A Pang

Yeah, it's great when people can do that "without feeling the need to run to an authority figure for protection" - but not everyone can and not everyone should. After all, even the most brazen retort might not stop a harasser if they know that there aren't any serious consequences for their actions, or that the harassed person won't want to go to the authorities (for fear of being called a coward or tattletale).

With identical behavior from their harassing perpetrator, and in like circumstances, men are more likely to make light of it, whereas women are more likely to lose sleep over it.

But, considering the very different histories of men and women in the workplace, when are the circumstances ever really alike?


If I were a boss, I'd want to know if one of my employees was a harassing creepazoid. I certainly wouldn't feel as though an employee who reported the behavior was tattling or "running to an authority figure for protection"--especially if the harasser was not just creepy, but violent, or was the employee's supervisor.


"With identical behavior from their harassing perpetrator, and in like circumstances, men are more likely to make light of it, whereas women are more likely to lose sleep over it."
Is this really true? Most guys I know would have been freaked out, if an older woman they weren't interested in had rubbed her crotch against them and started touching them inappropriately when they were 17. I think it is something that young people of both sexes would find very embarrssing and difficult to deal with. I agree that men might make light of it in public (which is what you've seen), but I'm not sure it wouldn't concern them privately.

Barbara P

You made a good case for why someone wouldn't go to a boss - you don't know for sure who you can trust to back you up. It's very likely that your boss would have had a similar reaction to your Dad, and *then* what?

The Happy Feminist

I agree with Mythago too! (Aren't I agreeable?)

I think confronting a perpetrator is ideal -- if it's feasible. But the boss DOES need to know about certain kinds of behavior. I would want to know too if I were in charge. Of course, one's boss may not be receptive to these kinds of complaints and it may not always be feasible to tell him/her.

If I could go back in time, I would report the creep to my boss and the other incidents I experienced to my temp agency.

The Grouch

It’s going to occur somewhere and the skills need to be developed, ingrained, and in place in girls starting at a very young age, so that they instinctively know how to handle that overbearing man when they come across him.

Of course, if we lived in a society that taught girls to do this, it would probably be a society that didn't encourage sexual harassment in the first place. The very cultural dynamics that prevent girls from standing up for themselves are the very ones that allow for sexual harassment.


I was sitting on a bus once, with a man sitting behind me. A friend of mine was sitting opposite from me, so she was facing the man. There was a woman sitting next to the man.

(I was in my late 20s when this happened: my friend was about the same age. We were both articulate, self-confident, feminists.)

The man ran his hand down my arm and my side. The first time this happened I twitched away but said nothing: it could have been an accident. The second time it obviously wasn't an accident, and I said, Very Loudly, "Get your hands OFF me!" and he didn't bother me again.

A few minutes later, my friend said, Very Loudly, "Sir!" There was a pause, and I looked at her in surprise: she was leaning forward, staring hard, at the man behind me, but it took me a moment or so to realise this, because having got the man to quit touching me, I'd put him out of my mind like any unpleasant thing. Turned out after I'd yelled at him, he'd started running his hands over the woman sitting next to him, who was sitting still in silence.

"Sir, leave her ALONE!" my friend said, and at that point I realised what was happening, and turned round, and - while the silent woman silently sat there, and never said a word to us - the man was induced by our snapping at him to get up and sit somewhere else, while he made weakly defensive comments about how she wasn't complaining (she wasn't: but she didn't look as if she was enjoying it), and we should mind our own business, and we were harassing HIM. She got off the bus before we did, and then we got off the bus, leaving the man on it.

It struck me then, it struck me now, that although she was plainly not enjoying this low-level, unpleasant harassment, that other woman (who looked to be about our age, perhaps a little younger) was not prepared to do anything to stop it. And this man with his groping hands plainly knew his target: after I spoke up, he hadn't touched me, but so long as this woman said nothing, he evidently figured he could go on touching her how he wanted.

How I felt, throughout the incident: embarrassed. I knew we were doing the right thing in stopping this guy. But it was embarrassing to be speaking up in public, it was embarrassing to be telling a man older than me off, it was embarrassing because the woman who was his preferred target never said anything to us. I could speak up to stop myself from being touched (just as, in your situation, HappyFeminist - and after years of practical self-defense fighting my brother - I could have stepped back on to my co-worker's foot if he ground against me and then I would have done the apologising for the horrific bruising...) but without the support of a friend, I don't think I'd have been able to speak up to save someone else. I would have worried that I was wrong in thinking she found his touch unwelcome. I would have worried about making myself conspicuous. I would have been too embarrassed to act, basically - and my friend said the same: that without my example (both that he'd proved himself to be a groper and that I'd yelled at him, she said) she'd never have spoken up.


Ah, the classic, 'she didn't say no!" defense. HOw I loathe it so.

Sarah in Chicago

Happy, wonderful post, particular in describing the feelings of self-doubt you have.

I've had a ton of incidents, but I'll talk about two. One when I was a young woman working one summer during college downtown I was taking the bus, and this guy sat next to me. I was reading my book, so I didn't think twice (even though what I should have noticed was that there were a lot of empty seats). He was leering and making suggestive facial expressions, and I did what most women do; I attempted to ignore him. Eventually my stop came. I asked him to move, and he refused. I won't go into detail about what he did as I tried to get out, but it wasn't nice at all. I got to work trying to ignore what happened and not think about, and we were setting things up in the shop, and I ... staunch, athletic, powerful, assertive, aggressive me ... broke down crying. Another woman there got me out back and asked me what happened. I told her. She immediately took me to the police (who were wonderful btw) and they ended up catching the guy.

Another time was earlier this year on the subway. The train was busy as this guy sat down next to me. Doing what guys (very annoying btw) normally do he sat with his legs out in a wide 'V', with one leg touching mine. I shifted slightly away, as you do. However, soon his leg was touching me again. This repeated for a while, before I politely but firmly asked him to give me my room. Nonetheless, not long after it was occurring again. I looked over and noticed he was busy pushing a rolled-up newspaper along his leg into his crotch while he was doing all this. I, rather loudly, said something like "UNLESS YOU WANT TO LOSE A BODY PART, STOP FUCKING TOUCHING ME YOU PIECE OF SHIT!". He stopped, looking down in fear. Very soon my stop arrived, so I turned around and looked at the guy and sneered "MOVE. NOW!". He zoomed out the seat. As I got up I towered over him and called him a "Fucking Pervert!". This African-American woman who was also getting off smiled in approval at me, and this other woman sitting near me asked me if it was a good idea to move, I told her yes. The rest of the people in the carriage were glaring at the guy in ways that promised some serious repercussions should he do anything else.

I know some might applaud me for the latter (and honestly, did feel great *smile*), but my question back would have to be "Why the fuck should I have to do that?". These are rather extreme examples, but we all know the small general shit that we wouldn't get approval for speaking up over, even from other women, yet happens all the bloody time ...

raging red

Even if your coworker's actions had been accidental, even giving him 100% of the benefit of the doubt, you still would have been justified in speaking up. I think it's pretty obvious that he was doing it on purpose, but even if he was just some clumsy, absentminded person who couldn't walk through a narrow space without rubbing against someone, it was making you very uncomfortable. Maybe it would have embarassed him, but so what? Look what it was doing to you. And I'm not second guessing you or criticizing or anything. I don't know what I would have done in your shoes at that age. I just think it's important to point out that even if it was honestly unintentional, it still would have been okay to say something.

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