"Is this something that I'm going to have to do something about? If so, I don't want to hear it." These are the words my direct supervisor said to me when I went to him with a sexual harassment complaint.
Let's start this story at the beginning. When I came on to this church staff, I was hired to cover two different positions. One of those was on the creative arts team, as part of the production staff. Production is a male-dominated industry, and that is no different in the church. It may be worse in the church which is a male-dominated industry in many organized religions. On this particular church staff, there were eight paid team members on production (during the time that I was employed) and I was the only female. Being the only woman on the team wasn't anything that bothered me, until one male co-worker began making off-color comments about my appearance.
I informed our supervisor. But as too many people in society believe, you can't punish ambiguous words. I was told to avoid working alone with this co-worker if he made me feel uncomfortable, and that was it.
After being blown off by my supervisor, and feeling unwanted (see Part 1) there were times I blamed myself. I would think, 'I shouldn't have worn that,' or 'I need to have thicker skin.' I felt isolated like no one understood or cared.
Soon this co-worker's (let's call him Mike) comments became less ambiguous and more direct. I was beginning to feel unsafe when I had to work with him. I went to my supervisor again, and I told him that we needed to have a conversation about Mike. My direct supervisor (we will call him Charles) said to me that he didn't have time, but we could talk later.
Well, days turned into weeks, but there was still no meeting. And while I was waiting for that meeting, Mike's "mmms" turned into, "Damn, that ass looks nice".
I felt like there was nothing I could do. I had already approached my supervisor and was blown off. I doubted that he would ever actually make time for me. And in a culture where people thought my looks disqualified me from a job (see part 1) I started to think that I would be viewed as the problem. With all those thoughts, I began to blame myself for what was happening. I went from the office's best dressed to wearing oversized sweatshirts every day.
Eventually, the comments progressed to text messages. And the 'Damn, I'd like a piece of that ass' turned into unsolicited dick pics. I considered cutting my losses and quitting my job. Having to work with him gave me huge amounts of anxiety. But a friend pulled me to the side and said, "Mike is in charge of volunteers. If he is doing this to you, chances are he's doing it to them. It's your responsibility to tell someone. Go talk to Charles."
She was right. Men who think it's their right to objectify women most likely aren't one time offenders. I couldn't walk away knowing that he could be doing this to other women in the church.
So I sent Charles an email, and then two. Then I sent him a text to check to see if he got my emails. And later, after no reply, I barged into his office asking for a meeting. I told him that I had a significant situation I needed to talk to him about that involved Mike. That's when he said to me (never even looking away from his computer), "Is this something that I'm going to have to do something about? If so, I don't want to hear it." I left his office feeling defeated. Until shortly after, when I heard a rumor that Mike was being transferred and I would be working directly with him. Now I wasn't defeated. I was pissed. I immediately went to one of the "leadership team" members and told him we needed to talk. He listened to me briefly before saying he was late to a meeting, and we'd have to finish this later.
That evening I received an email that had gone out to all creative arts staff and volunteers saying that Mike was 'being moved to where his gifts lie' and would be working directly with me. I called Charles, but he didn't answer. So I drafted my resignation letter and sent it to him. Charles called me after he got the resignation email, and said I seemed upset, and he didn't want me to quit, but he didn't need to hear what had happened. I should set up a meeting with the Executive Pastor and speak to him.
Charles didn't want to hear that I had been going to work for months with a man who would make obscene noises when I walked by, or unapologetically stare when I was working. He didn't want to hear about the anxiety I had every time I walked into a building, not knowing if Mike was there. Charles didn't want to hear how I had been suffering in silence anytime I saw Mike's name on the schedule. He didn't want to listen to me tell him that the obscene sounds turned to ambiguous words and the vague words grew to comments that made my stomach turn. Charles didn't want to have his innocence defiled by the thought of unsolicited pictures being sent to someone's phone. Charles didn't want to hear it, even though I had to live it. A man acting as my supervisor with the title 'Pastor' before his name didn't want his ears to feel dirty as I retold my experiences, even though I had to live these experiences under his supervision.
None of this situation was okay. It's not okay anywhere in life, but definitely not in a church. I may sound angry, and that's because I am. I'm mad that I wasn't cared for more, and that I wasn't protected. I'm hurt that I was in a workplace environment that allowed me to question myself enough to change my clothes and actions, and to stay silent for so long. I'm angry that I was allowed to be put in a situation like that by an organization that claims to help people get closer to God. If a person wearing your organization's name harms people mentally, emotionally, or physically, then your organization is not helping people get closer to God. It is doing the opposite.
I'm angry, and I want other women to know that you have a right to be angry too. But it's not okay to stay angry. Just being angry doesn't change anything. Be mad enough to change the society that we are living in. Be angry and demand to be respected. Be angry and change the environment that is allowing you to be objectified. Be angry and fight for a culture that treats women as valuable beings. Women should not have anxiety about being sexualized at their workplace. They shouldn't have to worry that if they wear a skirt, a man may try to lift it. A woman shouldn't have to worry about a man grabbing her body because he thinks it's his right. So be angry. Be angry, stand up, and demand a change.
Don't blame yourself. That happens far too often in our society. And don't blame other women, stand with them. Let's speak up. Tell your story. Make the men in this world who don't want to hear our stories, because it makes them feel uncomfortable, listen; because that is how we will make a change.