It took me awhile to actually publish this post because honestly, I was worried about people’s reactions and I was embarrassed. But at the end of the day, I think it’s important to tell your story because you never know who may listen.
Picture this: you are 21 years old and you have just started your first full-time “dream job” as an entertainment publicist in New York City. Forget the whole notion of transitioning from college to “real-world” – you are immediately thrown to the wolves, faking courage in front of the publicists that have been in the industry for years and doing everything in your power to keep your boss and clients happy.
I have to admit, I have never ever been a quick learner and growing up with a brilliant sister who could recite everything from government policy to Arabic after scanning it for 5 seconds was never easy. To make up for my lack of expeditious learning, I have always pushed myself to the brink to make sure I am doing my absolute best in whatever I’ve set my mind to. You would think in the workforce that would play in my favor however it did quite the opposite – especially when those surrounding you can sniff out an advantageous situation.
As an entertainment publicist, the majority of my clients were 45-year-old club and bar owners who are generally used to getting exactly what they asked…or paid for. One evening I was working an event for one of my client’s bars where I stood in the rain from 7pm-11pm (i’m not whining about this, every assistant pays their dues, i’m just painting the picture) checking in editors, celebs, people who immediately blurted out “you don’t know who I am?” as if they had said it one too many times. After I was so graciously relieved from my post, I was offered a tequila from my client and proceeded to sit on a bar chair so the blood could rush back into my feet and I could regain mobility. After seemingly friendly chatter among the group who consisted of my boss, agency founder and the bar partners, my 50-year-old, married father-of-two client picked me up, placed me on his lap and began groping me. Everyone sort of froze and then continued on with the conversation like nothing was happening in their peripheral vision. My boss then gave me a look that was clearer than if she shouted the words in a microphone. Her eyes said, “It’s fine, just let it happen, it’s better if they are happy.” As I sat there embarrassed and fighting back tears, I let it happen. I have never, ever been the type of person to not speak up for myself or others if something was wrong but because I was young, new to the industry and everyone around me was watching it happen…I had to make myself believe that in that moment it was OK.
I ran out of the bar shortly after, reluctantly called my boyfriend of five years to explain what had just happened and immediately lost it. He responded “so why didn’t you slap him and tell him to get the fuck off of you?” A normal male response, but for some reason I just couldn’t give him an answer. Because I didn’t have one.
Feeling ashamed, invaded and embarrassed, I opened up my email inbox at the office the next morning to which I saw an email from Jim’s (not real name) business partner who saw everything go down the night before. My feelings were immediately validated when I saw his opening sentence: “I can’t begin to explain how embarrassed I am on behalf of Jim’s actions last night and cannot apologize enough.” I instantly felt relieved that someone else was speaking up, knew it was wrong and I wasn’t just a crazy person who wasn’t “tough enough” for the industry. I then continued to read through the remainder of the email:
“I hate to say that it was the alcohol, but it truly was and he would never have acted this way if he hadn’t been drinking. I am so sorry this made you uncomfortable and we are scheduling an internal meeting to discuss the situation.
Also – I hope this isn’t too forward but I felt like we really hit it off last night and I would love to take you out for a drink sometime.”
I shit you not. You truly cannot make this shit up. The man had the audacity to target my vulnerability in that moment to use it for his benefit. Two weeks later I quite my job and vowed to never work in an industry that overlooked sexual harassment because it was good for business. I didn’t work my ass off to get on the Dean’s List in college so I could lower myself to some misogynistic guy’s standards. Sexual harassment isn’t gray. If you feel uncomfortable, say something. Many view sexual harassment in the workplace as only happening in the office but in an industry where you are constantly dealing with older male clients and going out is just another part of the job, you have to be the one to draw a firm line and speak up.
I’m not telling this story for sympathy, I’m truly not. It didn’t even phase me until a couple of years later. I look back on the situation and just want to shake my younger self and scream, “YOU DON’T HAVE TO LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU.” These instances aren’t singular and everyone has their story. But it’s important to open the dialogue, erase common definitions of sexual harassment and urge yourself to listen to your “uh oh, feeling.” In a world where others are content standing idly by, stand up for yourself, trust your instincts and do what you can to stop the all too “normal” narrative.