“How old are you?” the manager asked.
“Eighteen,” I replied.
“Oh, I thought you were 16 and your brother was 18,” he replied.
Women (and men) are taking to social media and opens in a new windowsharing their experience with sexual harassment with a goal of raising awareness as to how widespread it is. Over the years, yes, I’ve experienced sexual harassment and assault and perhaps what I experienced at my first paying job out of high school, almost 30 years ago, stands out as the most disgusting and embarrassing. While some people probably know some of it, because they were there, this is the first time I’ve sat down and written about it.
My first paying job out of high school was at a fast food restaurant on the New York State Thruway. It’s where other local high school kids worked because it was convenient and pretty much the one option if you didn’t have a car, other than working on the local farms.
It was either the first or second weekend I was working and I met this particular manager who was five years older than me. Little did I know when he asked my age, he was ensuring I was of legal age.
He paid me a lot of attention and at least one of my high school friends who was also a co-worker, warned me about him but I was naïve and didn’t comprehend what she was telling me. At first, I thought his attention was flattering. I was an insecure teen, probably more naïve than others, looking to fit in and someone to love me. I mean, back then, it seemed as though society dictated I should be planning my wedding at that point of my life.
It wasn’t long until began touching and groping me, despite telling him “no.” It happened in situations where I was with him alone, such as the back storage room or cooler, and in broad view of others.
It was uncomfortable.
It was frightening.
It was embarrassing.
It felt shameful.
I felt it was my fault for letting it happen.
Today when I look back, I feel as though I was a weak coward for not standing up for myself.
I can’t remember the circumstances but a year later, I ended up going out on a date with him to the movies. I really wanted a boyfriend and although he had these predatorial traits, I was willing to overlook them. And even though my parents were apprehensive about him, I went out with him anyway. At the end of the night, all I gave him was a kiss and soon after, he told others at the store he could “do better than me” because he had recently lost weight. Sadly, it was not until years later that I realized his rejection was a blessing.
I was not the only young woman he groped and touched, in fact, I suspect every woman over 18 was assaulted by him in some way. Looking back to the nearly 30 years ago when this happened, the disappointing and disgusting part was, EVERYONE in the store knew what was happening. Everyone from employees to upper management joked about his molesting ways yet NOTHING was done. No one saved me, or any of my coworkers, from it and I did not save myself.
This is why many women have not reported sexual harassment and assault. People will not believe their claims while others will turn the other way knowing damn well what is happening.
Life experiences shape who we are at this moment but do not define us. To this day, I hate him and will always hate him. I don’t want to hear any bulls#*t on how I need to forgive him so I can move on. Karma will take care of him and it does not need my forgiveness to do so.
I hate my younger self for letting that happen to me but have learned to forgive my younger self so I can move forward.
Will this post change anything? On a larger scale, no. We live in a society where this is still acceptable. On a micro-scale, I hope it lets other women in similar situations know they are not alone and gives them the courage I did not have so they may stand up for themselves.
This was not an easy post to write. Because you’re reading this, I somehow found the courage to hit the “publish” button.