Why Did He Think It Was O.K?

I resigned because of him.

I know women are smarter now. I know I am smarter now. But back then I oozed innocence and was incredibly naive.

I was in my early 20s, trying incredibly hard to build a career, be taken seriously and climb the corporate ladder.

He was a director and managed the entire business across the region. Married with a 7-year-old daughter.

We had a Christmas party. I was excited. I loved my work colleagues. I left the Xmas party by 8:30pm to meet friends. We went to a new club and we were having fun. Around 10pm I saw my phone. Multiple missed calls and messages from my co-workers. Apparently my out of town manager wanted to keep partying. I assumed the entire team was coming to meet me and my friends.

It was just him though. I remember saying to my friends “This is my big boss. I don’t know why he is here but I guess he is bored.”

My mind was boggled but I just assumed he wanted to meet new people. Why else would a grown, married man want to hang out with me?

Let’s remember at this point I was only a Marketing Coordinator. A glorified receptionist, if that. I ordered brochures, packed boxes, organised exhibitions and my biggest responsibility was events.

I booked venues, organised rooms. Made sure everyone in the team felt at ease, had their creature comforts and didn’t miss their homes when embarking on work travel.

As the hours passed my friends slowly started going home, yet this manager was still there. I feel ridiculous writing this but here I was thinking, I had to ensure he was O.K.

So, when he told me he had been booked in a terrible room. I felt bad. He insisted I come see his room before I go home so I can ensure it doesn’t happen again. Suggesting that it was my responsibility to fix the issue.

At this point, I am sure you are thinking “Are you stupid. You didn’t think he was going to make a move”. And the answer was “No”. No, I didn’t know. Because in my world managers didn’t do this and more importantly married men didn’t do this.

Admittedly, as I was standing in the lift getting closer to his room, I felt uncomfortable, but I thought it was my job to help him. And he was so convincing.

We got into his room.

Maybe this part, will make you laugh but it really was a terrible room. He went to the bathroom, and as I looked out the window I remember thinking ‘I just want to go home’, ‘I wish I had someone I could call to pick me up’, ‘I wish I had a boyfriend I could call’. At this point, my gut was telling me this wasn’t as innocent as I had anticipated.

He exited the bathroom and put his arms around my waist. I was still looking out of the window. I remember I stood there like a statue. Unsure on how to handle this without losing my job or worse yet what would happen if he didn’t let me leave? What would happen if I couldn’t escape?

I asked God for strength. Sat him down and looked straight into his eyes and said “I am not that type of girl. I am just not. I would never do this. Plus, you are married and have a child”. To my shock. His head dropped in shame.

I got up and started to leave, yet he followed me. Saying he wanted to make sure I got into a taxi without issues. I was so uncomfortable. I just wanted him to leave me alone. But he insisted. As I got to the busy road I felt so happy and I hollered for a taxi but as I got in he tried to kiss me. And he planted one on my lips which sent shivers down my body. I didn’t expect it. How did he think it was acceptable to do that? Why did he feel he could? What did I do to make him think he was allowed?

And that’s where I went wrong. I blamed myself. I kept thinking that I gave him a sign. I encouraged him. I made him think it was available to his desires.

Maybe it was the way I dressed. Maybe it was the make-up. Maybe I was too friendly. Maybe it was my fault because I was single and not married.

In retrospect and many years on I know whole-heartedly it was not my fault. I did nothing to encourage that and it was him who he exerted his power, taking advantage of me.

All weekend, I fretted. Would I have a job on Monday? Would he tell people fake stories? Would he start treating me badly?

He actually didn’t do anything, but our meetings became awkward and I realised that there was no way he would help me to get promoted within the company and there was no future for me there.

I resigned. I had no back-up job. I just resigned. I felt cheap. I felt responsible. But mostly I felt sad. I had studied so hard. I had worked so hard. I had done everything the right way. And yet this man took all that away. He took away my innocence. He took away my ability to trust men and managers and mostly he took away my self-esteem and confidence in myself as a woman. He made me question myself.

But this story ends well. I went on to travel and after three months of being income free I landed a job. A better role, in a great company working for an amazing manager – who was… a Man. And I thank this manager for making me believe that not all male authority figures will take advantage but rather there are some that will mentor and help you be the best professional version of yourself. He was encouraging and made me feel like I was capable. He taught me many skills that have helped me get to this point in my career.

Why am I sharing this story? Because if I met 24-year-old me now, I would tell her to trust her gut. To not feel ashamed but to stand up for what she had worked for. To go to Human Resources, to talk to someone and ask for advice. To not hold it in and to not blame herself for his flaws.

It was NEVER my fault.

I have held this in for over 10 years and I thank my husband for giving me the courage to write these words. My objective isn’t to get anyone in trouble. I don’t want revenge. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I just want other women to know three things:

1.      Don’t blame yourself for a man’s weaknesses. Fight for your place in any organisation and be relentless.

2.      Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right. It most likely isn’t.

3.      Lastly, and most importantly, not all men are going to take advantage. There are still many respectful, intelligent and supportive male managers.

 “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I’m not going to be silent.”
Madeleine Albright

 

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