My experience with #MeToo
Times were different then. 1975-ish. There weren’t many jobs for women besides “teacher,” “nurse,” “stewardess” or “secretary.” (Two of those terms aren’t even PC anymore, being changed to “flight attendant” and “administrative assistant.”)
I was working as a bookkeeper in a jewelry store in Fargo, trying to make ends meet as my husband attended graduate school and we parented our 1-year-old. I’d had no training in bookkeeping, other than working as a bank teller in high school. I could make change, and balance my cash drawer and that was about it. I got hired because they assumed I knew something about working with money.
So, there I was, fumbling along with my pencil (and eraser), entering sales each day and figuring out the commissions each of the four employees earned. There was our male manager, one other guy and two women. We were all young. All barely out of our teens.
The radio played in the store as background music. A popular song at the time (hum along if you remember it) was “Afternoon Delight.” Compared to lyrics now, the song is practically a nursery rhyme. Back then, it didn’t take a genius to imagine what the song was inferring. I was often alone in the store with the two young guys who worked there, one being my “boss.” Whenever the song played, they’d nudge each other, glance my way, make suggestive comments and laugh. I’d put my nose closer to my sales sheets and pretend I didn’t see or hear what they were suggesting. But, I did.
Our young manager must have known better than to touch me, but that didn’t stop him in regard to one of the other female staff. It wasn’t unusual before the store opened for him to “playfully” push her down onto the floor (behind the jewelry counter), topple on top of her and pretend to… I’ll let you fill in the blank. She’d laugh and push at him, but he was bigger and stronger and they didn’t stand up until he decided it was time.
I was new to the job. She laughed and seemed to play along. I kept my head down and my mouth shut.
Early one morning, before the doors opened, I was alone in the store with my manager (this isn’t going to end where you may be thinking it will), I was at my desk, looking at sales figures from the day before, when I realized the figures I entered had been changed. I looked back in the books and could see numerous times when the sales figures for both of the women employees had been changed. My manager had been taking sales away from one female employee and giving them to the other female – the one who let him push her onto the floor.
I was furious on behalf of the woman who was getting short-changed! All alone, I stood up and confronted him. He denied it. (Having been raised in a banking family, I’d been taught from day one that honesty and integrity are foremost.) I told him I was going to the owner of the company to report it. He followed me out of the store, saying he’d cut me a deal and give me part of the commissions. I kept walking. Straight to a pay phone. From a phone book, I looked up the managing company, called the president and asked to come talk to him. I told all, including the inappropriate conduct. My goal wasn’t to get the manager fired, it was to hold him accountable. And, then I quit. Over the next couple weeks, I got phone calls from the manager and the other male employee threatening me. At that point, I wasn’t afraid. I was mad!
With all the conversation this past year about sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace, I’ve given a lot of thought to my “small” experience with it. My “line” got crossed when his actions affected my work and integrity, but I sat by and tried not to watch while my co-worker was being taken advantage of.
I was able to quit my job because I knew I had a backup system. Yes, my husband was in school, but he also had a good job. And, I knew my mother would never, ever, let us starve or be homeless or not be able to pay for medical care, or electricity or car insurance.
At the time, I didn’t have the insight to think about this in broader terms. Now, I can’t help thinking about those women who don’t have a backup. No spouse. No child support. Mouths to feed. Rent to pay. They need the health benefits that come with their job. They need the job. Period.
What would I do if that was my only option? I honestly don’t know.
But, what I do know is this: “Much is required from those to whom much is given, for their responsibly is greater.” Words straight from the Bible. Luke 12:48.
I’ve been given many advantages in life. I’ve always had a backup. And now I know that much is required of me. I have a voice. I have my words. I have faith and courage. It’s my responsibility (and maybe yours?) to speak for those who can’t.
And that, dear readers, is my New Year’s resolution: to speak–or write–when I see injustice in this great (and sometimes awful) world of ours.
Roxanne (Roxy) Henke lives in rural North Dakota, where she realizes the world’s problems are her problems, as well. In response, she’s written a letter to the editor of a national magazine, written this column and will keep watch for more opportunities to speak. You can contact Roxy at email@example.com.