Trumped-Up Trickle-Down Sexual Harassment
By Erin BagwellFounder of Feminist Wednesday & Director of Dream, Girl
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]T[/dropcap]he last job I worked at before I started my own company was horrible. It was an aging company struggling to survive in a digital world. And it was sinking fast. We had two CEOs in the sixteen months I was there, and the toxic corporate culture that permeated throughout the office was both appalling and exhausting.
It wasn’t uncommon for my boss to make comments about your weight, your hair, your clothes- anything related to physical appearance was up for discussion and dissection. I once decided to wear a dress with heels into work and he said – and I literally quote – “You looked so good I almost broke my neck looking at you.” ON WHAT PLANET WAS THIS A THING A FIFTY YEAR OLD SUPERIOR WOULD SAY TO A TWENTY SOMETHING EMPLOYEE. I was mortified. And so I started wearing pants to work. Everyday.
But it wasn’t just verbal harassment either. The ladies I worked with all sat in a long row like a scene out of Mad Men, where the women were segregated to typewriters and the men in suits reigned from their offices. When we would hear the CEO’s voice we would cower. He was a toucher. He would rub your shoulders as he walked by like some kind of farmer checking on his livestock. When we heard his voice all our chairs went in and we were suddenly glued to whatever we were working on hoping to avoid attention.
There was no single point in time while I worked there that I thought it was a good idea to speak out or against the harassment so many of us faced. I literally started this feminist blog because I thought that was an easier way to make change than telling HR. Why? Because it was coming from the top. When the CEO and the VP and your superiors not only ignore but encourage this kind of disgusting behavior in your office, it sends a pretty clear signal of where their priorities and their respect for women lies.
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[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]F[/dropcap]ast forward to the second presidential debate of 2016. While watching it, I felt physically ill for our country. Trump’s blatant disrespect and horrific behavior towards women sent my soul into a triggering overdrive, bringing me back to my time at my old company. The person at the top sets the tone and the example for the rest of us. If we put this misogynistic, racist, sexually assaulting human at the top to represent us, we are screwed. We are setting ourselves back a hundred years.
And this kind of rape culture seen in our political tyrants and our bosses has serious consequences. Back at my old company, hearing and feeling those kinds of messages everyday pushed me into a deep depression. I hated the skin I was in. It felt as if just existing as a woman was bringing all these degrading things upon me. So I modified my behavior. I dressed differently. I talked less. I covered up.
And even though I’ve been out of that job for almost three years, I still feel burdened, upset, and angered by that experience. It’s something I take with me everyday. It’s something that fuels and pushes me to make sure the work I do, and the company I am building crushes rape culture and promotes freedom. The freedom to be your best self. Where what you wear and how you look don’t determine the value of your worth. That freedom is something I deeply cherish, and as a nation, something I hope we continue to work towards embodying. Let’s start by making sure someone like Trump never gets to lead from the top.