‘Dealing with ‘sexual harassers’ back in The Day’
Okay. A couple of weeks ago I told a story about politics. And last week I wrote about religion. So I guess this week I have to (gulp) live up to my promise and deliver that tale about sex.
It’s pretty timely, since the news has been chock-full of stories about a Certain Candidate for President Who Shall Remain Nameless and his predilection for pouncing on people in the workplace (actually, make that pouncing on people practically any place: on planes, at pageants, on back lots pre tv guest spots). [Note: I am so not going to provide links here, since you know perfectly well where to find stories about this guy.]
Oh, to be perfectly clear, it’s female people he pounces on. But not just any female people. These are females who rate, oh, at least a 7 or an 8, if not an all-out 10, in his personal scale of pounce-worthiness.
Oops. There are exceptions, of course. See above photo.
But no no no. There are no politics in LutheranLiarLand(!) Let’s get back to my story.
If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you will have already experienced, vicariously, some rather spicy episodes culled from Ad Biz Days Gone By. (See ‘The Naked Boss and the Pussycat Lounge’, if you need reminding.)
Clients who grabbed your kneecaps at Benihana, bosses who ‘just happened’ to leave the office when you did and wanted to walk you home, or who danced a tad too closely at Agency Christmas Parties — stuff like this was fairly routine. The only difference was that then we didn’t call it ‘sexual harassment’. We called it ‘going to work’.
Now, don’t get me wrong — and don’t go crazy here in the comments — but these were Different Times. Nobody put a name to this stuff, uncomfortable though it was. And, you can be double-dog-daringly sure of this, no one talked about it. So, when it happened, you just, well, dealt with it.
Your client gets a case of Roman Hands at dinner? You excuse yourself, go to the ladies’, then sit somewhere else when you come back. You ditch the walker-homer by ducking into a store on an ‘errand’. Your boss opens his hotel room door wearing only a towel? Check out my story, and you’ll see that even that situation could be handled with aplomb. (And, most importantly, with not getting fired.)
Again. Please note that I am not condoning placating Bosses Who Act Inappropriately. It’s just, um, what we did. (BTW, all the examples given above really happened.)
Which brings me to the boss who figures in this story. First, let me say that this guy was a singularly terrible boss. He was self-aggrandizing. He was loud. He waved his arms a lot and yelled at underlings. By golly, he was even an awful dresser. I still don’t understand how an agency as topnotch as Ogilvy & Mather could have hired someone like this guy. But he’d won a lot of awards. In London. Which mattered a lot in those days. Personally, I’m thinking maybe he was Somebody’s Relative.
I had a sneaking suspicion that he wasn’t even very bright. But even if he wasn’t short on brains, he was definitely lacking in management finesse. I remember once he called me at home on Christmas Eve asking if I would work on a special project for him. I was feeling kind of flattered until he went on to say that he’d already called all the other writers in our group and I was the only one who answered the phone. Hmmmm.
But back to his ‘handsiness’. I remember sitting in a meeting with our Agency President at the time, a woman named Shelly (yes, a female president! what a thought!), and watching her face as he paused in his pacing around the conference-room table to place both his big paws on her shoulders and give her an affectionate squeeze. Oops.
Well. This guy failed to notice that his moves were less than welcomed. He also, more importantly, failed to notice that time had marched on and things had changed since he had been terrorizing London Women while winning his awards. Our agency now had not only a woman president, but a whole slew of young Empowered Females who refused to placate guys like him — boss or no boss.
He went a little too far with a particular female account executive one day. Did she bat her eyes in ‘misunderstanding’ and slip from his grasp and out of the room?
Nope. She marched right up to the Personnel Office. And the next thing you know, that guy was on a plane to Belgium.
(No offense to you Belgians among my readers, but, trust me, a transfer to Brussels wasn’t exactly a promotion in those days.)
So. End of story — at least my story. What happens with handsy ole He Who Would Be Prez remains to be seen. Oh — do remember to vote. Election Day is November 8. Unless you’re for WhatsIsFace, in which case it’s November 28.
New York City. October 2016
27 thoughts on “The boss who got banished to Belgium”
I’m amazed at what is still allowed in 2017. Sadly there are still boys clubs, pathetic business travelers and innappropriate comments made. About 6 months ago, a co-worker asked me in front of several male co-workers if I believed in women’s suffrage. While I was shocked I quickly said yes. He then took it a step further and asked if I “even know what that means.” Seriously? He was fired about 2 months later though it should have been directly after I made a statement to HR.
Wow! What a story. Though I do hate it that I even have to say ‘wow’. Thank goodness that you, like the other enlightened woman in my story, had the feminist (or ‘suffragist’?) cojones to speak up. Thank you for commenting and for speaking up. xoxo
Things will never get better if we don’t!
I’m at a loss for all the stories I’ve been seeing about sexual harassment. It’s just horrifying. I’m glad you were such a badass (and a babe!) and cunningly got these jerks off your back.
Thank you for your comment. As you know, I try to keep a sense of humor about things. And I was able to fend off these jerks. But it was certainly a waste of my cunningness (is this a word?) to have to spend it on these ploys instead of something more productive — like my job (!)
I remember those days of no one putting a name to it or talking about it. I worked in a candy factory, where one of the mechanics regularly came up behind the women on the assembly line and rubbed himself against them. Or–well, make that us. I don’t remember how long that went on, or how many times he did it to me, but I finally landed an elbow hard in his ribs. I didn’t acknowledge what had happened, and he didn’t acknowledge what had happened, and we went on as if nothing had happened. But he left me alone after that.
Good one, Ellen. A good ole elbow in the ribs! But seriously, I’m glad women talk about these things now. Those days were pretty grim, even though we did figure out how to handle ourselves pretty nicely, now didn’t we? xo
Oh how the times have changed. I’m glad that the boss got his comupance in the end – but the things that happened to you in your career with bosses- wow! Thank you for joining the #weekendblogshare and sorry I’m late with comments x
Oh Hannah, there is no such thing as ‘late with comments!’ Thank you for yours, and for doing such a lovely job hosting #weekendblogshare Yes, as far as those nasty bosses are concerned, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you strong’. Have fun with The Bear this weekend, and thanks again xo
love the story- thanks!
Thought you could relate, Doll. Especially after I read your column. What IS it about guys at dinner grabbing knees???
Not only was this article a pot full of truth but hilariously written! Loved reading it 🙂
Why, thank you ever so, Zee! I must admit that I had much more fun writing it than living it (!)
Oh i believe you !
Whoa! What an idiot! But unfortunately such an idiot is running for president as you said… So I surely hope some bright lights will vote!!!
Couldn’t agree more about both idiots — the Belgian and the American. I voted yesterday (absentee ballot) and boy did it feel GOOD! xoxo
Great post! I also worked in offices during the 90’s and just the comments alone would get gents into trouble nowadays. Have a great weekend #weekendblogshare x
Good for you, Lisa, for surviving the guy-centric business world! I always say ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you strong’, and I think ‘gals’ like us are the better for having lived through that nonsense. (I guess!!!) Anyway. You are a doll to read my piece and to take the time to comment. Come on back any time for more! #weekendblogshare
sheesh! What a story! I can’t imagine being a woman in the 90s/80s workplace. I would probably get fired. You sound like such a badass. Thanks for this story . I’m so glad the guy got sent away. what a creep!
There’s nothing I like better than being thought a badass!!! Thank you for your comment, and come back any time for more tales of sexual harassment. (Kidding, sort of; I write about a whole heck of a lot more stuff than that!) xoxoxo
Dear INCREDIBLE Alice, You’ve just expressed this whole thing and how it went ‘back then’ better than anyone I’ve read on the subject. Thanks so much.
Thank YOU, Ms. S. You were there, too, and survived it all in style. Your comment means so much to me. xoxo
Another gem. Which reminded me of wayyyyyy too many of those encounters! And the one time my male boss actually told a potential client who was saying crass things to me as I did a sales presentation that we didn’t want his business if that’s the way he treated me. Nov 8th can’t come soon enough- I’m on the verge of PTSD!!
Hey there Janet! Thank you so much for adding your two cents’. I love that you had such a supportive boss. Hang in there — Nov. 8 will soon be here (!) xoxoxo
You nailed it again, Alice. Those were the days and being a secretary in Canada, we were quite a bit behind the times in hiring women in any position but a secretary. Do you remember when Bush, Jr. put his hands on Merkel’s shoulders at a conference? Boy, I squirmed at that one. Yuk. BTW, already voted and I’m with her.
Oh Judy. You were a secretary! Now THAT’s a job that’s truly difficult. I helped out in The Dude’s office once when he was ‘between secretaries’, and I have to say it was the most tiring and draining work I’ve ever done. Oh, yes…I do remember that cringeworthy Bush Shoulder Squeeze. Ick!!! I have my absentee ballot right here ready to go! xoxoxo