I still kick myself for initially believing everyone’s assertion that HOWARD was harassing me because he’d developed a crush. It’s taken me this long to open up and write about something so personally embarrassing.
Staff assured HOWARD’S fixation on my appearance and sexuality was his inability to deal with very strong feelings. I was told I should be flattered. Who wants to make socially awkward guy even worse by reporting his relentless, but insulting, attention to HR? Not forgetting he was my superior. Not forgetting also that everyone felt sorry for him. Time and again I gave HOWARD the benefit of the doubt because of it.
I knew it was bullying, but these issues made it tricky
Whilst it didn’t take me long to realise how wrong we were, years later I’m still humiliated. It annoys me that I believed someone who later came close to destroying my sanity actually liked me in the first place. Gullible, I call myself, for believing all that reverse psychology hokum. And now I find myself doubting any guy that teases me. What’s he trying to say? Is he another HOWARD, I wonder?
So I was heartened by a report recently circulated by Bullying UK about sexual bullying. It made me think. The list they give of sexist incidents is this:-
· Abusive, sexualised name calling
· Unwelcome looks and comments about someone’s appearance or attractiveness; either face to face or to others.
· Spreading rumours of sexual nature
· Inappropriate and uninvited touching
· Inappropriate sexual innuendo and/or proposition
· Graffiti with sexual content
· Display/circulation of inappropriate material of a sexual nature
· Badges or clothing depicting inappropriate sexual innuendo or language
· In the most extreme form, sexual assault and rape
The thing my former colleagues and I readily misinterpreted is that some of the above list genuinely are the preoccupation of immature teens and young men. It’s a grey area. Sometimes it really is an inexpressive, awkward guy trying to impress his friends and having a secret crush on the girl he’s teasing. Abusive, sexualised name calling can be construed by an audience as banter. The same goes for sexual innuendo.
As I said, however, I did know there was a difference.
So what was it?
The difference is this; where the behaviour is 100% negative then it’s sexual bullying. HOWARD indulged in many things from the Bullying UK list, particularly name calling, comments about my looks, rumours, graffiti with sexual content and a preoccupation with sexual violence and rape.
What he didn’t once do is say anything kind or complimentary.
So I guess the Law of Attraction is very much on face value. If you’re not sure whether someone is attracted to you or sexually bullying you then think about the last time they genuinely gave you a compliment. Even the inexpressive, awkward guy is itching to find a way to show his softer side. If you’re trying too hard to twist what may be reverse psychology, then you’re probably dealing with a very twisted character.
And it’s time to run a mile.
I realise now I’ve been a little hard on myself. It’s only over a period of weeks or months that you’re going to get a true picture of someone’s motivation. The important thing is that you trust your instincts and listen to yourself. We all read people wrong, especially with our workmates telling us this, that and the other, but with increasing amounts of information to hand, we learn to keep ourselves and each other safe.
And we learn to forgive ourselves in the process.