As Promised: The Tale of Sexual Harrassment Colleague.

Hey, I lost my voice. So I called the Department Secretary this morning to cancel my 10am class, thinking a bit more time to sleep and have coffee, and buy some throat lozenges, and I could probably make it to the noon class. Her reaction to my barely-audible squawkings on the phone was to say “Oh my God! I am cancelling all your classes.” Sweet. This leaves some unexpected free time, so let me lay on you the tale of Sexual Harrassment Colleague.

One semester, after Sarcastic Bastard and I had got rid of Professor Crybaby from our office, and her desk was briefly occupied by Dr We-Won’t-Speak-Ill-of-the-Dead, we were graced by the presence of Sexual Harrassment Colleague (hereinafter referred to as SHC).

SHC is an older guy, who used to be a High School teacher; he’s a published author, and father of adult twins (both female). The final point is probably important in understanding his treatment of me. Gratuitously snarky detail: his hair looks like steel wool that was once on top of his head, but has now slipped down several inches towards his back.

It was SHC’s first semester teaching at our institution, but clearly, as an experienced High School teacher, he thought there was nothing he needed to learn about teaching an upgrading course at a college. Generally, when new colleagues move into our shared space, we give them a couple of weeks’ grace before we hate them and hang them out to dry (although we made an exception for the annoying one we already pre-hated who moved into our office when some of our other colleagues turfed her out of their shared space, but I digress). So when I saw SHC doing some stupid-ass shit, I kindly offered him some pointers.

For instance, on one occasion I happened to be in the room while he was having a chat with a student who was doing badly and needed to get some extra help. Instead of just making some suggestions, he actually phoned the relevant offices and made appointments for the student. Dude. That is not cool. These guys are in college, and need to be treated as adults. When I suggested that SHC was maybe going above and beyond the call of duty – and not in a good way – he gave me a talk about how he had loads more experience than I did, blah blah blah. Full disclosure: I probably look a bit younger than I am, and yes, I am short and blonde, but there I was, his colleague, and I had been doing the job for fully 3 years at that point. But that’s no excuse.

He never called me by my name. Often, he called me “my girl” or similar.  I certainly never heard him call Sarcastic Bastard or Professor Darwin (our other, male office mates) by anything but their names.

The other issue we were having was over the shared computer. This was a semester when my teaching and parenting schedules were pretty tight, so I was doing a lot of work from home. I had 2 hours a week in the office, and needed to be able to use the computer I was sharing with him during that time. I explained this to him during the first week of semester, and said, “You can use the computer any other time, but on these two days, I need the computer for this hour.” That was fine, he said. Except it wasn’t.

Every single day, I would come in, and he would be there, using the computer, and I would have to ask him if I could use it. He never offered to get off the computer, or asked if I needed it. He put me in the position of female supplicant. To me, sharing a resource means understanding that the other person has a right to use the resource. Previous computer-sharers (and this includes people I had made cry, I’ll have you know) had understood this. We had negotiated sharing when our schedules overlapped. None of them made me ask, every single time, if I could please have my hour of agreed-upon computer time. As the semester went on, I got angrier and angrier about his not-so-subtle power-game, and my requests got snippier. He wrote me a note chiding me about my “attitude” and telling me I ought to be more polite. I ground my teeth.

The final straw came one day when a Snowflake Student who hadn’t been to class all semester turned up in my office wanting to know what she had missed. This was, you know, like week 8 of semester. “You’ve missed about half the course,” I said. “The good news is you haven’t missed the withdrawal deadline. I’m going to recommend that you drop the class.” Oh noes! How could I? Of course Snowflake was going to make up the work. I stuck to my guns and convinced her to drop.

After she left, SHC, who had been in the room, leaned over, patted me on the shoulder and said, “That was difficult for you, but you did the right thing.” Excuse me? How dare you a) touch me and b) suggest that doing my job is something my weak female mind can barely cope with? I was so furious, I left the room so that I wouldn’t punch him, and stood fuming in the corridor until Professor Hobbit came by and said “You seem upset. Let me buy you a coffee.”

That day really made me appreciate my colleagues. Well, apart from SHC. Professor Hobbit calmed me down and talked to me about my options. Did I want to make a formal complaint, or did I want to do something more low-key? He suggested I talk to Dr Militant Feminist, who gave me absolutely brilliant advice about how to write a letter to SHC which would be a solid first step in case I wanted to take further action down the road. Professor Hufflepuff let me rant and rave for as long as I needed. Sarcastic Bastard was hugely supportive. Professor Birkenstock pointed out that SHC tended to be a patronising jerk, giving his behaviour some context. I left the note for SHC when I left that afternoon.

I didn’t have class the next day, and when I arrived at work the following day, Professor Hufflepuff (an older woman, who is very proper), pulled me in to her office. “SHC was very upset when he got you note,” she said. Apparently, he had gone to her to complain about the outrageousness of me calling him a sexist. He was not a sexist. He had grown-up daughters, for goodness sake. Prof Hufflepuff had given him short shrift. “You can’t act like this,” she had said, “cut it out. You owe her an apology.”

Miracle of miracles, an apology was forthcoming. After that, he was never in the office during the hour I was there, and at the next time he came back to teach, a couple of semesters later, he was in another office. He doesn’t talk to me, and I don’t talk to him. I don’t know if the experience taught him not to be such an ass, or if he just thinks I am difficult. He now shares an office with 3 women, all of whom are tough, mature and don’t take crap. Apparently, his behaviour is impeccable, so I guess the whole incident goes in the “win” column.

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3 thoughts on “As Promised: The Tale of Sexual Harrassment Colleague.

  1. M-H

    I wish you were sick more often…. no, I mean I wish you could post more often. Great story. I have a staff member who is late twenties, petite and blonde. She came to ask me for advice: “Academic staff don’t take me seriously!” I said she need to grew about 4 inches and dye her hair. (Then I gave her some serious advice.)

    Get better, but not until you have posted some more.

    Reply
  2. Sile

    I really enjoy all the nicknames you’ve given your colleagues. 😉
    To make matters worse, I’ve had FEMALE colleagues who have treated women the same way this guy did. She only trusted what the males had to say about anything, even though a lot of us women had way more experience and the males pulled it from their backsides most of the time. THAT was a sad time.

    He probably thinks you’re an uppity woman. 😉

    Reply

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