toxic jobs

Personal stories about toxic jobs and workplace woes.

January 13, 2007

sexual harassment

Candice is 26, married and pregnant, and grew up with a gay brother so it's nothing new to her that men are attracted to other men, but at the place where she works there are two older female managers who just can't accept that any man wouldn't find them attractive.

"I remember my childhood being perfect until my brother, Sam, announced he was gay at the age of 16," reflects Candice. "My parents were outraged, disowning him and forcing him out of the house and I felt so sorry for him and guilty that I couldn’t do anything to help him."

"When Roger joined my team at work he immediately reminded me of my brother Sam," sighs Candice. "It was his first job and like everyone else I thought I was working for an enlightened company, but things that happened to Roger made me realize how wrong I was."

"Roger made no effort to hide the fact that he was gay," explains Candice. "On the contrary, he wore his sexuality with pride and if he noticed that the attention he was getting from two of the senior women was anything other than playful he did not show it."

"He took all the ‘gay bashing’ in good humor, and because he laughed at my discomfort with the situation -- and refused to co-operate with me in lodging a formal complaint -- I decided to butt out and mind my own business."

"Roger did not complain. He actually seemed to enjoy it."

"You see," says Candice, "Roger was incredibly attractive and these two women were attracted to him. Hardly a day would go by without one of trying to tempt him into a sexual liaison."

"When it became clear that Roger couldn't be tempted, they got revenge by playing pranks on him."

"They hid his lunch in a filing cabinet one day and told him to follow his nose if he wanted to find it," says Candice, "and on another occasion they poured ink over the blue fabric of his chair causing him to walk around all day with a blue butt."

"Through these, and the many other ‘playful’ indignities that he had to put up with, Roger kept on laughing."

"Until the Xmas party."

"The company had opted for a pool of gifts, where each employee would pick a name out of a hat and buy something of particular interest for the person whose name they had picked," explains Candice. "On reflection, I feel that the name-picking exercise had been rigged. One of the gay bashing female managers got a slip of paper with Roger's name on it."

"A lot of snickering was heard between these two women in the days that followed," says Candice, "and I suspected that they had a surprise in store for Roger. But I had no idea of the lengths to which they would go to humiliate him."

"On the last day of work for the year, at the Xmas party, in front of invited clients and staff from the office next door, the gift exchange took place."

"The CEO was master of ceremonies and picked up one prettily wrapped parcel after another, calling up the recipient to collect and open his or her gift for all to see."

"There were lots of oooohs and aaaahs as some really nice gifts were unwrapped," says Candice, "and one by one the recipients returned to their seats wreathed in Xmas smiles."

"And then Roger's name was called."

"He bounced up to the front of the office, his face beaming with delight, and took the gift from the CEO."

"As he unwrapped it, I caught a glimpse of something pink, and then there were gales of laughter from the two women when Roger fully exposed what one of them had bought for him."

"It was a pair of ugly pink rubber gloves and a jar of Vaseline."

"Roger's face dropped. Tears welled in his eyes. I died in my seat for him."

"And then, as if to save himself from crying and bringing victory to his tormentors," says Candice, "he brushed the tears from his eyes and started to laugh as loudly as he could."

"Everyone laughed when Roger laughed," says Candice, "but I didn't. I still feel sad and uncomfortable when I remember this incident and it's unfortunate that Roger's good humor acted to hide his true feelings right from the very start."

"He assured me that he wasn't bothered by the behavior of the two senior women," says Candice. "but at some level he must have been, and I feel so bad for not following my intuition and doing something to stop them -- what, I don't know -- but I should have tried."

"It’s true that if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem, and I’m ashamed that this has happened to me twice -- first with my brother Sam, and then with Roger."

"Because I'm pregnant I'll be leaving this toxic environment soon," says Candice, "but I worry about what will happen to Roger."

"I feel that had Roger spoken out from the first day of this harassment, rather than hiding his true feelings, the situation would not have escalated to the point where he was publicly humiliated," says Candice, "but when you're starting a new job I guess you don't want to rock the boat."

"Sexual harassment is something that men are often accused of by women," says Candice, "but it happens to them, too. And when you’re on a team, working closely with people every day, vulnerable people do get picked on and if everyone just stands by and lets it happen then they are as guilty as the perpetrators. And that's why I feel bad."

"These two women would have been the first to scream blue murder had any man even inadvertently offended their female sensitivies," says Candice, "and knowing that they gained their positions of power by affirmative action it's inexcusable that they would take advantage of it to harass a poor gay male in his first job."

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