I Didn’t Sign Up for ThisFebruary 20, 2009
PBS is airing a special investigative show tonight, Friday, February 20, about teenagers and sexual harassment at work. At AAUW, we already know from our research report Drawing the Line that teenagers in college are vulnerable to sexual harassment. The overview of the PBS special indicates that teens also are vulnerable to harassment at work because they may not know what appropriate behavior in the workplace is or know how to deal with behavior they think is inappropriate. As part-time, temporary, and inexperienced workers, they also are easy to replace. (Aweareness Blog has more on this subject.)
Reading about the PBS special reminds me of the summer of 2001 when I was 18 and worked full-time at a museum gift shop in Washington, D.C. Almost every day I received uncomfortable and unwanted male attention.
When I walked to my locker and the clock-in machine, the men who worked as janitors and maintenance workers greeted me with “looking good” or “mmm” sounds. I would either keep my head down and ignore them or nod my head and keep walking, always flushed with embarrassment.
Many days I then was “hit on” by male patrons of the gift shop. The week of the national scouting jamboree was the worst. Hundreds of troops came through the shop, and it was the leaders, who were usually decades older than me, who flirted with me. As customers, I had to be polite and humor them and just hope they left soon.
The most disturbing part of my job was one of my male supervisors. From time to time he followed me around the store, leering, and three times he asked me out to dinner. He was nearly 60 years old. I was always relieved when he was working a different shift than I was so that I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to dodge him.
Unlike the young women interviewed for PBS, none of these men touched me or made sexually explicit comments to me, but the constant barrage of unsolicited male attention and objectification, ranging from customers to my boss was annoying, disturbing, and not what I signed up for when I was hired. A female co-worker who was my age had similar experiences with customers and our boss when I finally confided in her. We commiserated together but took no action.
I am interested to learn what PBS discovered and more importantly, to find out if there is additional information I can add to the Legal Advocacy Fund online Resource Library to help teenagers who are being sexual harassed at work.
When you were a teenager, were you sexually harassed at your job? Do you have any advice or resources to share?