ON YOUTH day this year I stood in the queue at my local Spar in Pretoria while my items were being scanned.
I looked on as the cashier called her supervisor over to correct an error she had made. [pullquote align=”right”]He helped her correct the error, then smacked her bottom and said: “You naughty girl.”[/pullquote]
She was wearing a school uniform as is traditionally done on June 16 every year.
He helped her correct the error, then smacked her bottom and said: “You naughty girl.”
She giggled and carried on scanning my groceries.
I sighed and shook my head.
In my mind that was inappropriate behaviour. To me it was sexual harassment. I looked at her, felt sorry for her and thought: “If I was in her position I would definitely report that.”
Then I found myself in her position. I have a problem with receiving personal texts after 9pm from someone I work with, especially if I have no friendly relations with them.
I believe that those are the hours you are usually spending with your family and would rather not speak to a colleague.
Perhaps I am too strict but I think that once you allow the small things to happen, then this escalates to bigger problems that you can no longer put a stop to.
On a night out recently, a colleague sent me a text telling me he was lonely and had nothing to do. I responded with a text saying I was out and could not speak.
I was disturbed by his text. I didn’t know how to respond.
Soon after that he asked me out for lunch.
I said no and explained that I preferred to see him and anyone else at work in a professional capacity and environment only.
He said it was just a friendly request. I still said no.[pullquote]He said he missed the way I walked, the way I dressed and the way I talked.[/pullquote]
When I left that job soon after the request for lunch, he told me he missed my presence in the workplace.
He said he missed the way I walked, the way I dressed and the way I talked.
That had nothing to do with my work ethic. It had nothing to do with my capability and was not a compliment to me.
He was my supervisor. I thought he would mentor me.
I blocked him on WhatsApp but I did not report it to human resources. I was too scared to. He works hard and is good at what he does. What if I was overreacting? What if I was being a prude? Was it sexual harassment?
A woman with a male mentor or supervisor could find herself caught in a battle between being friendly and leading someone on unintentionally.
When I observed the interaction between the cashier and the manager at the Spar I saw that she didn’t seem to mind. Maybe it was something that happened all the time and had become the norm.
But I question the norm. I question whether the lines for how men and women should behave in the workplace have become blurred. We are often unsure what sexual harassment is and therefore do not draw the line when we are harassed.
At the moment, Wits is redrafting its sexual harassment policy. I doubt many people will read it but, if you are a young woman moving into the workplace, I advise you to know how to protect yourself. And to young men, know what the boundaries are to prevent finding yourself on the wrong side of HR and, even worse, the law.