Not every man is guilty of sexual harassment in the workplace, but I bet all women have experienced it and single women have the most stories to tell.
Katarzyna Białasiewicz / 123RF Photo
It’s been painful to read the articles about Harvey Weinstein and the broader topic of workplace sexual harassment and its pervasiveness, as evidenced by the “MeToo” hash tags popping up all over social media. As one who qualifies for #MeToo status, I’ve wanted to write about the topic even before it became the talk of the town. But I never did, likely because it would be akin to taking a second bite out of a turd sandwich and would require feeling that shame, again, because like most women, maybe all women, it’s part of my life experience.
But after talking to a friend who is about the same age as me — who got married at 22 and started having babies by 23, and said it only happened once courtesy of a high school gym teacher — it made me wonder if sexual harassment happens a lot more to women who are single. My hunch is yes – based solely on my personal experience and observations as someone who has spent most of her life living single. I haven’t done any scientific research on the topic, but unlike my longtime, married-early, lots-of-babies friend, it happened to me and my single friends, over and over again.
My work history started at 16 at a Woolworth’s lunch counter and a McDonalds – nothing happened there. But when I got a job as an assistant for a cement contractor at age 18, it became clear very quickly that he was looking for a girlfriend, not a secretary. I quit after a week and it wasn’t such big deal. Yes, I was disappointed and grossed out, but quitting that job had no real impact on my life. I was still living at home and could easily move on to another summer job.
Several years later, when I dropped out of college to pursue a singing career in Nashville, it was a crash course in advanced sexual harassment by men in power positions. They were the producers, the A&R executives, the record label bosses and the club venue managers. They were the ones with the right connections and made it very clear to me that it took more than talent to make it in the music business.
Although I had a few boyfriends back then, I was single. There wasn’t a wedding ring on my hand, no husband to kick anyone’s ass for inappropriate behavior. There was just me, living alone, scraping by waiting tables and hoping my dreams would come true. Since I didn’t work for the men who had the power to “make me a star,” it was easier to walk away. Other women played along and ironically, most of them got nothing from the deal.
The most egregious sexual harassment occurred when I left Nashville and made a decision to pursue a “real” career, this time at a TV network with a prestigious address in Century City. I was still single, still living alone and still had only me to pay the bills. This job was supposed to be my new beginning. I started as an office assistant, and after a lot of hard work (to make up for time lost in Nashville), I was promoted to a development executive. Wow! I was so grateful to have this opportunity. My future looked promising.
Then it started. My boss, who was married, began making embarrassing comments, would put his hand on my leg as we drove to meetings, and showed up at my apartment, uninvited, on a Saturday night. I shooed him away, feigning amusement at his “playfulness” while feeling panicky fear in the pit of my stomach.
That boss moved on, but it got worse with the next one. He didn’t make any moves on me directly, but made it clear that when the head honchos came to town, it was my obligation to participate in whatever diversions might be required. It filled me with dread, but by this time, I’d become pretty adept at evasive maneuvers. At least until one particular “top dog” came to town. He was on me like a hound on a rabbit. It was embarrassingly obvious to everyone in the office, including my boss, who warned me I better make sure he went home happy.
Would this have happened if I was married? Or if I had a boyfriend waiting for me at home, or if I had kids who needed their mommy? Would it have happened if I had a partner who would have been there to carry me through had I told my creepy boss, “I quit!” and walked out the door?
But I didn’t. He knew I needed that job and his recommendation would be necessary to get the next one. In his mind, what was so bad about extending yourself to keep the big boss happy? I could increase job security for everyone in the office. Don’t be so selfish Kim! Grow up! Play along! Take one for the team! After all, you’re single – you don’t belong to anyone.
That’s why I think it happens more frequently to single women. The wolf looks for the prey that offers the least resistance, the one on the edge of the herd, the one that’s perceived as easier to take down. And although things improved a bit after Anita Hill (a single woman) raised the country’s awareness that it’s not only uncool but illegal for an employer to grope, make off-color remarks and expect sexual rewards from an underling, the abundance of #MeToo hashtags shows we still have a long way to go.
Copyright © Kim Calvert/2017 Singular Communications, LLC.
Kim Calvert is the editor of Singular magazine and the founder of the SingularCity social networking community. An outspoken champion of people who are living their lives as a “me” instead of a “we,” Kim oversees the creative direction and editorial content of the magazine and online social networking community. She secures contributors and is responsible for maintaining the fun, upbeat, inspirational and often-humorous tone of Singular, a lifestyle guide for successful single living.