Kissed, groped and asked for sex: 'My spirit was broken'
Like most women, I make an effort with my hair. Not every day mind you, but an effort nonetheless. So when I read this week's article about the assistant who had her ponytail cut off at Macquarie bank, my heart broke for her. Having worked for a decade at that same bank I left with my hair intact, but my spirit was most definitely broken.
When I landed the assistant job back in the early 2000's I was stoked - great pay, modern offices and a fantastic company reputation. My team was predominantly men, but with brothers at home and a background in sport I wasn't worried - I'd heard it all. The comments started innocently enough, the guys would tease me about my shoes or clothes…but they quickly moved on to my body and appearance.
How it all started
They'd ask if it was "that time of the month'" and if I found other men around the office attractive. They'd roll their eyes, making comments about having to work with women who "know nothing", yet at the same push for intimate details of my love life. They'd tell me I shouldn't be allowed to partake in company morning teas and lunches because I didn't bring in any money for the business - why should I be rewarded when they were the ones making the big bucks? Being a naive 20-something I kept my head down and tried to ignore it, which wasn't possible for long.
At my first internal function a senior team member tried to kiss me. I was in a relationship at the time and after saying, "thank you, I'm not interested' over and over again - Jerry Seinfeld-style - I ended up having to physically push him away from me. The incident had been seen by other staff and the following week, I was approached by management and asked not to make a big deal of it. The staff member in question had just had a few too many.
Opening the email invite for our next staff function brought a sick feeling to my stomach. The boss suggested I attend as I hadn't been seen as much of a team player of late. Midway through the evening, I returned from the bathroom to see the same staff member blocking my entrance back into the room. He charged toward me, pinning me up against the wall with his hand across my neck, accusing me of trying to ruin his reputation. He called me an evil witch and told me that I deserved to die. At that moment I was lucky enough for a co-worker walk out of the gents, pull him off me and walk me down to a taxi. He said he'd seen what happened and would back me if I went to HR. So I did.
HR's resolution was for my attacker to make a verbal apology. Which I felt I had no choice but to accept. Looking back I wish I'd had the guts to tell them to stick it and march out of the room - but I didn't.
The harassment got worse
In the years following that attack the bullying continued. If I complained I was told to wear less make-up and to wear more conservative clothing. I had my dress lifted up by a senior male director - I was groped, slapped and asked for sex. I was sent late night texts for weeks after someone circulated my personal number and had to endure more comments about my arse and p*ssy than anyone should ever have to hear.
I heard rumours - that I'd given blow jobs to get ahead, that I'd cheated on my boyfriend, that I only helped external guests because I was trying to f*ck them. I saw other assistants exposed to the same thing - one pulled onto her boss' lap and bounced up and down until she managed to clamber off, another told she had great tits - and if you weren't lucky enough to be deemed attractive to them you were a ball breaker, pain in the arse or the ever-imaginative - slut.
I remember once asking the guy who sat next to me why he never said anything when he saw me being bullied. He said if he spoke up then there was a chance they'd pick on him instead of me. After everything I'd been through that is what hurt the most - we are the ones letting these things happen.
And judging by the issues addressed in this week's claims - it's still happening. Maybe it's time for us all to call out this boys club on their bullshit once and for all.
This story originally appeared on whimn.com.au