This reader was sexually harassed at work and decided to stand up to her boss and speak out. Here is her story…
The day I began to realise that something was disastrously wrong with being a woman in South Africa, was the day people started talking about the #MeToo movement.
In an era of being woke, we are only now starting to realise that sexual harassment and abuse is NOT okay, and that toxic masculinity will not be tolerated in today’s day and age.
I am so proud to be a woman. We are finally starting to have a voice, we are owning our narrative and we are fighting to be heard, in a generation where men quickly responded saying… not all men are like this. Instead of fighting by our side, they once again made it a you and me and not an ‘us’ debate.
This is my #MeToo story
The reason why I didn’t share it sooner is because I thought, well my story isn’t that bad. It’s actually not bad at all: there are women who have been through much worse than I have, so let me not dilute the conversation with my story.
I am part of the problem, because as a young woman I am conditioned to think that because I wasn’t assaulted at the very worst level I could’ve been, that my story doesn’t matter, but it does, and here it is…
I am part of the problem, because as a young woman I am conditioned to think that because I wasn’t assaulted at the very worst level I could’ve been, that my story doesn’t matter
I’ve worked in Public Relations and Reputation Management for the past seven-plus years, and I love what I do! A few years ago, I found myself in a position where I was headhunted to lead the PR division at a small agency in Johannesburg.
I doubted myself in terms of my experience and skill-set: was this something I would be able to do? The Managing Director assured me that my experience and skills spoke for themselves and that my presence was powerful and I would be just fine. I was offered mentorship and guidance for anything I was uncertain of. This was an opportunity that almost sounded too good to be true.
I started working at this agency and quickly realised that I WAS the PR agency
I was a one-woman show and on top of that, we didn’t have any clients yet, so I was essentially a glorified sales person, attending pitch after pitch for new business.
However, I saw the opportunity for success and decided to stick it out and create a legacy that I could be proud of.
The MD and CEO were both male and often made sexual or inappropriate jokes and comments around the office, which I ignored. We women are conditioned to shrug off this behaviour as ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘I’m young and shouldn’t be such a prude’.
That was until things turned physical
I would walk past a desk and the CEO would pull me onto his lap or ask me to attend after hour’s drinks with him at a nearby bar and ask my how such a beautiful woman such as me could be single, don’t I have needs?
I would shut down these conversations and even joke by saying “Ring ring, it’s the CCMA calling, let’s change the topic”. I felt a lot of guilt for how I was being treated and blamed myself a lot.
I knew I didn’t dress inappropriately, but as a precaution I purposefully started ‘making an effort to look less attractive’. I started wearing baggy clothes (nothing body hugging). I stopped wearing heels and I wore minimal make-up and tied my hair up in a bun or a ponytail instead of wearing it loose over my face.
Now I am by no means saying “I was so attractive, I had to try to look ugly”. I’m saying that in order to feel SAFE, I had to consciously make an effort to look less feminine on a daily basis.
The MD and CEO were both male and often made sexual or inappropriate jokes and comments around the office, which I ignored. We women are conditioned to shrug off this behaviour as ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘I’m young and shouldn’t be such a prude’
Fearing for my safety, I resigned after two months of working at said company and served an additional month notice period.
Imagine my surprise when I wasn’t paid my last months’ salary
I called and I emailed, I texted: I even tweeted my former employer to ask what was going on and what the delay was.
By now it was the 6th of the next month. To my horror, I received a text saying if I wanted my salary I could see him in court. My heart sank into my belly, but the feminist inside of me jumped to attention.
All I could think was “Today is not the day”. You abused me for three months and now the abuse is going to continue – nah.
I have two younger sisters and I needed to set an example for them.
I went to the CCMA and to my delight they were really professional and acted quickly
I got my date, made the drive to the CBD and confidently walked into the building to plead my case. As I walked in, I saw a sea of faces and immediately made eye contact with my former employer (he even smiled and waved at me).
My heart sank once again and I had to fight to hold back the tears. All I wanted to do was run away, but I knew that I needed to take a stand – to make him think twice before he acts this way again, to be a role model for my sisters and to take back that power for myself.
A few minutes later, our names were called and we walked into a quiet room. My CEO’s attorney immediately issued me paperwork reminding me of the NDA I had signed, etc.
I started trembling, but I knew I had to fake it until I made it
I rudely cut him off saying ‘Sorry guy’, and asked the commissioner if this man needed to be in this room. The commissioner replied no, not if I’m not comfortable with it. The attorney left.
I stated my case as bravely as I could. I was armed with affidavits from colleagues who had witnessed his behaviour, and I spoke firmly and clenched my jaw to fight back the tears a few times. After an hour of back and forth, I decided to settle out of court so I could get my money and close this chapter. This entire process had been extremely distracting and was emotionally draining.
This in my eyes was a victory. We agreed on the date, shook hands and left the building.
The attorney, my former employer and I got into the same lift and my CEO still asked me if I wanted to go for a drink now that this was behind us, claiming that we were great friends before this and should move forward.
I reminded him that he was in this position for sexual harassment and that he should just stop speaking. He continued flirting.
I looked at his attorney and just said “I don’t know how you represent people like this on a daily basis, sies”. He never responded.
My former CEO walked me to my car, paid the car guard R20 and tried to hug me goodbye
I climbed into the little Corsa lite I was driving at the time and sped off. I held it together and then called my mom, at that point I turned into a puddle and started crying uncontrollably.
My family was proud of me, I was proud of myself. I had slayed the dragon in my eyes and claimed back my power.
It wasn’t easy and I understand why so many women don’t face their abusers, the emotional turmoil is not always worth it. This is my story of being a young women in South Africa, I stood up to the patriarchy and I’m no longer afraid to share my #MeToo story as my demons no longer have any power over me.