Just Brush It Off! (Sexual harassment at work)


Sexual assault in Hollywood has been a hot topic for a while now (Weinstein et al). I’m a bit slow to form an opinion, so I’ve kept quiet, but just when it seems the story has finished, a new victim steps forward and tells of some horror that happened to her (or occasionally him). I think I’ve finally worked out how I see this, so here’s my take.

On the whole, people have reacted to the Weinstein stories with disgust, surprise and anger which is good, although how surprised people have been that this happens has surprised me. Fortunately there are plenty of women speaking out to say that this is not an isolated problem, this is endemic to almost all workplaces, which is definitely my experience. However, I think there is a danger of the discussion getting diluted, with one line of thinking being:

But a lot of these experiences are not a big deal, why does it matter if someone puts his hand on your knee, just brush it off!

I do understand this line of thinking, because most of experiences I’ve had weren’t a big deal at all, and I wasn’t bothered by them.  However, the point is

                                 NONE OF THEM SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED.

No harassment, no matter how small, makes the world a better place, and while most instances might be nothing much, the accumulation of many many instances makes life more difficult than it needs to be, it drives a wedge between people, it wears them down. In a workplace the focus should be on the job, with a degree of professionalism as the norm. And each small instance makes the big, serious instances more likely to happen, because they normalise wrong behaviour.

For me there are two straightforward demands that should come out of this, and apply to all people of any gender and in any job:

  • Professionalism should exist in every workplace, and no sexual intimidation should ever happen. No one should have to fend off unwanted advances. Focus should be on the job, it shouldn’t be sexual at all. (I realise there may be exceptions, after all many people meet their partner at work, but I don’t think it’s extreme to say that actual sexual interaction and banter should be kept outside work, so that people can choose if they are part of it or not.)
  • A level of polite respect should exist between strangers in the street. No one should be demanding attention from strangers without good reason. No one should be shouting any insults, personal remarks or trying to touch a stranger. This also goes for racist or disablist comments too, or just personal comments to a stranger, why is it necessary?

I’d be interested to hear if you have some disagreement with those requests, maybe you think they’re too extreme and controlling. I believe much of how we treat each other (superficially, at least) is down to habit rather than some innate ‘rightness’ or inevitability, and so if the current habits are harmful, we need new ones.

So anyway, when people shout about the smaller incidences that have happened to them, it is not because somebody touching you on the knee is traumatic (usually, anyway), it’s because there needs to be a change to how we treat colleagues and strangers, and that includes the small stuff.

But why do the protestations have to be so shouty and demanding? Why can’t everyone make the point calmly?

This applies to not just this issue, but a few other matters of discrimination affecting small groups. It’s natural to recoil when you hear someone being unpleasant, even about  a legitimate grievance. However, I believe it’s essential to be shouty in order to bring about change. The thing is this:


And altering how people work together and interact, is a massive undertaking. In the past mistreated people have reasonably and calmly expressed that there is a problem in how they are treated, which sometimes lead to others thinking ‘Oh yes, that seems unfair’. However, because people don’t like change, just thinking this didn’t alter their behaviour at all. Everything stayed the same.

It seems the only way to get people to change is by making ‘staying the same’ more distressing than making a change. An effective (if highly irritating) way of doing this is by being loud, obnoxious, demanding and unrelenting. This is what I believe we are seeing at the moment, and it seems to be working. When change happens, which certainly seems more likely now than ever before, then all the demanding can stop.

However, my opinion is always a work in progress, if you spot any flaws in my thinking, or have anything to add, please comment below, I look forward to hearing your take on this…




Beautiful Creatures

Continuing my celebration of Monday good things…

I took this photo at work.  We have a tropical butterfly event on at the moment, and I saw this one just sitting on a flower with its tongue out. I think it may have got drunk on the nectar.


And below are some pictures of the butterfly pupae after we stuck them onto canes, ready to go into the puparium to hatch. Some look like leaves in order to hide from predators. Sometimes I find the butterflies can be annoying, smelly and a bit icky; so it’s good to remember that they are also beautiful and fascinating.


Please tell me about a good thing on your Monday, no matter how small.


My Ridiculous Anxiety Dream

I have variations on this dream quite often, but I think this is the daftest. I do sometimes drive a tractor for my job and occasionally I have to check on trees after a storm to make sure none have been uprooted or become unstable, so it has some basis in reality.

So I’d been driving a tractor out in a field and had stopped to check that none of the trees had toppled.  Suddenly I noticed that it had got dark so I needed to get back to base. I reached down to release the handbrake, but it wasn’t there! I felt for the gearbox, but it wasn’t there either! And there was no steering wheel! I was really panicking by this point and there were a few minutes of fumbling about, wondering why I wasn’t wearing shoes or a coat, before I finally worked out that I was in bed and not on a tractor at all. Instead of deciding that everything was fine and going back to sleep, my brain started on a new course of panic and I thought,

“But if the bed has got no gears or steering wheel, how am I going to get to work tomorrow?” Feeling frantic, I switched on the light, muttering to myself,

“I drive to work everyday, how do I normally do this on a bed with no steering wheel?”

A few more tormented seconds passed while I looked at my bed in confusion, before finally realising,

“I don’t need to drive my bed to work, I’ve got a car.”

Short story: Wall of Shame

To understand what happened, why it happened, you need to know that for three years we worked in a climate of fear. Our backwater branch office was where our boss, Eldritch, got to play at being our torturer, tormenting us for his amusement. On the wall was an A4 sheet on which Eldritch had printed the words:

‘ISYFU’ meaning ‘I see you fuck up.’

There were pictures of all of us on that wall – me on drunken night out, with my pants on my head; Hadely when he started to doze off in a meeting; Butterworth picking her nose. Eldritch always had his phone ready. Each photo was carefully chosen to make us look like dicks. At first we tried behaving at work, but it made no difference because then he started trawling our social media for embarrassing old posts and stuck them on his wall for all to see. Of course, we tried not posting anything, that just made things worse. Avoid his sneering and he sought you out, found ever more humiliating ways to show you up, until you submitted. That’s what happened to Janet, she made all her social media accounts private, so he put superglue on her chair and then livestreamed the results.

It was only a matter of time before someone cracked. Not me, but I thought about it often, enjoying daydreams of revenge. After it happened, people would read the new stories and say: Why didn’t you just leave? but they’re living in dreamland. We stayed because the money was good, we stayed because we’re still in a recession and you can’t just throw away a good job, can you? Everybody hates their job, right? Well, so did we. People have said: Why didn’t you sue? and I don’t get that either, the job might be well paid, but none of us had the thousands necessary to take on a whole organisation and win. HR knew that; when we made complaints, they would smile sweetly, tap at their computers and do nothing.

Up until that day, I only ever thought about the janitor when the vending machines ran out of coffee or chocolate, or  the sink got blocked. But I still knew the photo of him, taken when he was on the toilet. It was also on a poster on the toilet door. Yes, Eldritch had a camera pointing at the toilet.

Being the janitor, he had all kinds of powers I’d never thought about. For a start, it was his job to catch the rats. He was supposed to kill them of course, not keep them in a cage in the basement, but no one went down there but him, so we had no way of knowing that he was stockpiling. He kept them hungry. He also put a bolt on Eldritch’s door one night, on the outside, high up where nobody noticed it. And on the fateful day he found it easy to slip a tranquiliser into Eldritch’s afternoon coffee. It must have taken some planning, but when your anger is all that gets you through the day, when hatred for your job is your only source of energy, planning is easy.

The police asked me: Why didn’t you hear the screams? Well, his office was soundproofed, after all, he wanted to be the only one with the power to spy. They asked: Wasn’t it odd that he stayed in his office all that afternoon? Well, yes, it was; but when you have a boss like Eldritch you enjoy having a bit of peace, you don’t pester the beast, you let him rest. And then the question that really rankles: Did you know you’d get promoted to Eldritch’s job after he died? No, of course not. Although having been here the longest, I was the natural choice.

So, things are peaceful now. Now that the carpet has been cleaned and the story is out of the papers. Now that I am the boss. Of course I took down all entries on the wall of shame and the cameras in the toilets. I let my workers relax; finally they can enjoy their jobs. I do monitor their social media accounts, download any interesting photos or posts; each employee has their own folder, just on the off-chance. Now they think no one’s watching they get up to some ridiculus shit. It’s the work Christmas party coming up soon, I’m looking forward to collecting a few embarrassing snaps then, I may set up a Tumblr account. After all a little fear is useful, keeps everyone focussed.