Tolerance is Toxic: How I Learned to Speak Up

As part of She’s Right’s participation in 16 days of activism to end violence against women, each article will be dedicated to a New Zealand woman who has lost her life due to gender-based violence. This article is dedicated to Lynace Parakuka, killed by a man on 7 September 2018, at the age of 22.

Edited by Jessica Sutton and Patrick McTague.

I’ve worked in four different jobs since graduation, and I’ve been sexually harassed in two of them, by three different men. These aren’t great stats. I’ve experienced confronting, in-your-face harassment, and sly, under-the-radar harassment. I’ve only ever reported an incident once, and while I hope there won’t be a next time, I’ll be ready to blow the whistle if there is.

The first time I was sexually harassed, I was waitressing at a local pub. The sous chef followed me into the walk-in fridge, blocked my way out and propositioned me. It never occurred to me I wouldn’t be believed, so I immediately told the landlord what had happened. His response? “Ah, I’m sure he was just having a laugh”. This was my first job and granted, I had no benchmark for workplace frivolity, but I was pretty sure following a woman into a lonely cupboard and asking to see her tits wasn’t generally considered ‘banter’.

The second time I was sexually harassed (same pub, different chef), I didn’t tell anyone. I handed my notice in after he made me feel uncomfortable for the third time. Looking back, this seems wildly unfair. But I was 21, the man in question was in a position of authority, the boss hadn’t believed me the first time, and I was looking for a full-time job anyway. So, I quit.

I moved onto my next role assuming sexual harassment was an occupational hazard. It’s a man’s world after all. Or is it?

The gender split of the leadership team at my next job was, thankfully, much more balanced. The whole environment felt healthier, safer and more inclusive. Until I started receiving creepy emails from ‘David from comms’. David can be described as the kind of man who sucks better men into behaviours they know are wrong. David would email his male colleagues about women in the office, and lure them into a sordid conversation about how attractive he found them. The men would reply to David, and he’d forward the email chain on to the women they were discussing.

I was on the receiving end of these rather complicated email chains twice. I was creeped out, but given my past experiences, I frankly couldn’t be bothered with the totally exhausting process of submitting a complaint and being told I was overreacting. Other women I knew had received similar emails too, and everyone seemed to be just… accepting it. I was due to leave for a sabbatical soon anyway, so I once again planned to stay quiet and just leave.

Five months later when I returned to the office, half of the men I’d worked with were conspicuously absent and the man who’d interviewed me for my job initially was now working under me. Well, well well, what happened here?

In my absence, the office had employed a young man who’d received one of David’s emails. He hadn’t fallen into the trap, but instead had the decency to be outraged on behalf of the woman being discussed, and the confidence to go and tell someone who could do something about it. And when he did, the fallout was…huge.

Every email ever sent on the company’s system was examined with a fine-tooth comb. Each morning, another man was summoned into the meeting room, never to be seen again. Hurrah! Finally, I was seeing very real consequences for the kind of behaviour I’d been told to accept my whole working life. I needed the validation that what I was experiencing was unacceptable, and when I got it, I felt immense relief. A total of seven men lost their jobs, one was demoted, and two were suspended without pay whilst a full investigation was carried out.

As you might expect, a quick online search confirms this story is part of a much wider problem. In a recent poll of trade unions in the UK, 52% of women reported having experienced some form of sexual harassment at work.[1] The numbers are frightening – 10% of women reported physical harassment with unwanted attempts to be touched or kissed, and in 20% of cases, the men in question were in a position of authority. No wonder 80% of them chose not to report their experience. 

As for the whistle blower in my story? Well, snitches get stitches. He was shunned by everyone, and moved on to a new role – I never even got to meet him. He swept in, tore down the toxic, masculine culture of the entire workplace and swept out again in under 5 months.

I imagine he had a terrible time of it and left with some battle wounds of his own, but it wasn’t for nothing. Whenever we call out bad behaviour in the workplace, we at least start to teach someone a valuable lesson: you can’t single out and sexualise the women you work with. You’d think it would go without saying, but apparently it doesn’t. So next time, I’m going to say it until I’m heard. I’ll be right there with you buddy. I’m ready to snitch.


About the Author:
This contributor has chosen to remain anonymous.

Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

One thought on “Tolerance is Toxic: How I Learned to Speak Up

  1. Thanks for speaking out on this issue. Workplace harassment is rife and always has been. Hospitality industry particularly bad for this as women are not only at risk from the men they work with but also, those Patrons who think paying for a meal or drink entitles them to sexually harass the person serving them.

    Liked by 1 person

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