Monday, March 14, 2011

Country Girl Meets Sexual Harassment

Pack the bags! Your kids are going off into life. Are they ready?

This morning I was watching the news about the young woman who is suing a major clothing company for sexual harassment. Question asked by reporter: Why did you stay at the company?

Country girl. I wear the banner proudly. I lived in a rural community surrounded by people who loved me, who watched over me. A community that had not changed much since my mother was a child. Our way of life was wonderful. I knew little of the outside.

I was eighteen when I went to work in the city for the largest company around. An acquaintance got the job for me. This farm girl was going to work in a fast moving research and development office of men. I certainly looked like a country bumpkin in my homemade dresses and straight hair. I stepped out of rural Ohio into a world I was not prepared to meet.

The men in our office were wonderful. They adopted me as their own, protecting me from city dangers and watching over me when the other women in the office decided to be mean to the rather colorless girl I was back then. However, situations did arise that I was not prepared to meet.

I was a lowly file clerk when I started working. Being low woman in the office, I was sent on errands, and took on any task that no one else wanted. I didn't mind. It was the first time in my life that I had money. I got my first apartment, purchased furniture and bought my first wardrobe. My life was moving quickly from simplicity to exciting. The file clerk was moving up.

When I first started work, I was often asked to oversee the needs of the executive office. The vice president had requested that I bring coffee, make copies, clean up after the meeting. I was thrilled that I had caught the eye of the vice president.

More and more I seemed to run into this vice president. If I worked on the weekend, he passed by my desk for a chat. Then began with the flattering informing me that I would make a great model. 1966. Farm girl. I received a phone call from him one evening asking if he could come over. My mind was racing. It felt wrong. I wasn't prepared to handle this kind of situation. I had no prior experience. Heck, my parents would have said, "Come on over. We'd love the company." I was at a loss. Sensibility clicked in.

"I have plans," I said awkwardly. He told me to let him know when it would suit.

Immediately, I called the man who would eventually become my husband. I told him that I was scared  of what would happen if I didn't allow the man to come over. I was scared I would lose my job. I was scared of what this man would think of me. The kindness he had shown me in the beginning had turned into nightmare. My stomach still turns at the thought. Jim was furious. He calmed me down. We decided that I would change to a new, unlisted phone number then treat the VP as if nothing had happened avoiding him as much as possible.

I was lucky. I wasn't caught in a web without help. I followed my inner instincts, that inner voice that told me this was wrong. Not every young woman has help; she can easily get caught. I knew that I could go home and give up my apartment if I didn't have a job. I knew that I was in trouble when I got the call and knew I would have support from some who would understand the office hierarchy. I was so young and naive.....and very fortunate.

Yes, this young lady was not smart. She was afraid. In this day and age, I don't understand why anyone would not know that this behavior of her boss is wrong. Yet, I do understand that fear of job loss, of retribution.

Our children leave our homes. We send them with every bit of knowledge we can impart. Still they will be met with the unknown. We can arm them with ways to protect themselves, but they will learn on their own by experience. All we can do is be sure that they know that no matter what, they can come home to a safe haven and loving arms.

I stayed at my job. After finding excuses to walk away from the executive, he began to ignore me. I went on to become a secretary with a great job still surrounded by those men who protected me. I feel for those who are in that situation and do not judge. I could have been in those shoes.

1 comment:

  1. It Is an unfortunate part of a women's education to be treated badly and as objects by many men. If men could spend a day in their shoes, the pratice might go away.