Single Black Women and Workplace Sexual Harassment

| 07/10/2009 | Comments (2)

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I had a recent experience with sexual harassment in the workplace. Wasn’t anything that I couldn’t handle and I’m fine with how I ultimately dealt with the situation. What I want to share with you though are the widely disparate responses that both men and women had to the incident. Shockingly, many did not view the unwelcome, sexual comments and obscene gestures by my married male coworker as sexual harassment.  Instead, I was accused of being "too sensitive," of "probably starting it!" and called "a big baby" for seeing his behavior as such.
In other words, a lot of people have a high tolerance for bullshit and mistreatment by men in the workplace.  They also placed responsibility for educating men on inappropriate behavior on the shoulders of women.  Several also hinted that women control men’s minds, and somehow "make" them feel, say and do foul things.  They also seemed to believe that women are supposed to accept male’s rude disrespect with a smile.  Anyone that knows me knows for a fact that I AIN"T THAT WOMAN!
This is what happened: 
I work a few hours per week as a personal trainer at a medically based fitness facility. This organization has a very strict written policy against sexual harassment of both staff and patients/members. A group of  six trainers (males and females) were in the bullpen (where we store our belongings and client files, use the computer and make phone calls) talking about our fourth of July holiday weekend. We were laughingly discussing fireworks, food and family outings with the kids, nothing more.
Keep in mind I know these people, but have never dated any of them, don’t hang out with them outside of work, do not discuss my personal affairs with them, and have never had any type of personal discussion about our sex lives, not with even the women. All they know is that I am single and have a daughter. What I do outside of work is not their business and I don’t want to know about their love lives either.
One by one their clients arrive and each trainer walks away from the bullpen. I am left there waiting for my client with one of the male trainers, a married man in his late 40s. He initiates a conversation by starting to tell me about HIS weekend. He told me that he’d gone to a popular nightclub in San Francisco that Saturday night, and how all the girlys had on super short skirts. He added "I had a hard-on the whole night!"  I was appalled at his statement and shocked that he would think that was something I wanted to hear.  I frowned at him then said, "um hmm, and where was your wife?" He replied "oh she was there!"  I then told him that it was great he had fun, but that I didn’t need to know all those details next time and that information was an over share and TMI.  Trying to be cool and light about it and not cuss his audacious ass out, I walked off to join my client.sexual harassment of single women in the workplace by married men is disgusting vile and illegal
This week he seemed to spend a lot of time staring at me from various places around the gym. Really creepy stuff. Even my clients noticed it and commented. Interestingly, they claimed to have noticed this behavior for the past few weeks, whereas I only noticed it THIS week after our exchange on Monday. Each day I become more watchful and suspicious of this guy’s motives.

So now it’s Friday July 10th. I arrive at work at 6:45 to prepare for my first client at 7:00 a.m. He’s sitting there pecking on one of the computers. I wanted to see if he had the online scheduling program up so I could see who was on my schedule for the day.  But the screen shows Yahoo email. So I walk towards the other computer to boot it up and see who I have on my schedule for today.  I say "good morning!" just to be polite while waiting. He pipes up and starts telling me how he is checking his email to see how many hot blondes sent him emails.  "I like blondes!" he chirps. Since the picture he has on his cubby shows that his wife is blonde, I would suspect so, but found no need to state the obvious.  I just mumbled "oh yeah um hmm" as I look at the schedule and get busy preparing for my clients. I start digging in my files to get the ones I need for the day.
He is sitting on a low stool a few feet away from my cubby area, still at the first computer.  He says something to me (I wasn’t really paying attention), so I looked up in acknowledgement.  Just then he says something about having a blonde ride him and makes the motion like he is jamming a woman up and down on his crotch with his hands around her waist. He’s staring at me the whole time with this leering grin.
DAMMIT! That’s it! I calmly told him "you are doing wayyy too much dude and you need to stop!"  I marched downstairs to the administration office to request a copy of the firm’s sexual harassment policy.  I circled the part about obscene gestures and inappropriately sexual utterances (Paragraph 1 of the policy), and put it in his drawer with a note that said "FROM DEB" on it. I saw his goofy ass looking at it later, flipping through the four pages of behavioral guidelines.
Now this is the part that is really interesting.
How Others View and Excuse Sexual Harassment 
After the first incident occurred, I posted about it on a popular message board to see what other people would think and how they might have handled the situation.  Apparently, many folks have no reading comprehension skills whatsoever, and read all kinds of things into what I posted that were not written and never happened.  Here are the responses I got:
Male – Age and Status Unknown: Are you serious you want to report him for that!  Are you crazy? Just relax take it easy : )
Male – 29-35, Married: Let’s get to the important stuff here, what’s his wife look like? Look, you know he’s a horny nutcase and you have never complained about his comments in the past, so although he’s gone over the line you’ve never told him, you have tacitly allowed him to go over the line. You now need to at least give him the opportunity to clean up his act before you report him.  If you still feel that he isn’t acting properly then go to HR, and don’t let someone saying something like it’s as much headache for you deter you, because then he will know that he can get away with it and can actually become antagonistic with the issue and it will just get worse for you.
I DID make the assumption that you worked at this place for some time, that you do work with this guy regularly, and most guys wouldn’t go from zero sexual content to something like this, they know the issues of sex in the workplace and have to tap-dance around conversations with female workers for months to determine where each individual’s line is. 

Furthermore, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 sexual harassment is defined as: 

"Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment." 

It further states that the victim should inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome.  If you complain instead of going to him first he will kick your ass in a sexual harassment lawsuit because YOU failed to tell him that the conduct was "UNWELCOME", thus by the letter of the law not sexual harassment. 

If you want to push ahead with this I would give him a written statement that his conduct was unwelcome and created an offensive work environment that you are protected against under the above mentioned Act. Keep a copy of the letter so that if it happens again you can provide the letter as evidence that you gave him notice of his unwelcome behavior and than you have a winning case." 

Male – 26-28, Single: I think his marriage is none of your business, and I think that if you don’t like his creepiness then you shouldn’t talk to him. After all, you were having a conversation with him, it’s not like he just walked right up to you and told you about his boner over the weekend. Having said that, his answer was creepy, but it sounds like you enjoy getting involved in other people’s business since you’re wondering about his marriage and wondering about reporting him. If you don’t like his answers then don’t talk to him! Good luck reporting him for sexual harassment. He may get fired, but if your company has layoffs, you’ll be the first to go because they’ll figure that you could be a potential legal liability down the road if you choose to file a sexual harassment claim against the firm. And if you want to change jobs and your new prospective companies finds about this sexual harassment claim, they will be less likely to hire you. 
Female – 36-45, Single: Naaah, let the old foggy get his rocks off some way as long as it isn’t with you.
Female – 46-55, Single: Close but maybe he isn’t getting what he wants at home. But also maybe he thought if he told ….u might bite!
Male – 46-55, Married: He has crossed the LINE.
Female – 22-25, Single: AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAH!!!! First off, unless the sexual harassment was directed toward you, it’s not sexual harassment. Sure, he’s creepy…just tell him not give you the details. Most laws say it has to be directed toward you for it to be considered harassment. I still wouldn’t report him, that makes you look like nitpicky nark who can’t take cheekiness for what it is. 
Female – 46-55, Married: According to the federal guidelines on sexual harassment this bozo was way out-of-line and you are correct to report him.  It will make for a very uncomfortable work environment for you if you make a formal complaint…however you are perfectly within your rights to do so.  Whatever you decide I hope it gets resolved soon. Good luck!

Something that may work too. When I had a problem several years ago…my employer (a lawyer, and the owner of a bar/restaurant where I have an entertainer’s contract) kept patting my posterior and making sexual innuendoes. I sent away for the brochures on sexual harassment in the workplace and presented them to him. He laughingly told me…"you are such a bitch" but I still work for him and there has never been a problem since. 

Female – 46-55, Single: Sounds like he was trying to find out what would surprise you or what might make you blush…maybe he was just going for that ‘surprise’ factor and didn’t really mean to make such a lewd comment…or he was hoping that he could ‘convince’ you to take the bait and was hoping you would be ‘interested’ in him…what a jerk…:D
Male – 46-55, Single: You were "grossed out" because a 40 y/o guy was talking about hot young girls in miniskirts?  C’mon.. you KNOW better than that. Of COURSE we’re going to notice! Jeebus friggin.. I’m 42, and I sure the hell would notice!  You know darn well how a mans mind works. 

And his wife was there? Ok, then either she’s just that confident and secure, that she KNOWS he notices, and it doesn’t bother her.. or maybe SHE also noticed, and they swing that way. More power to them. Isn’t it better that they be a secure couple like that, rather than one of the psycho nutcases on here, crying how her BF notices other women, and how can she control him? 

Now.. was it sexual harassment? I don’t think so. It wasn’t directed AT you, so he’s not harassing you. Was it out of line? Yes. Should you report him?  No. You should have the balls to 1st tell him to keep his comments in check, and that you don’t appreciate him feeling too comfortable around you to tell you stuff like that. 

Don’t be a fucking baby. Running to HR to report him, is just avoiding confrontation and failing to stand up to yourself. It’s the adult form of being a tattle-tale.  I thought you were bold enough to handle your own business? 

Male – 29-35, Married: I think you should tell him very directly to never speak to you that way again or you will do exactly that. 
Female – 36-45, Married: Before you report him because it will cause trouble for you as well. Tell him NOT to speak that way in front of you again as you prefer not to hear about his private matters. After that if he continues turn him in. I personally would ask him to stop first because if he has any tact at all he will.
Female – 45-55, Married: Next time, stop him and let him know that his talk is not appropriate. Keep a log, as well.
Male, 26-28, Single: It’s not harassment.  Just tell him not to be so open with u.
Male, 36-45, Taken: Sexual harassment is repeated and unwanted requests for a date or sexual contact.  He doesn’t want you. He did nothing wrong. It’s not illegal to talk about sex.
How far off base can people be, especially the last guy!? I was doubly surprised that so many women would accept such conversation as a matter of course. The speed at which the men were blaming me (the victim in this situation), attempting to instill fear of repercussions, and defending this uncouth, nasty man’s behavior was also shocking.
Race and Workplace Sexual Harassment is Another Component 
This issue becomes doubly problematic when culture and race issues are considered.  The fella in question hails from a country known to treat women as second class citizens, and people of color as less than human; I am the only Black female on staff, and one of the few single women in this suburban facility. We are all aware of how the U.S. media stereotypes single Black women as lusty sex freaks that will do anything in bed (rolling eyes).
So, in spite of the fact that this particular corporation has very strict policies against sexual harassment, a Code of Conduct which ALL employees (both male and female) must read and sign, and posters around the campus which emphasize respectful treatment of staff, members and guests alike, sexually inappropriate conversation still took place.
Why? I can think of no logical reason other than he wanted to do it.
Was he testing the boundaries of my limits and seeing what he could get away with?  Obviously. Could I expect that his behavior would escalate to touching my butt or boobs, or an out and out sexual proposition if I didn’t put him in a chokehold right now? My bet is ABSOFUCKINLUTELY! Do I care that other people think I wasn’t sexually harassed and should be accepting of his behavior?  To quote Whitney Houston "hell to the naw!"
Women must realize that we train men how to treat us.  In both the workplace and our personal lives, what we allow teaches men what they can do to us and get away with.  
There is no reason for any woman to feel that she must ever "be nice" or allow a man to treat her in a nasty way.  There is no reason for you to hide your rage or allow disrespectful behavior, to make you feel small or fearful, or the least bit uncomfortable in your workplace.  Stand up for yourself, stand up for your rights, and never, ever let a man get away with doing ANYTHING that hurts you in any way. No matter how small and insignificant others may view the emotional or psychic pain you feel, you are the ultimate decider of what is injurious to you. No one else gets to decide that for you. 

In my case, if dude does this shit ONE MO AGAIN, his ass is mine!!   

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Veteran social researcher, relationship advice columnist, author and radio host. Author of hundreds of articles on American and black culture, gender issues, singles, dating and relationships. Author of "Sucka Free Love!" , "The 24 Types of Suckas to Avoid," "The Black Church - Where Women Pray and Men Pray," and "Why Vegan is the New Black" all available on Amazon.Com. Her unique voice and insightful commentary have delighted fans and riled haters for 20 years. Read her stuff on SurvivingDating.Com and AskHeartBeat.Com.

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  1. GiftofGodsFavor says:

    You did the right thing. His marriage is his business. If he’s that concerned about his marriage, then stay out of inappropriate situations with other women. As for the man who replied out “tap dancing” around females, it’s the price you pay to exist peacefully on this planet with other human beings (of both genders). When Christian male asks this same man to mind his manners it wouldn’t be considered “tap dancing” it would be considered respecting the wishes and boundaries of another.

  2. Rose M. says:

    Hey Deborrah,
    Not only am I appalled by his behavior and I don’t know either of y’all personally, I am surprised there aren’t any comments in the comment section stating the same disdain for his behavior. And many of the comments above justifying his behavior or blaming the victim, so to speak are just as lame.

    Women, especially, African-American women have been fighting for centuries for the right to be treated with dignity and respect, what other human beings of other races and men seem to take for granted even though a lot of the freedoms and civil rights they enjoy have been gained on the back and blood, sweat and tears of black women because contrary to some of our counterparts, we have not always had the luxury of not working whether we wanted to or not. But enough of that rant.

    I like your proactive stance in this situation, especially if dude crosses that line again, his ass is yours. Hello! But I hope your regular readers such as I (I also listen to Blog Talk Radio on Wednesday) will print and place this particular piece somewhere in their office, at their desk or on their bath room wall so every time they are tempted to shrink from speaking up for themselves or fake laughing at some obnoxious sexual innuendo or offensive joke they will take heart and know that this type of behavior is unacceptable and accepting it on some level only perpetuates the belief that it is okay, this is how guys are, they can’t help it, lighten up, blah, blah. I am sure some of these same obnoxious men would be hot if someone treated their daughters, wives, mothers or loved ones this way or maybe not. After all, men will be men.

    Having worked in non-traditional and traditional settings this type of behavior goes on all the time despite sensitivity trainings, etc… and it seems like a lot of people are willing co-conspirators in this type of mess or simply don’t have the “balls” (male or female) to stand up for themselves let alone anyone else. I am sorry that he felt so froggy, read that entitled to behave that way or that he could test you in this manner but I feel you will handle it and handle it well.

    Keep the faith my sistah. I enjoy reading your advice column and your down to earth in your face style. I have also learned a lot from reading your posts, many have helped me reclaim my voice. Thanks!!!
    Rose Marie

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