Secretarial: The temp - Beware: Dirty Boss at work
Wednesday 11 August 1999
The thing is, it usually starts so innocuously that, by the time it's become distressing, you've already conceded so much ground that it's hard to turn and fight. The sexual bully is a sneaky type who tests the water until he has established a dominance that his target, unwittingly, has contributed to.
God knows, I'm not a keep-your-distance type. I don't look to take offence, I don't believe in starchy formality between the genders. But there's familiarity and then there's over-familiarity, and I have a feeling that Dirty Boss is about to step over the line.
Dirty Boss - whose name is Greg and who sports a Richard Madeley hairstyle - is skilled at his art; it took me three or four days to have my amusement replaced with unease. Greg is very good at playing Nice Boss and is scrupulous about behaving himself in front of other people. It would be hard to draw attention to things that are happening when no one's around to see it. Perhaps I've brought this on myself, but I don't think so. He asked me if I wanted to go to lunch on my first day, and I was delighted; it's not often that anyone includes the temp in extra-curriculars. It was a pleasant but dull occasion in a local pub but I noticed that he asked a lot of questions such as whether I have a boyfriend, who do I live with and what do I like to do in the evenings. I thought: "Well, good bosses want to know about their employees."
And then, the small things started. Physical proximity: leaning over you at your desk to point out corrections; the hand pressed into the small of the back as he follows you through a door; the finger-brush to remove imaginary fluff from your shoulder. Compliments: "You look nice today"; "Mmm, like the perfume"; "Lovely blouse. Is it silk?". Innocuous things on the surface. Things that you can only politely reply "thanks" to. But once Dirty Boss knows you'll be passive about that, the Looks begin: part sly, part naughty little boy, part big, bad wolf. It's amazing how a compliment about your blouse becomes something else when it's addressed directly at your breasts. It's not appropriate behaviour in a man you've known for three days.
Today, I knew for certain that this is not just a figment of my imagination. I'd had a bad night's sleep, and by 3pm the muscles in the back of my neck were rock hard. Pausing in the middle of a document which I was typing, I sat back, closed my eyes and pressed into the base of my skull with my index fingers to relieve the headache that was building there. Then a chill ran down my spine as I found another pair of hands had clamped themselves on to my shoulders.
They started squeezing, before letting go and then squeezing again. "Aching?" asked the Dirty Boss voice, full of glee and oleaginous concern. "Here. Let me..."
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