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What It’s Sometimes Like to be a Woman in the Jewelry Industry: One Person’s Story

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.

beating-a-rug-2Let 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:

warrior-princessYOU ARE NOT ALONE.

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…

#vagpower

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9 thoughts on “What It’s Sometimes Like to be a Woman in the Jewelry Industry: One Person’s Story

  1. Stephen says:

    These things are just disgusting! I’m sorry that they’ve happened to you, because this shouldn’t happen.
    Most people don’t know what legally constitutes an assault. They might be surprised to know that it doesn’t include physical touching, or trauma. The legal definition of an assault is when a perpetrator puts someone in fear of being harmed. When an assault leads to something physical it becomes a battery. So, when a man makes a woman afraid, sexually, or otherwise, IT IS AN ASSAULT!!!

  2. Emily says:

    THANK YOU for this! I’m sorry these things happened to you and other women, but I’m glad you are not afraid to discuss it and share it so we can all learn from it.

  3. Thank you, Barbara, for having the courage to share these horrifying stories. I remember when i worked as an executive editor at a publishing company outside the jewelry industry, a man to whom I reported (he was my boss’s boss, and controlled all salary and title changes), sat in an editorial meeting, in front of other colleagues both male and female, and described how he felt watching me exercise in the company gym.

    I had, at that point, spent years hiding my body behind boxy jackets and loose blouses, because I had learned at 14 that if I didn’t, some boys and men stared at me lewdly, made gross jokes, and I hated it (yeah, I got the chest that creep told you he wished you had). It had taken me two years to have the courage to even use the gym at my company for this reason. But it was a company where fitness was emphasized, it was the 1980s, and my publication had Fitness in the title!

    SO I finally went to the damn gym, dressed in long shorts and, yes, another boxy t-shirt two sizes too big. I had completely bought into the narrative that as a woman, it was my job not to provoke these comments by the way I dressed. But I made the mistake of using some of the weight machines where you had to lie on your back … and BINGO, the man who controlled my work destiny spent his gym time, by his report, ogling me and then describing it to the other people in that room. It was years later, while watching the Anita Hill hearings, that I realized what this behavior was called, and that he didn’t need to reach out and touch me to commit it. That it is still going on all these years later, saddens me more than I can express in words… and to a much more explicit and also physically invasive degree, in your case. I have heard many stories like yours, inside and outside the jewelry industry, and this is a topic that needs airing.

  4. Every time a woman shares these stories, I experience both anger — at the fact that they exist at all — and pride, in her courage to shine a light on the realities we face. Every experience is a unique pain, but the common thread of being made to feel like an object or “less than” is so apparent each time.

    Attending shows is one of the highlights of my job, and it’s mostly due to the wonderful group of people I’m privileged to know and meet in this industry. But now that I stand on the other side of the booth (and work in a completely male-dominated workplace), the more subtle perversions of the past have become blatant demonstrations of sexism, misogyny, and yes, assault.

    It took a very, very short amount of time for me to understand that “hey gorgeous, introduce me to your boss so we can make a deal” wasn’t just a weirdly condescending compliment. And that passive-aggressive jokes about “booth babes” (a practice that should’ve been banned years ago, and gives me chills every time I see it in action) aren’t really meant to be jokes.

    I’m teaching my #girlboss colleagues how to stand up for themselves, and educating the men around us about what’s really going on. But until the stories are shared and addressed, it sometimes seems like white noise against a mansplaining, SWM-dominated, sex-driven cacophony of egocentrism.

    Thank you for adding your strong voice.

  5. Like one guy,owner of an Italian jewellery brand, who told be that, by unbuttoning my shirt a little, I would have had more attention and maybe be hired by a jewellery brand.
    I laughed loud at him, but this is how the world goes, and this is why I will probably never land a job in a jewellery Maison: my shirt is not unbuttoned enough.

  6. the more these issues are exposed the better to shut this outdated disrespect down. Men need to be proactive. our work includes empowering women, and protecting whenever possible.

  7. Sorry you had to endure that. When I broke into the trade over 40 years ago as a bench worker I was the only and first woman in pretty much every shop I worked. The hazing, the verbal and sometimes physical assaults were insane. My late mother had been a gender pioneer in her day. When I asked how she made it through she said, “Well honey, I just rolled up my sleeves, got to work and set the curve. Oh and never let them see you cry.”

  8. Priyanka Kedia says:

    Makes me so proud to be part of an industry with such strong women. You got it right #vagpower !!
    I heard a similar story recently from another colleague and I was shocked. Didn’t know this happened in our industry but for her it was at a trade show as well.
    I’m so glad you shared this story and know that we all stand together. It appalls me that there are people like that in our small jewelry community.

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