her displeasing comments and unnecessary attention to delay my goals of advancement. So I continued to work hard and give the job my all, despite the distracting factors around me. Due to my performance, I was selected to work on a special project for the company that entailed fixing a glitch in our system that affected many clients across the nation. Another coworker and I were separated from everyone else in the office to solely focus on the project and minimize any distractions. In our isolated area, it was just me, my fellow coworker and a few random visitors popping in as we worked diligently to solve the company issue.
In the midst of trying to perform my best, there was a coworker, twice my age, that constantly expressed interest in me. He was always making some remark or looking my way, but I ignored him because I was not interested in him. Every time we ran into each other, he would ask me out on a date or mention coming to my home.
His constant advances became overwhelming and I would change my direction or hide in effort to avoid speaking to him. I remember holding my bladder, on the verge of busting, because he was standing near the restroom. I tried everything in my power to avoid seeing him or hearing his voice.
One day, when my coworker left our isolated area to talk to her supervisor, he finally caught me and destroyed my solitude.
“Now that I finally got you alone, I want to talk to you.”
It was creepy, as if he was watching me closely all day, to pounce on me when I was left alone. I didn’t know that he knew where I was sitting for the duration of the project.
He said this to me, making me even more disgusted with him than I already was. He began trying to sell himself to me by saying he could get me a book deal or help me with my writing career if he and I got closer. I politely told him I’m not interested, so he kept it moving. Following my rejection, I noticed that he would give me dirty looks and stopped speaking to me, as if he was upset that I declined to dine on his honeycomb. So again I tried to avoid him at all costs because I did not want any drama within the office. I successfully avoided him for a couple of weeks until my birthday rolled around and all the office attention was on me again.
He walked over to my desk and asked me that question. The question seems innocent to those who do not know him. The eye wink, the lick of his lips, and the smirk on his face, said way more than the actual words that came out of his mouth. I declined his advances again with a sense of sternness in my voice this time. He laughed and walked away. Even though it was weird that this man was watching me, waiting for me to be alone, and constantly making me uncomfortable; I didn’t think it was a big deal. Even though my female coworker talking about my breasts made me uncomfortable, I convinced myself that I was just being too sensitive. I ultimately left the company, because I realized that I did not want to work in this field for the rest of my life. However, I am grateful for this experience because I learned valuable lessons about myself, the corporate world, and sexual harassment. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a very specific definition of sexual harassment.
"Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment."
I convinced myself that this was not sexual harassment since no sexual favors were requested, no physical contact occurred, and no limitations were placed on my employment status. Even writing this story, I continued to question the severity or the significance of this experience.
However, I was exposed to the subtle, unwelcome sexual advances, verbal conduct of sexual nature, and an offensive work environment due to these acts. So I had to convince myself that this is a story worth sharing because I know that other individuals are experiencing this type of behavior too. I take responsibility for not speaking out against the things that were making me uncomfortable. I should have explicitly expressed my disagreement with the comments but I chose to be passive about it. Now I know that I can find strength in vocalizing my issues and inspiring others to do the same. I have grown to learn that just because things seem subtle or “slight,” it doesn’t make the situation right or acceptable. No matter how small or insignificant the acts seem to others, they made me uncomfortable and I should not be ashamed of that.
Images credited to UK Black Tech
Tina Demure, known as T. Demure, is a 23-year old woman of God that found her passion in the form of a pen and a pad. With every heartbreak, breakdown, or breakthrough, she has turned to writing to document each moment and boldly express how she felt. Growing up, she was told that she would be a surgeon but she was confused as to what that meant. She never had any interest in the medical field, science, or performing surgery. But now she knows that God meant that her hands would be used to write stories, testimonies, and articles that would heal her own heart, and touch the hearts of others. Therefore, she encourages the hurt and hindered to embark on a journey of healing, using her content as motivation to take the first step.
She turned her passion into purposeful living after she graduated college and realized that Corporate America was not for her. She graduated from the University of Central Florida, with a Bachelor of Arts in Human Communication and a minor in Mass Communication. Now she is an author, poet, and owner of her own site, Tdemure.com. Her site features encouraging, yet entertaining content through short stories, blog posts, and poetry. Most of her work is inspired by her own personal trauma or things she has witnessed others endure. It is her goal to gain more support, follow God, and continue touching the hearts of others along the way.
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