Several years ago, I was at a party where a drunk man fell into my breasts.
(Wait, let me back up and start this again.)
Several years ago, I was at an HR conference looking pretty fly for a woman in her late 30s. As a marathoner and a pilates enthusiast, I was training for a series of important events. Not only could I lift my weight and run over 20 miles with little notice, but I could also do pull-ups and push-ups for days. I was solid.
So, I was seated in a chair around a tiny table at a hotel lounge with several HR girlfriends when a lecherous dude came up from behind to “whisper in my ear” and say hello.
Has that happened to you? Some dude thinks it’s okay to invade your personal space and surprise you?
As I turned my head to figure out who’s crept up behind me, my hair got caught in this drunk HR dude’s tiepin. As I tried to untangle myself from his shirt, his face went into my breasts. Even though I’m strong, I struggled to push him off. His drink spilled on my dress.
The surrounding women gasped. And he laughed. A lot. And he never apologized. Tried to “talk it off” and pretend as if nothing happened with his eyes locked right on my breasts. It was so gross. What could I do? I was really embarrassed, but the damage was done.
Later that night, his only female coworker pulled me aside by an elevator and “apolo-splains” that he’s been drinking — they’ve all been drinking — and it was just an accident.
Sure, it was an accident. I was there, I know what happened. I didn’t make a big deal out of what happened but said, “It’s not your job to apologize for his behavior.”
But, a few months later, I was banned from doing work at his organization. Blackballed out of nowhere because my brand contradicts his organization’s values. The message to vendors and partners was clear: companies who do business with both of us must choose because they can’t do business with his organization if they attach my name.
And I’m like — is this happening?
You bet it fucking did.
Now, maybe the two things aren’t connected, him falling into my boobs and me being blackballed. But that’s the thing about being a victim of aggressive male behavior, there is no explanation. None of it makes sense. All of it is punitive. And I’ve lost thousands of dollars in opportunities since that night because I didn’t just laugh it off and go with the flow.
Am I bitter? Yes and no. It’s been a while. Whenever I think about it, which isn’t often, I just pray for him in my atheist way and hope he doesn’t act like that with other women. What else can I do? That money is gone, and my name was sullied. Can I get a lawyer? Who do I sue? The patriarchy?
That’s the thing about being a woman, you learn to let this shit go.
But there’s a postscript to this anecdote. Eventually, the drunk HR dude left his job. You know where he went to work? The Trump administration. Of course he did. And it’s not like anybody called me and asked for a reference. No background check dug deep enough to find out if this little HR man was a vindictive, petty jerk.
So, here’s what I want you to know: I speak from a place of truth when I tell you that existing HR teams and associations can’t solve the problem of sexual harassment at work because they are the problem. They’ve been perpetuating and defending toxic workplaces from the start. These HR men who want to improve your company’s culture and fix work? They are jokesters and frauds, part of the same cultural phenomenon that created hostile work environments.
To fix work, all areas of HR must reflect upon on its complicity and acknowledge its level of guilt. Is that possible? Can HR departments and associations change? Sure, but I won’t hold my breath. When push comes to shove, one of the most influential HR professionals in the country was complicit in a campaign to stop me from earning a living after he fell into my breasts at an industry event. Nobody from his former company — not even the people who saw what happened — said a word.
Then he got a job in the Trump administration.
If that’s how HR works, you can count me out. I’m here for a new HR, but what’s being sold to us by hegemonic corporate interests isn’t it.