Sexual harassment, victim blaming and rape culture. Oh my!

I didn’t get my first job until I was 19 years old. It was at the dining hall of a dorm on campus, and it was everything you’d expect a first job to be: tiring, eye opening, sweaty, and a learning experience in an unfortunate way. It was while working at the dining hall that I had my first encounter with sexual harassment.

My high school was somewhat liberal in terms of sexual health education. I can remember watching graphic slideshows of what a herpes breakout looked like, seeing condoms put onto bananas, and hearing visceral stories of childbirth. Something that my high school didn’t cover well, though, was sexual harassment. The only knowledge I had about sexual harassment was what constitutes as “rape” in today’s society. I figured that the only way someone could be harmed from sexual harassment was if they were physically and sexually assaulted. I carried this knowledge with me into my first job, unknowing anything that said otherwise.

According to the United Nations, sexual harassment is defined by a wide variety of circumstances. Conduct such as unwanted pressure for dates, unwanted touching, unwanted telephone calls, and even hanging around a person can be perceived as sexual harassment. If I’d known about these criteria before I started working at the dining hall, my experiences there would have ended much differently.

I had a male manager who worked with me every other Saturday. It was only twice a month, but I really loved working with him because he made the time serving greedy college kids go by much faster. He was hilarious, laid back and nice to me. We had a very jokey relationship, and I was under the impression that neither of us ever took the other seriously.

One Saturday toward the end of the semester, he was working with me very closely because the other employee didn’t show up for their shift. In between stacking cups and refilling pop machines, we continued our playful banter. He offhandedly said something about seeing a movie with me. I rolled my eyes and “accepted” his offer, believing he knew that I wasn’t serious. We went along with our work for the rest of the night, and toward the end of my shift he asked me if I was doing anything after work. This is where I began to realize that he’d misread my sarcasm as acceptance.

I grew extremely uncomfortable quickly. As a quite pasty person, when I get nervous or embarrassed my face flushes a bright crimson shade that can possibly be seen from space. So of course, this happened. I stammered and made up an excuse about my friend’s birthday party. He pouted and said, “well I’ll get your number later and we can text.” Then he walked away before I could object.

I remember the rush of anxiety that started to stream through my body. I thought that I’d been very clear with my joking demeanor. The only reason I even went along with his playfulness was because he was my manager. He was the person who decided whether or not I had to repeatedly lift five gallons of milk that night. He was the person who taught me how to mop the floors. He was my authority figure, and I wanted to be on good terms with him. I didn’t think that meant that I had to date him.

Obviously uneasy, I quickly finished my shift and dashed out of the dining hall before he could find me to get my number. I was so worried about how I was going to avoid his advances the next time I worked with him. In the midst of panicking on the way back to my dorm, an unknown number called my phone.

It was my manager. He told me that he noticed I left before he could get my number; so he decided to take it off of my employee file.

I felt overwhelmed with an incredible amount of invaded privacy. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that he had access to my personal information, and even if it had, I wouldn’t have guessed that he would abuse it.

When I got back to my room, I told my roommate what happened. She said to me that if I was uncomfortable with it, I should tell him. I was infuriated that I was put into that position in the first place! Why did I have to take time out of my day to call back someone who’d taken my number without my permission to tell him that I wasn’t interested?

But I did just that. He seemed to understand (over the phone, at least), and I tried to forget about it for the next two weeks.

The next Saturday I worked, I noticed a complete change in his attitude toward me. He was assigning me to the jobs he knew I hated, and he became suddenly unsatisfied with the work that I was doing. Not only was it awkward because he felt rejected and I felt violated, now it was hostile because he was letting how he felt impact the way he treated me as an employee.

I vaguely remember telling my family about what happened, and I remember writing it off as nothing too serious. They all responded with horror at the situation, and I didn’t understand why. I knew it was creepy, but I didn’t understand that it was also legally sexual harassment.

I’m writing about this because I was a naïve freshman who thought that the only form of sexual harassment was physical. I thought that my other managers would ostracize me if I said something. I thought that it wasn’t a big deal. Retrospect has given me the gift of fury.

Sexual harassment doesn’t have to be physical. Sexual harassment is any form of interaction that makes you feel uncomfortable because of someone’s sexual advances. My manager stealing my number off of my private information so that he could call me for a date was sexual harassment.

We live in a paradigm that consists of a serious amount of rape culture. Rape culture is a term used often in gender and women’s studies that describes how forced sexual activity has become so ubiquitous in society, that people begin to believe that rape is “inevitable,” and women shouldn’t be so “sensitive” about it. There are websites that actually promote the belief that rape culture and awareness has created “hysteria.” The articles on one of these websites, called A Voice for Men, have titles like, “Rape Culture: Female Scam, Male Nightmare,” “Study Reveals Female Rape Victims Enjoyed the Experience,” “Time to blame the victims: only women can stop rape,” and “No means no. Sure, whatever.”

Besides being physically unable to stomach the majority of those articles, what intrinsically bothers me about promoting these types of ideas is that society implicitly promotes them as well. Women are made to feel as if they’re doing something to merit the unwanted attention they receive in sexual harassment, which then makes them feel as if they’re “scamming” the attacker. Men believe that some women “enjoy” experiences of rape—justifying it as something women secretly “want.” Women are made to feel that they’re not doing enough to try to prevent the rapes that occur, instead of men taking responsibility for rape. Men often believe that “no” means “just try harder.”

Instead of the creators of these types of websites attempting to take responsibility for the 207,754 cases of sexual assault that occur annually, they choose to blame the victims. This is what rape culture has created.

Why did I choose to venture off into the dark, dismal area of rape culture? Because even passive forms of sexual harassment, such as the one I experienced, help to give rape culture existence.

I thought I did something to lead my manager on. I didn’t think that he would steal my information for his personal use. I thought that it was my fault.

He was the authority figure. He knew better. He abused his power, and then created an incredibly hostile work environment after I rejected his advances.

I want to stress to anyone that may read this that if you’re ever in a situation where you feel uncomfortable because of someone’s sexual advances, you are not to blame. People may try to make you believe that you “led them on” and you “owe them” something for that. You do not owe anyone anything. The moment you become uncomfortable with someone’s advances is the moment that they’re crossing territory.

If you’re a victim of sexual harassment, don’t feel bad about speaking up. The only person who needs to feel bad is the person who harassed you.

I wish that someone had told me that when I was adorned with a University Dining Services uniform.

If you’re a student at the University of Minnesota who’s experienced sexual harassment, please consider contacting the Aurora Center. You may also contact the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.

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9 thoughts on “Sexual harassment, victim blaming and rape culture. Oh my!

  1. So, he asked you out. You accepted. Then, you flaked. Then, it was all his fault. Awesome way to act like an adult and take responsibility for your own actions. And remember, it is ALWAYS someone else’s fault in the land of the Narcissistic/Borderline Personality Disorder.

    • It actually wasn’t so much of the asking out that bothered me. It was more of the stealing my phone number off of a file that was only to be used in emergencies that made me feel threatened and uncomfortable. But way to victim blame!

      • Indeed – the guy was victimized when you lied to him by saying “Yes”. He tried to cover for your flakiness by taking personal initiative to figure out your phone number, so you victimize him AGAIN by calling him out publicly. You then victimize him YET AGAIN by blaming him for making you do you tasks at your job that you hate.

        Future prospective employers should take note – liars, flakes, and deniers of responsibility make shitty employees. Employees who tell the truth, follow up on promises, and take responsibility are much better bets.

  2. I just want to make one really important clarification: Sexual harassment is any PERSISTENT sexual behavior/unwanted advances. It is important to clarify that these things have to be persistent after rejection to classify as sexual harassment, and that requires you to voice your unwanting/unwilling participation in such behavior. I’m not saying it’s your fault, it absolutely is not your fault and anytime someone’s personal info is taken without their permission it is both a breach of human rights and a breach of legal professional conduct, and the fact that he treated you horribly in the workplace after the incident clearly shows how this is sexual harassment.

  3. Ok, @TheBiboSez, seriously, if you can’t hold a respectful discussion, what are you even doing look at a feminist blog? That’s the main point of this site (to start respectful discussions/dialogue about these topics), if you can’t handle your opinions in a more respectful and adult manner, nobody is going to take your ideas seriously. Troll away.

    • Thank you for your clarification, Bri! And I stopped taking that user seriously after googling their username to find them to be a member of the Voices for Men website that I mentioned in my article. I actually refuse to discuss with someone who associates themselves with the type of messages that website wishes to spread. But I’m sure they’ll have some earth-shattering response about how that demonstrates my close mindedness and inability to empathize. Eh.

  4. Earth shattering? Hardly. Respectful? I treated the author as an adult capable of taking adult responsibility for her admitted lies – how is that disrespectful, other than, I deny that she is my slavemaster? Would it be more respectful for me to fawn and treat her as a “you go, grrl!” silly girl who should be allowed to lie to men and then dispose of them without any accountability? As any slaveowner might treat a disobedient slave?

    Just stop lying to men, grrrrrl, and then, if you must lie, stop blaming men for 1) taking your lies as truth, and then 2) trying to cover for your lies, and then 3) calling you out on that when your lies become undeniable.

    Now, to the nameless guy who mistakenly tried to woo a feminist, I would say, this is what happens when you trust what feminist women say – they lie shamelessly, and then shame you for believing their lies. Oh, and until they commit to honesty and hard work, never hire them again, and talk to them only at your own risk.

    And, of course, please dispose of me as you did your coworker, as just another creepy MHRM who speaks truth to vagina instead of humoring it. Just remember that soon, “creepy” will be the new n-word. Check out “donglegate” for a taste of what the future will look like when men stop putting up with that shit.

    And, I am gone! Have fun ripping men and thereby wrecking your futures, ladies. Ta ta forever. Yoyo, grrrl.

  5. As someone who’s experienced a hostile work environment as well as sexual abuse, I think you would have been well-served to read the articles at AVfM more carefully and to realize that at least some of what you’re reading is sarcastic and ironic, because what we firmly believe is that there is a serious problem with not taking men seriously when they experience rape and sexual harassment and there is, further, another problem of the gynocentrism with implicitly assuming men are guilty of these things just because they’re accused of them. Getting to know our group and what we’re really about requires effort, not just skimming a few articles to see something that might offend you without looking deeper to ask what we’re really about. This video and the link in the lowbar may help you in that regard:

    I’ve experienced a hostile work environment more than once. The question that is constantly begged is what this really constitutes, and what really can or should be done about it, and why people think this is particularly a problem for women and primarily caused by men, which is too often assumed to just be axiomatically true; even you appear to take this stance. And that, for us, is a serious problem.

  6. I have just recently experienced a very very similar situation. I am 19 years old, at my first job, and it happens to also be my manager giving me the problem. This article really helped me. Thank-you. I’m all the way in South Africa, and I think it would be important for me to maybe speak out more about things. Because this is a big problem in society, one which is still so hushed.

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