In my life, I’ve had one boss whom not I not only loved, but respected and to this day we’re dear friends. As for the rest? Meh. Not so much. I don’t know if I’ve been unlucky in bosses throughout my life, or if even the smallest amount of power does things to someone’s brain in which they are forced to act like pricks. I like to believe it’s the former, but I’m also one who’s never found power to be that much of an aphrodisiac.
When I applied for the job at Advertising Town (obviously this name is changed, but how awesome would Advertising Town be for ANYPLACE?), I was wearing my only interview outfit. What this meant was I was in a black sheath that was a few inches above my knee, a black Jackie cardigan from JCrew, and the only pair of heels I could properly walk in at the time, and they happened to be emerald green. Definitely not the type of thing one would wear when trying to land a job in corporate America, but based on the ad that boasted a “laidback jean-wearing” atmosphere, I figured my outfit would work.
The girl, and she was definitely a girl, who called to schedule the interview was the one who greeted me.
“Oh, my god! I love your outfit! You’re totally the cutest! I know your name is Amanda, but can I call you ‘Mandy?’ I’ve always wanted a friend named Mandy!” She was, by far and to this day, the most excited interviewer I’ve ever encountered. We talked for all of 20 minutes about everything BUT the position, then she told me that while she wanted to hire me right then and there, the owner of the company would have to approve this decision. We’ll call him Hubris.
I was ushered into Hubris’ office where there was no place to sit except for his seat. I nervously stood there with the sweat piling up under my bra strap just waiting to drip, as he looked me over. His eyes didn’t scan me as if trying to pick up on anything out of place, but lingered on each part of my body until he reached my shoes. “Sexy shoes,” he said.
He asked me about what I thought about advertising, my ability to multi-task and the rest of those questions to which I had memorized the answers although I’m the last person in the world to be a team player, no, I don’t like to work overtime and never will for an office manager job, and yeah, sure, I’m totally interested in advertising, because it’s the most fascinating thing in the world. I had to focus on his maniacal smile so as not to roll my eyes at my lies.
After a few minutes, he abruptly got up, shook my hand and said they’d be in touch. And in touch they were later that day, and I was hired. I was relieved. I could live a bit longer in the city I loved doing the exact opposite of what I wanted to do. The American dream is alive and well, my friends.
In the beginning I stuck to dresses and that one pair of heels in which I could walk. But after awhile, when it became very apparent that I was the only one dressing that way, I slowly switched over to more casual outfits. Before long, I was in jeans like everyone else, but still maintained a somewhat professional appearance, or at least as professional as one can be in jeans in Chucks.
Not long after my transformation into officially fitting in with my colleagues outfit wise, I was called into Hubris’ office.
“We need to talk about your outfit,” he said. I looked down on my jeans, my Chucks, my perfectly pressed shirt that I had paid $13 to have made that way as I’m a fire hazard with an iron, and thought I looked fine. I was definitely more dressed up than my co-workers.
“This,” he said, as he ran his finger through the air and traced the outline of my body, “this just isn’t working for me.”
I just stared back at him in silence. I wasn’t sure what “this” was – my weight? My height? My overly pale skin that time of year?
“Remember that dress you wore for your interview? Now that was a great dress! It showed off your…” he paused, as if trying to not be completely sleazy, but then chose the sleazy route instead, “…assets. You have an adorable figure, Amanda. You shouldn’t be covering it up with jeans and sweaters.”
Not sure how to respond, I just nodded. I told him I understood, and “we” both agreed I’d make “more of an effort.”
I left his office feeling insulted. I didn’t feel dirty, or that I had even experienced any sort of sexual harassment. I was angry more than anything else, because I’ve never dealt well with authority, and when I’m told to do something, I inherently go and do the exact opposite.
That day was just the beginning of what I can now, almost eight years later, finally see wasn’t just wrong, but straight-up sexual harassment. I wasn’t sure if the other women in the office were enduring the same thing, as I never asked and no one seemed to complain, so I just went with it and was grateful I had a job in the city I loved.
And so it continued: the comments about my outfits, my supposed sexiness, how my Halloween costume was hot at the company Halloween party (it wasn’t; I was a fucking flapper and very covered up), and his insist shifting of his balls whenever he was talking to me while standing. Maybe it was bad underwear, or maybe he wasn’t aware that he was doing it, but considering the tightness of his jeans, it was hard not to notice, and it made me whole boatloads of uncomfortable.
Then two things happened that were my breaking points, and it was as if an alarm went off in my brain screeching: WARNING. YOU ARE BEING SEXUALLY HARASSED. WAKE THE FUCK UP, CHATEL.
The first was when his birthday rolled around.
He wanted to do his birthday up BIG. He was, if memory serves turning 45, and he wanted to celebrate not only how far he’d come in his career and personal life (he was dating a 22-year-old then), but how great he looked for his age. He was constantly making people guess his age, from the UPS guy to the delivery dudes to potential clients: “I look really fucking good, don’t I? You’d never guess I’m almost 45, would ya?” Yeah, yeah, Hubris. You look really fucking good. *Eye roll*
“What if we got me a limo, and the limo was full of hookers?” he asked regarding his stupid birthday party as I stood there taking notes. By this time, I had learned to speak up to him, but not stand up to him.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I asked.
“Yeah, yeah,” he panted with the excitement of a 15-year-old boy who just might see boobs for the first time. “And in that limo, with the tinted windows, I can do whatever I want with them! What do you think?”
How this plan pertained to me, I’ll never know.
“So, you’re asking me to book you a limo and get you some prostitutes for your birthday? Is this for the work birthday or your personal birthday?”
“This would be on my way to the office for my work birthday!” he exclaimed.
The thought of Hubris showing up to the office sweaty, and stinking of sex from fucking five or six women in the back of a limo like he’s some goddamn rock star from the 80’s, was just too much to bear.
I dropped the notebook to my side and asked him if that was it. He told me to think about it, and let me know if that sounded fun or not. I muttered, “Will do,” and slammed his office door behind me.
The second occasion that really sealed the deal on his perversion happened after he fired his assistant, whom he had for less than three months, for being pregnant. But of course, he’d never admit that was the reason. She was, to use his words, “sneaky and from the ghetto.”
The girl didn’t have a sneaky bone in her body, accidentally got knocked up by her boyfriend, was just 20 years old and scared shitless, then she found herself without at job. It was then that had there been a human resources department, I would have definitely complained, but being a small private company Hubris didn’t want to waste money on such things. If his employees had an issue, they could just talk to him.
A week after she’d been gone, Hubris called from wherever the hell he was and asked me to check his former assistant’s email. Although he had changed the password he was absolutely convinced that she hacked into it and was most likely talking shit about him to clients. (It should also be pointed out that he didn’t have the most favorable reputation among clients, as on top of being creepy, he was, and probably still is, litigious as fuck.)
Hubris informed me that the last email that should be in her sent box was something to do with some particular client yadda yadda yadda, with such and such date, and could I confirm this. He also wanted me to check the inbox and forward anything from clients to his email. I found it peculiar that he couldn’t log into her email, but could log into his own.
With his exact instructions, I did just that.
As he stated, the last sent email was as he said it should be, and the inbox had a couple emails that I forwarded on. But then I reached an email that wasn’t from a client, but from Hubris himself with a timestamp that was not long before he called me. I noticed it was a forward, and thinking that maybe it was a misfire that should be going to a client, I opened it in case it needed to be sent to someone else. No such luck.
There in front of me was a response he had received for a Craigslist ad he had posted wanting a threesome. The woman who responded to his ad, that was further down in the in the email and really talked himself up as a successful and important person so discretion was key (he even shaved off several years claiming to be 38), was clad in a bikini and looked as though she had been pulled from a Hawaiian Tropic ad. I. Was. Stunned.
Why was that forwarded to his former assistant’s email? Why did I have to see this? Was it an invitation? Was it part of his never-ending torture of me with his sexual comments and very direct eye-fucking of my boobs? WHY WAS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?!
I immediately got out of the email account, called him back to tell him all looked OK, and that since it was almost six I’d be leaving soon.
After that, Hubris wasn’t around much. The office was manned by us, about 12 or so people in our late twenties, and when the recession hit hard no long afterward, I was the first to be let go.
Looking back, I was an idiot to have put up with that bullshit for almost two years. But the recession had just started and since people were starting to lose their jobs, I hung onto the position for dear life. I was, and I hate to admit that it was a factor, making more money than I ever have in my life.
There was also the fact that if I were to express my concerns, I’d have to do so to Hubris. How do you tell your boss who’s sexually harassing you that he’s sexually harassing you, and you want him to stop or you’re going to “get him in trouble” for it? I couldn’t fill out a complaint form (we didn’t have any), I didn’t have the necessary backbone to track down a lawyer and try to sue him, and considering all the lawsuits he was already involved in, what was another one to him? It wasn’t going to change him; he’s not a man who can be changed, or be bettered because someone pointed out his wrong doing.
That’s how I felt then.
Hubris was, and I’m sure still is, a prick. Despite his incessant preaching of how he respected women, he does not. Or maybe he just has zero concept of what the word “respect” means. Everyday he was in the office was a day that I sat in my chair fearing him calling my name, or his line popping up on my phone in blazing red. It got to the point that the sound of his voice alone put my stomach in tight knots and I’d expect the worst. Had all of this happened to me now, with the backbone and knowledge I have these days, all of it would have been much different. Hubris, if I had anything to do with it, would never harass another woman again.
Do I regret how I handled, or rather didn’t handle, the Hubris situation? Hells yeah. I would label myself as weak, but I don’t think that would be entirely fair. What was happening was putting me in states of pure anxiety and disgust, but at the time I convinced myself that it was just because I hated him so much.
Sexual harassment is wrong; we all know that. But yet sometimes I wonder if we’re able, especially when we’re in such a vulnerable positions where the outlet like a human resources department doesn’t exist, to pretend it’s something else, so we don’t have to feel guilty for not doing anything about it.
I may not have been right to have not done or said something, not just for myself, but for every other woman Hubris will encounter in his life. But I can say now, without the slightest hesitation, that if I ran into that dick on the street, I’d tell him to his face, exactly what he did to me, and how sick he made me feel. It’s not likely to affect him, but it would provide me some sense of solace, and that’s something with which I’ll be able to live.