When we hear stories about men intimidating women or touching them inappropriately we imagine what we would do if we were caught up in those circumstances. Most of us believe we would call out the behaviour either directly or take the matter up with a manager if it occurred in the workplace. In so doing, we trust appropriate action will be taken. But even in this current climate, the men’s club can continue to act as a protective force field.
The fact remains there are many women in a range of workplaces who are unable to name and shame. Their perpetrator continues to harass and a woman can feel incapable of extracting herself from his clutches. Why? Doesn’t the present atmosphere lend confidence that certain behaviour will not be tolerated? Not always…
*Nicole and *Gary are trainers at a gym I attend. I have a weekly session with Nicole. She’s warm, friendly and attractive. She’s in her mid-50’s but could easily pass for an energetic 40.
A couple of weeks ago she was threatened by Gary. She had the temerity to say “good morning” to his clients. He invaded her personal space and in a menacing tone told her to stop speaking to his clients. He then added quietly: “I’m gonna get you.”
Nicole reported it to the gym’s manager (who is male) who promptly called a meeting. Gary denied anything nefarious about the words: “I’m gonna get you”. He claimed he didn’t know what they meant. He relied on the fact that he was a new immigrant to Australia. He’s been here eight years. Nicole was incredulous. She challenged him: “So what did you mean? You were gonna get me flowers?”
The manager warned Gary about being careful with his language and called the meeting to a close. He told Nicole that was really all he could do. This was despite the incident being caught on CCTV where Gary can clearly be seen looming over Nicole in an intimidating manner. This was despite management having received a complaint from a former client of Gary’s that he had touched inappropriately. I imagine he relied on his immigrant status then too.
She told me she’s scared for her safety. She’s reluctant to insist that management take matters further as she’s concerned about what Gary might do. “He could slash my tyres or follow me home,” she said. She’s cognisant of where he is in the gym in relation to her. Throughout our session I see her looking over her shoulder.
I’m incensed on her behalf. My anger has many triggers. Unsurprisingly it’s sparked by Gary who is either oblivious to his behaviour or more likely, feels entitled to conduct himself like this. Management plays a part too; in 2018, particularly in the current climate, it feels like they are going through the motions rather than acting decisively.
A couple of Nicole’s friends have suggested that she consider leaving the gym and find work elsewhere. I am gobsmacked. I know her friends are looking out for her but doesn’t that response completely avoid grappling with the issue? What exactly must Gary do to warrant appropriate censure by management? Surely the answer cannot be that Nicole moves on. And yet I have no ready answers for her. I understand her reluctance. She doesn’t want to escalate the matter. Gary seems unpredictable. So, she waits, hoping the situation will resolve it itself somehow. Men and power. Women and their powerlessness.
Another colleague of mine, *Caroline works as a legal secretary. She enjoys her work and her work environment. She works for a male partner in the firm. Both are married…not to each other.
For reasons unbeknownst to her, the partner began touching her cheek and rubbing her arm when greeting her. It doesn’t happen every day but often enough to make Caroline feel uncomfortable and imposed upon. She feels reluctant to say anything, feeling she is reading too much into it (he’s just being friendly, isn’t he?) and doesn’t want their relationship to become uncomfortable.
Evidently, some men consider it’s acceptable to touch their professional, female colleagues. One presumes they believe it’s an entitlement owing to their seniority or they believe they’re just being friendly.
The #MeToo movement has been effective in exposing gross misbehaviour by men. It should be lauded for that. However, instances of insidious conduct and gratuitous touching continue to happen and women are left to wait and wonder: #when will it stop?
*names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals
This article was previously published in The Sydney Morning Herald.