Once Upon A Yesterday… I had to deal with a man’s inappropriate behavior at work.
Last week I went to a business to shoot some interviews for the company’s rebranding. It was all men except for me, which is not unusual. I showed up alone because there was no need for an assistant—it was a simple one-camera job. I anticipated a one-day shoot.
Yesterday, I sent a follow-up email to one of the interviewees to schedule a reshoot he requested for his part. He had felt unprepared when I was there and needed some props to illustrate points. I asked what day would work, gave an approximation of the time it should take and thought no more about it.
He responded to my email and casually threw out, “In the meantime, can we meet for a drink?”
Putting the pandemic aside for a sec, I want to use this real life example to illustrate a fundamental conundrum many professional women face. I want men to see what goes through our heads when this kind of thing happens.
Men exploit power dynamics instinctively. They don’t think about them consciously.
If he wanted to ask me out, he could have waited until after we finished shooting. Had he done so we would have been on equal footing. By doing it before we’re done working together, he is forcing me to respond, knowing that my job is now tied up in my response. I don’t know if this is conscious, but it forces me to respond simultaneously personally and professionally. I don’t appreciate it. While there are no ethics issues in dating people I work with, by him asking me out while in the middle of a project he created a couple burdens for me to refuse him:
- He might become uncomfortable with me after being rejected. I will have to work harder to get the interview I need so that the finished product I deliver to my client meets professional expectations. Realistically, it likely involves flirting a little in order to pacify his wounded ego.
- If I say no, I have to anticipate a few follow-up possibilities. These are all real things that have happened before and because I don’t know this guy I have to be prepared for the full range.
- He accepts my “no” and there is generic awkwardness because no one really wants to be around someone who just rejected them. Understandable. Also, avoidable.
- He asks, “Why?” Not that I should need a reason to say no to anyone at any time, but I could choose to tell him I am in a relationship. Something I would consider saying (and have said) whether or not it was true. It tends to be the most expedient solution and preserves his ego. It’s not personal. But it also feels icky. Like it’s only okay to say no if I already belong to someone else.
- If I tell him I am dating a woman, suddenly that opens up even more possibilities for things to go awry. He might make a threesome joke. He could suggest that I can’t know what I want because I haven’t had HIM before. He might suggest that if my relationship doesn’t work out I should let him know. All of these possibilities are infuriating for many reasons (least of which is their lack of originality) but ultimately the sticking point is that I HAVE TO EXPLAIN MYSELF. I did not flirt with him. I did not ask him out. I did not insinuate in any way that I wanted to go out with him. I showed up at work and did my job. That’s it.
- If I say no, give a reason, and he is still not satisfied with my answer or his ego is too hurt, I am left in a very uncomfortable and possibly dangerous situation. This is the stage where I have, on multiple occasions, been called a “bitch” or “cunt” or threatened in some way. I call this the RAGE SWITCH. Once the rage switch has been turned on my only interest is in getting away from the situation safely. In a professional setting this means that I either quit or have to hire someone to be an assistant/bodyguard. That is an unasked for financial burden. Also a hostile work environment.
- I can blame the pandemic. But then, with the vaccine rolling out, I will have left it open-ended enough that he may ask again and then I have to reject him a second time. Not fun for anyone.
To be fair, my immediate impression of him is that he would not be a Rage Switch guy. But the point is, because of the setting and the fact that I only interacted with him for a handful of minutes, I have no idea what kind of guy he is.
There is an inherent sloped power dynamic between men and women. Fundamentally men feel safe in the world. Women do not. It does not indicate in any way that men are better, stronger or more qualified, merely that they are not accustomed to dealing with consequences in this arena. What, to them, may be an off-hand comment, meant to flatter, is to me, the above sequence of thoughts, planning and preparing. I’m the one left with the emotional and now professional burden.
So men, please listen to the women in your life and pay attention to the stories we tell. It’s not that there is no flattery involved. It’s not that you’re a bad guy for asking a woman out. All we’re asking is for you to become aware of the situations you’re putting us in, recognizing that this whole series of events has been set off by your inappropriate behavior in a professional setting. When someone causes you undue stress, do you find it flattering? Know better. Do better. Please. And thank you.