I Am Woman – Don’t hear me roar…
Doug types too much...
May 15, 2018
In the mid-1980s, I was one of three civilians working at a now defunct military compound. I was a civil servant running a 10-person shop.
We had a married captain with kids, Bryce, who was in charge of security. You could argue he was the most vetted person in our building.
Bryce had a problem with his hands. He liked to rub shoulders from behind. Not everybody, just young women. He liked the young admin clerks who were forced to work in his office. And a lot of people knew it. Not only had I seen him do it once while walking by his door, I’d heard the rumors.
Bryce was an officer. Two young enlisted women from his office filed a joint harassment complaint. Every single person privy to the situation knew the girls weren’t lying. Bryce was a creep.
The commander called a special closed-door meeting. Officers only. Being civil service, I was included on the invite. I sat in the back of the room that for some reason was adjusted to the lighting from The Godfather.
The commander spoke in fatherly, hushed tones. Serious, grave stuff. It all boiled down pretty quickly.
“We all know Bryce is a good guy, so we’ve talked to him and that went well. Seems like this was all a misunderstanding. But as a precaution, we’re transferring the accusers to another assignment.”
Nobody choked. Not the women or the men.
No hands went up.
The two women were shipped out. And Bryce stayed right where he was, grinning like the Cheshire Cat behind his desk every day.
That experience made an impression on me. It highlighted who I was, what I wasn’t, and what I needed to be.
Not long after that episode, I decided to take a position in another building.
The right-hand person on the team was Terri. She was smart, level-headed, and had a great personality. People loved Terri. We all did.
So when I was called into the branch chief’s office to recommend my successor, I went into the room with only one name in my head.
As I stepped into the Major’s office, he asked me to close the door. Just me and him.
The Major was an odd duck. Pretty harmless on the surface, but known to be quirky in his decision-making. He was often witnessed having complete conversations with himself, actually turning his head to the opposing side when it was time for a different internal voice to join his mumbling self-interviews.
He finished a paper he was marking up, tossed his pen on the desk, and leaned back in his chair with his hands behind his head.
“So who did you have in mind?” he yawned, not covering his mouth.
He unfolded his hands and positioned himself forward to project more gravitas.
“No. It’s not going to be Terri.”
My hackles went up. “What do you mean it’s not going to be Terri? Why wouldn’t it be? She’s smart, people like her, she knows the job, she gets the job done. Why wouldn’t it be her?”
“Because she’s a woman. And that’s not going to happen.”
I felt slapped. For me and Terri.
He gazed back down at his paperwork. “Pick someone else or we will. We’re done.”
They picked someone else.
And that’s how Terri didn’t know she didn’t get the job.
People who don’t believe in glass ceilings haven’t been in enough rooms with the door shut.
I’ve been sexually harassed. It was unwelcome. Unwanted. Irritating. Even threatening.
It was the late 90s. My job included me mixing with military equipment maintenance personnel. And one of them, Shirley, had a crush on me. I was in my early 40s – so was she.
Through a series of conversations she initiated, her feelings began to reveal themselves. In our last relaxed conversation, she mentioned my yard at home. Seeing my 10-year-old Ivan playing outside. She’d even secretly watched me mowing the lawn one day.
“How do you know where I live?” I asked.
“I jog in your neighborhood.”
“But you don’t live anywhere near my house.”
“Yeah, I know. I drive over there to run.”
Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction came immediately to mind. And I instantly became much less relaxed. We didn’t have a rabbit to boil, but we did have a Boston Terrier.
I avoided this woman like the plague. Told my family to stay out of the front yard. Started looking over my shoulder a lot. It was ridiculous.
My “relationship” with Shirley came to an abrupt end at work one day. While I was talking to a co-worker, Shirley slipped up from behind and ran an index finger from the base of my spine to the nape of my neck. And then continued walking by with a smile plastered on her face.
Her smile faded quickly. Because I barked.
My face went to eleven. “What the hell was that?”
She stopped, and in front of the co-worker I was with, said, “Don’t you like it when a woman does that?”
I was pissed. Felt myself levitating. I didn’t hesitate. Let there be no doubt. “The only person who ever gets to touch me like that is my wife, so back off! Don’t you ever touch me again!”
And she didn’t.
I was glad I had a witness. I immediately walked into our Captain’s office and shut the door. I was shaking mad. He had me write out a statement and he put it in a drawer “just in case.”
Shirley rotated out after a few months and I never had to see her again. Good riddance. I’d been forced to adapt because of some nut. And it pissed me off. And it made me reflect on how I first saw sexual harassment handled.
More barking still required.