When I wrote my anniversary post back in August I talked about some of the lessons I’d learned while blogging for three years as well as some of the goals I still wanted to accomplish as a writer. One of the things I mentioned learning was that “sexual harassment in the workplace still exists and should be discussed more openly in our industry” and one of the things I said I wanted to accomplish still was, “taking on tough topics” which I intend to do in this very piece.
For the record, this is not meant to be a political post. This is not meant to sway you one way or the other as it pertains to for whom you should vote, not that you could be swayed at this point, anyway. It’s simply to put out in the open what exactly it feels like to be talked down to, mansplained to, mentally abused, sexually harassed, or even worse, sexually assaulted in the workplace; in our workplace… our tight-knit community of jewelry people who come from all walks of life. And I have read and seen and heard too many arguments about what doesn’t constitute as assault as well as too many instances where someone didn’t believe the woman (or person) making the claims. This is what prompted me to write this post. This has been a work in progress and it is something that has been sitting on my desktop for several months. Now, however, is as good a time as any to tell these few disturbing tales.
Let it be clear: I can’t speak for every woman. I absolutely don’t believe what has happened to me has happened to everyone, but these instances have happened to at least one and so it’s likely the case that they have happened to some. But as far as this post goes, this is strictly about my experiences over the last two decades. No names will be named. No stores or brands or designers or sales managers will be at risk, and I’m not even using specific dates, but these are stories that aren’t often told yet desperately need to be, and heaven knows I’ve never walked away from a topic that others may try to sweep under the rug. In fact, today, right now, consider the rug lifted, taken out back, beaten with a broom, cleared of all the dust, and sold at a yard sale. The rug is gone now. It’s time to refinish the floors. It’s time we see our own reflections in them. And it’s time we’re happy with what we see.
A Jewelry Trade Show, This Year
I had just gotten off the plane and headed directly to see some of my friends who were showing their designs at one of the major industry trade shows. After about an hour or so I saw a male jewelry personality whom I have a decent relationship with and have known for many years. He was visiting a friend’s salon and when I approached them both they greeted me with smiling faces and open arms. “Let’s all get a picture!” said my friend, who handed her phone to another one of the vendors in the room. “You get in the middle,” she said to me, “you’re the tallest.” It’s not an uncommon request so I cheerily stepped between her and the gentleman to my left. As we stood steadily posing for the third of many shots being snapped, with our arms wrapped around one another and smiling our jewel-induced grins, I felt the man’s right hand reach between my legs and his fingers push into my genitalia. I immediately jumped back and he turned to me, smiling. I nearly vomited on the spot. This was a man known by so many important people in our business. His name is synonymous with the jewelry industry and I knew that there would be no way anyone would believe me if I reported what he did. Or rather, they might believe me because of his underground reputation as a creepy guy, but they likely still wouldn’t do anything about it because of who he was.
I knew that if I reported him to security I could kiss my future in this business goodbye. I knew that it would be his word against mine and so, like so many times before, and like so many women before me, I kept my mouth shut and tried my best not to think about it.
A Jewelry Trade Show, Some Years Ago
Male Sales Manager (showing me an Instagram picture of some female CrossFitter): “If you had tits like her you’d be making a lot more sales.”
Various Times on Social Media in the Year Two-Thousand and Fourteen
In the same way that a woman’s clothing choice doesn’t give a man an excuse to rape her, a woman’s selfies or beach vacation bikini pictures or post-marathon shots shouldn’t give a man the right to make crude or lude comments either publicly or privately. Nor does it give a man the right to view her profile on her social media pages (uh, hello, we can see you doing it on LinkedIn) several times per day, day in and day out, for months at a time. This happened to me with two different men in the same year, and even after blocking both of them, they individually changed their screen names (more than once!) and tried following me again until I finally reported one of them for harassment and contacted the other one’s superior at their job. Two different middle-aged divorced men whom I barely knew each sending me squeamishly inappropriate messages. Fun stuff, this being a girl thing.
Somewhere in the U.S. in the Last Decade
Male Store Owner: “Who’d you vote for?”
Me (writing up sales proposal): “I’m sorry?”
Male Store Owner (now glaring at me with disdain): “I’ll bet you voted for Obama.”
Me: “Sir, I’m not supposed to discuss politics with clients. I could lose my job.”
Male Store Owner: “That response alone proves to me you voted for him. I don’t know what would have been worse; having him in office or the bitch.”
Me (doing all I could to keep calm and continue writing): “Sir, please… I really…”
Male Store Owner: “Come to think of it, I think Obama is Clinton’s bitch.”
To say that I was fighting back tears would be a grave understatement. But they weren’t tears of sadness; they were angry tears. I sat there, typing on my laptop, looking down at the keys so as to not make eye contact with this man as he continued to talk at me knowing that there wasn’t a damned thing I could say back to him. If I wanted the sale, I needed to keep my mouth shut while he tortured me and while he knew he was torturing me. And at the end of the day, the proposal was back-burnered. He claimed he didn’t have the money to commit. He put me through mental hell for nothing, but it wasn’t anything I wasn’t already used to.
When I was Sales Director for a Major Internet Retailer in Atlanta, Early Two Thousands
We had just hired a new bench jeweler; a “good ole boy” from Georgia with tons of bench experience but not a ton of etiquette as it pertained to how he spoke to women. Having grown up with two older brothers and having worked around men my entire adult life I was used to the innuendos, the off-color jokes, and the inappropriate comments, and while I never took them lightly, I learned to drown them out, until, of course, I felt that a line had been crossed.
I was in the jeweler’s room, cleaning a customer’s ring while he was setting a center stone for a different client. The cleaning process usually takes several minutes as the rings needs to be soaked in the Ultrasonic cleaner before being steamed and brushed – which he knew – and so I assume that’s why he made an attempt at small talk.
Him: “So, what part of town you live in?”
Me: “Oh, well, we’re close to Midtown.” (I didn’t know him well enough to want to give him an exact area so I made my answer as vague as possible.)
Him: “Oh yeah? You in the gay neighborhood? I’ll bet they love you there.”
Me: “No, we’re not. We’re about a mile away from there.”
Him: “There any good restaurants where you’re at? I wanna get down there soon.”
Me: (Now, honestly trying to be helpful) “Oh, totally! Lots. We love Manuel’s Tavern. Oh, and Pura Vida. Great, great tapas. Great food.”
Him: “They got manly food at Pura Vida or is it just them tapas?”
Me: “Oh, they have lots of different foods there. They’re Latin-inspired so they specialize in meats.”
Him: “Oh, you like meat, do you? You eat a lot of meat?”
Me (unsure of whether or not he was being serious): “Uh, I eat steak, yeah.”
Him (stopping his work, turning his chair toward me and looking at me in what can only be described as *that way*): “So you like your meat, huh? You like good meat? You like it thick? How do you like your thick meat?”
I felt my skin crawl. I was genuinely afraid that this was the type of guy who would wait for me in the parking lot after work. I’d been there before. I’d been in those situations. I would not allow myself to be put at risk again. I was older, smarter, and stronger than I had been in the past, and so I took the appropriate steps to make sure I wasn’t harmed, including telling my then boyfriend who was twice the guy’s size and likely twice as crazy.
It was the first time I’d ever reported someone for blatant sexual harassment, and kudos to the guys I worked for at the time; they took it very seriously, and Creepy McJewelerstein was gone shortly thereafter.
These are not the only stories I have, sadly. There are others; many others. I realize that some people out there might be unhappy with the language or content in this piece, but for every person who thinks it inappropriate to share what I just did, there is a woman who is nodding her head because she’s been there, or worse, she is STILL there. Those are the women I’m speaking to right now. If it’s you, or you, or you, then listen up now… you stay the course, and whatever you do, don’t forget these words:
YOU ARE NOT AT FAULT.
YOU ARE NOT A COMMODITY.
YOU ARE NOT AN OBJECT.
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO STAY QUIET.
YOU DO NOT NEED TO FEEL SHAME.
YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK.
BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, YOU ARE STRONGER THAN THEY THINK.
The times, my friends, they are indeed a changin’, but unless we talk about the issues and start the uncomfortable discussions, it will take a lot longer for that change to happen.
Peace out, share your stories (even anonymously) below, and as always…