I was fresh out of college when I started a job as an assistant in the entertainment industry.
Entertainment has a reputation for being tough on entry-level employees, most of whom are expected to deal with straight-up nonsense thrown at them on a daily basis. I was eager to show how tough I could be. I wanted to become the positive, savvy assistant every boss dreams about.
In reality, I was a naive, mumbling pile of nerves for the first three months.
On my first day, my new boss asked for my number. I didn't question it, since I was his new assistant and figured he would probably need it at some point. He was pushing 30, the type of guy you could tell really missed being in a fraternity. It was no secret he loved to party.
Less than a week in, he started texting me after hours. At first, it was friendly -- like he was just bored and wanted to talk about anything but work.
Quickly, it escalated. He wanted to know what I did with my boyfriend in bed and asked if I ever played with myself. He suggested we get drinks after work to get to know each other better.
Because I was new and wanted his approval, I let it slide at first, unsure of what to do.
When he asked me something inappropriate, I'd try to match his tone and text something jokey like, “Wouldn't you like to know?” If he wanted a photo, I'd be more straightforward and say no. He'd tell me I was no fun, then leave me alone for a few days.
Eventually, though, he'd ask again.
Every day, I sat directly outside of his office. It's difficult to do your job when you sit in plain view of your boss. You know he's looking at you, thinking about all the ways he wants to f*ck you. Our daily interactions were strained due to sexual tension on his part, resistance on mine.
But, I felt the need to play the part sometimes, because flirtation was a part of the office culture. If I didn't entertain it just a little, I felt as if I would have stuck out -- and I really wanted to fit in.
Outside of work, I mentioned my boss's behavior to my closest friends.
“That's so shady. Your boss seems like a jerk,” one commented. “You should rat him out.”
I knew I could just show the texts to HR and he'd get fired. I didn't want to ruin someone's life, even though he was making mine harder.
I convinced myself that this was just part of working in entertainment. I thought about how lucky I was to even have this job. I excused my boss' behavior every time because I didn't want to put a black mark on my brand-spanking-new reputation. Did I want to be that girl?
Soon, it became clear the harassment wasn't limited to me. At a work dinner, a male supervisor asked if any of us had ever slept with a black guy. Was it true that “once you go black, you never go back?" he said.
My female colleagues seemed accustomed to the treatment and simply refused to answer, but I felt compelled to diffuse the awkwardness with humor.
“I'm a virgin,” I joked, when I was prompted to answer the question.
My co-workers and I rolled our eyes or shot each other knowing looks every time a supervisor stepped over the line, but I don't think any of us knew how to handle it. We acted as though the treatment was inconvenient but normal, like a broken copier.
When they weren't teasing us, our supervisors gave us what they probably thought were compliments. It wasn't uncommon to hear one say, “Your ass looks amazing."
One day, a supervisor came over to my co-worker's desk to chat. He leaned into her, inhaling deeply, and told her how good she smelled. My face burned with embarrassment for her.
We were all grossed out, but none of us were brave enough to do anything about it. The idea of standing up to someone I occasionally got coffee for made me sweat. Even bringing up normal work problems put my stomach in knots.
It was so much easier to laugh it off. Looking back, I'm sad we accepted our treatment as if we deserved it. I stayed at the company for a year before leaving for another job, but I wish I'd gone to HR before leaving.
I shouldn't have accommodated my bosses' “quirks” in order to get them to like me. In the long run, I only harmed myself by not speaking up. Ignoring things didn't make them go away.
If someone does the same to you, call them out or talk to someone in HR. At the time, I was naive enough to wonder how those grown men didn't understand their behavior was wrong. The answer is that they almost certainly did, but got away with it and didn't care.
You may not be the only one. If you can't speak up for yourself, speak up for the other women receiving the same treatment. Or the ones who might receive it in the future. It makes my blood boil to know those painfully awkward dinners and sexual advances are probably still happening.
Here's what I know now that I wish I'd known then: Just because I had an entry-level position didn't mean I couldn't call out disrespectful behavior. Even though I was doing sh*t work as an assistant, I shouldn't have had to take sh*t treatment.
And, neither should you.