Sexually harassed by my female boss (CORRECTED
Wednesday 10 March 1993
'THERE is very little difference in the pain of a man who is asked how large his penis is and a woman who is teased about her breasts,' says Louise Noakes of Women Against Sexual Harassment (Wash), a London-based helpline. But the tradition, says Ms Noakes, is that 'all men are harassers and/or subscribers to harassment. This is deeply offensive.'
In 1985, Wash had 105 clients, all women. In 1991, it had more than 6,300, including about 1,500 heterosexual men. Many would have been young men teased by women at work, but there are also cases of harassment by a female boss. 'Some women in authority have assumed much of their management style from men,' Ms Noakes says. 'They think, 'This will be a nice man to take away to a conference. Men have done it for years, why shouldn't I?' '
Only one sexual harassment case brought by a man has gone to an industrial tribunal in England, according to the Equal Opportunities Commission. He lost.
Men are reluctant to come forward, a spokeswoman says, because they think they won't be believed. Of a sample of 500 men who phoned Wash, only 2 per cent said their colleagues were supportive. Common responses were: you must be gay; or, hey, enjoy it.
The following case stands out in two respects: the victim filed a complaint with his union, and the union actually acted on it. It was several months before this civil servant confided in his girlfriend. 'I told him he ought to report it,' she says. 'Women report such things. Why shouldn't he?'
'I'VE been a civil servant for seven years. At the time, the woman was 43 and I was 41. She was my line manager. I'd been working in the department for about a year, and there was a promotion board due. One evening the whole office went out for a few drinks. She came up to me at the bar and said: 'Your promotion board is coming up very shortly. I think we ought to go away for the weekend.'
My first reaction was: well, what's happening here? Then I thought it was just the drink talking, and I walked away.
The second time was on a Friday, after everybody else was gone. I had to go in to see her about some work. After some pleasantries, it was basically: 'You either come to a hotel with me for the weekend or you can count your promotional chances as nil.' Her overnight bag was ready in the corner.
First of all, I thought it was a bit of a wind-up, but then I realised she was deadly serious. That's when the whole episode turned sour. I'm able to laugh as well as anybody else, but this was over the top. I was absolutely disgusted. If it had been a bloke, I would have punched him in the nose. But I just said: 'You're joking, aren't you?' and I walked out.
The next weeks were very tense indeed. I started to think seriously about quitting, just chucking it all in and leaving. I felt very isolated. There was nobody there that I could discuss this with. I just kept my head down and worked away. I was probably being more productive than usual because I didn't want to get involved in having a bit of a chat.
Other people on our team picked up on it. They didn't come to me, but you could tell they saw the sparks flying. They thought they'd just do their jobs and wait until it blew over. But it never did.
One Friday I found a weekend rail pass on my desk. Underneath it was written the name of a hotel. I rang the hotel to ask who had made the booking. They gave me her name.
I realised that this was getting out of order. On the Monday after the rail pass I went into her office and tried to sort it all out right there and then. The conversation went: 'Why are you pestering me? Leave me alone, and by the way I'm seeing somebody about this to get it stopped.' She just said: 'Well, who's going to believe you?'
This wasn't going anywhere, and I was getting more and more tense. On the Wednesday I rang in and said I was ill. The doctor told me that one way of relieving the tension was to keep out of the situation. I was out for six and a half weeks.
When I went back, I told personnel that I thought I should be transferred. They agreed. She realised something had happened and that the ball was rolling. She knew it was getting a bit difficult. She was avoiding me rather than me avoiding her.
The situation had affected my relationship with my girlfriend. I was very tense. At work, I felt low; outside, I felt aggressive. When I came away from work the slightest thing would trigger off something in me.
In the end I had to tell people because you can't bottle it up. My girlfriend said: 'Right. Start firing on all cylinders.' The proverbial kick up the backside, that was what I needed. I realised, like she said, that it wasn't going to come to an end.
I went to the union about three weeks after coming back from my period off sick. I wasn't really that involved in the union; I didn't think they were going to do that much for me. Nevertheless, the union's response was: 'We'll get you out of there.'
I'm convinced it was the union pressure that got me my transfer, but I think it should really be the harasser who is transferred. What would have happened if I'd been her? I would have been out on my bum.
In fact, she was gone within six weeks after I left. I don't know what happened to her.
My line manager now is a woman, and we get on very well. The harassment didn't put me off working with women because I realise it was a one-off. But I did feel I was being used, like I was a product, and when someone uses you, they throw the empty box away. I had the feeling that had I gone along with her, I would have been humiliated. Afterwards I would have really got it. She would have ensured that.
What really got up my nose was that she had exploited a position of power. Call it what you will - she did have power over me and she was responsible for my promotion up the line. I felt very angry about that.
I think basically she was a very lonely woman. She'd put herself on a pedestal, and she couldn't relate to people very well. I can't say I feel sorry for her. I wouldn't even say I feel concern. It's wonderment, really. What motivates somebody like that?
It's a myth that man is the stronger, the hunter. Both sexes can be the hunter, both can be the hunted.
I got promoted three weeks after my transfer. That was two years ago. I feel a lot stronger. If I'd tried to stick it out, I think I would have gone under.'
Women Against Sexual Harassment, 312 The Chandlery, 50 Westminster Bridge Rd, London SE1 7QY (071-721 7592).
We would like to point out, in connection with yesterday's article about sexual harassment of men, that Louise Noakes ceased to be employed by Women Against Sexual Harassment in January 1993.
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