Harassment - Part 1
"Harassment ~Noun~ the act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions...the purpose may vary, including, but not limited to personal malice, forcing sexual favors or merely gaining sadistic pleasure from making someone feel anxious, fearful or uncomfortable" Adapted from the Legal dictionary.
As women - we are born into a world where we are constantly harassed. Growing up, I am sure I was not the only girl who felt horribly uncomfortable by that one uncle who always wanted kisses on the lips, or got plonked on his lap while he visited. I guess my conscience wasn't fully developed then, but something in me knew - this isn't right, it didn't feel good.
In primary school, I specifically remember walking the streets of Joburg CBD to catch 4 taxis a day to get to school. For some reason, walking through Bree and Noord taxi rank attracted a lot of unnecessary attention - I got called "pet names", received tons of wolf whistles, some of those pigs were even "brave" enough to touch me - grab the undeveloped breasts I had, touch my face or grab my behind. I HATED MY LIFE. Having no other option to get to school - I endured a lot of this. I was constantly feeling violated. I began retaliating. I became so angry that I started fighting back in some way - I used to dodge them when I saw them coming at me, especially if they were aiming to touch me in some way and even swear them. At times they would swear back, others would want to attack, I often ran. All the while, I just kept hating them. Pigs! I specifically remember one incident when I was a lot younger where one random tool pulled me by my school bag and shoved a magazine in my face. He was trying to draw my attention to a pornographic magazine. I went home crying that day. I was just a kid.
Being harassed is literally something I started believing is "the way of the world", like - that's just how some of these men are. I would cringe and try and get out of the situation as quick as possible with very few words exchanged. Basically, I ignored it at first, then I got angry and retaliated, then I just grew tired and accepted it as one of those things - it is what it is...Because no matter how conservatively I dressed - I mean, even if I wore pants to school and the only flesh that was showing was my face - I still got harassed.
Fast forward to a few years later. I'm at varsity, I need cash for books and food as my bursary didn't cover everything - I get a good gig. I'm basically lecturing a basic business course. I worked twice a week and went in once a week for a prep session. Still taking taxis around unfortunately. Still being wolf whistled at while walking to these taxis, sometimes even by taxi drivers. Some days the program manager of the course would need help with admin and ask us if we were keen to make extra cash - of course I was. But I knew then already that this manager person (let's call him Pig) was a bit weird. I thought that perhaps I was just very protective of my personal space (which I still am to this day) but I started realizing the pattern here - he was too huge or something, and only with the females. But hey, no one else was complaining...And I really needed the income. So I dodged the hugs, but he would always find a way to intrude in my personal space. It grated me. At one of these admin sessions - nobody else showed up but me. I was totally uncomfortable....No. Beyond uncomfortable, I was perspiring, adrenaline was pumping through my body, while all the while I am trying to maintain a calm exterior and focus on the spreadsheets in front of me. This man, no, he doesn't deserve to be called a man - this PIG decided this was a good opportunity to rub my shoulders while pretending to talk to me about work, then he tried touching my hand while asking me if I have ever been sexually assaulted?! But very illusively, indirectly. God I was so scared! I started packing up and said I would finish the admin at home. I went home in tears, I specifically remember taking a shower and scrubbing myself so hard because I felt I could smell him on my skin. He got under my skin. He had for a while, but I just wanted to keep my job - so I did what I am sure so many other women do - I said nothing. Don't get me wrong - he didn't rape me or try to kiss me, but that's the thing about harassment isn't it - it is so subtle and sometimes indirect that you can't actually pin point it to someone else. Like what would I say? "He stands too close to me, he hugs me, he sat close to me while we were working, he asked me if I have ever been sexually abused before" My fear was all the other person would hear is "He hugs everyone though, maybe he was just concerned about your well being" I don't know...I doubted myself, but after this incident I felt completely SH*T. I felt it had gone too far and if I didn't do something about it now - this behavior would only be exacerbated - he would take it a step further.
I spoke to a male friend about this - he affirmed that it was not my imagination and I had to report it ASAP. But before I did - I went to work the next day as if nothing had happened, but I had every intention of enquiring from the other women doing the same job if they had had any encounters. I was strategic, I gathered the women and asked them if they ever felt that his hugging and touching was ever inappropriate, at first, they were apprehensive, until I said I was going to lay a formal complaint. The sad thing is - so many of us felt this way, but again, they just kept quiet. I went to the powers that be and laid the first complaint - a few others followed. Needless to say - I never ever wanted to face this pig again, the process was confidential at the time but the outcome eventually became public. This loser (who was married with kids by the way!) got his @ss fired! I couldn't be happier - he was never going to make another women in that place feel like sh*t. Throughout the process - I was afraid, I even felt guilty for what this would do to his family - but I chose to act from a place of "me first" and so many other women if you think about it...I spoke up and the situation was dealt with accordingly...In fact - senior management thanked me profusely for coming forward. I possibly prevented many other women from being in the same uncomfortable situation in the future. Wherever that pig is in life - I hope he learnt his lesson.