This is a post about that guy. You know, that guy. The one that, if you’re like me, you’ve been thinking about, and probably getting angrier about, over the last couple of weeks. Those are the weeks since the Jian thing hit the fan, and then 2 MP’s got asked to leave the Liberal caucus over allegations of harassment. Yeah, I’m talking about that guy.
So who is that guy? Right now, he doesn’t work in my building, but he’s still in my professional life. He’s the one who doesn’t respect your personal space, who brushes or rubs up against you when you’re doing some silly icebreaker thing, and makes a comment that lets you know it’s not by accident, who leans in a little too close to show you something on the page or the computer, who makes no effort to hide the slow up and down he gives you when you’re introduced. The one who will offer the newest, or the youngest, or the loneliest woman in the room a ride home, and you will all try, by non-verbal communication, to wave her off, because you know that’s not a good idea. He’s the one who comes into your classroom for an observation, or professional learning, and gets much chummier with your female students than they (and you) are comfortable with.
You know, that guy.
We all know him. We give other women in our profession the heads-up about him, and when you tell a colleague a story about an uncomfortable situation you’ve found yourself in, she knows who you’re talking about before you name him, because she’s heard about him, or experienced the same kind of thing from him. We try and make sure there’s not an empty seat near us at learning events, so we won’t have to sit next to him. We work really hard to make sure our friends know not to be in a small group with him. We know he’s not safe, and we know he makes us and our friends and our colleagues incredibly uncomfortable. And yet, we don’t tell him.
I am not a shrinking violet, by any stretch of the imagination. People think I’m mouthy and pushy and opinionated. I have told women I work with to lay off the inappropriate comments about male co-workers, but I have not done anything about that guy. When he makes me profoundly uncomfortable with a touch or a comment, I may give him the death stare, and get myself out of that space as soon as possible, but I do not say anything to him. And I am ashamed of that, because it gives him license to continue to do what he does. I am also ashamed, because some of us are doing this in contexts where students see us, and we are modeling a power dynamic for them that I work against all the time.
I was listening to Cross-Country check-up on Sunday evening, making dinner, and yelling nasty comments at the radio, as Rex Murphy (really, CBC?) attempted to have a meaningful call-in about sexual harassment. He was astounded at the number of women calling in to say “yes, this happens, yes, this is real, yes, we are STILL dealing with this crap.” He commented repeatedly on one caller who had impressed him with the strength of her personality, and seemed really surprised that this had happened to her. Because why, Rex? Because she doesn’t seem like an easy target?
This happens to all of us, introvert or extrovert, old or young. Part of why it happens is because we have somehow become desensitized and accepted that this is just the way it is. A colleague I talked to said we’ve put up with it for so long, that it doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to change, so why would we be the one to make noise about it, and open ourselves up to shame and embarrassment, because we’re admitting this happened to us.
So this is my turning point. I have decided that I will no longer walk away. I will look that guy in the eye, let him know exactly what he’s done that made me uncomfortable, and ask him not to do it again, to me or anyone else. If you’re as fed up, and frustrated, and tired of being on edge as I am in this context, I’d love it if you’d join me. It’s time.
Let the sparks fly.