I knew you were trouble when you walked in

Okay. I’m just going to dive right in. We rent out one half of our office to my director AM’s friend. We see them only once or twice a month though as he is based in Hong Kong and his three employees work outside a lot. His three employees are fine, but him…right from the beginning he’s been very touchy-feely with me. Likes to touch my hands and shoulders when he talks to me. He’s also verbally flirtatious, not just physically. I’ve always been uncomfortable with it. The first time he touched my hand I remember thinking, ‘This guy has worked in Southeast Asia for so long, Malaysia even. He should know not to touch women as he pleases.’ But I figured, whatever – old guy (at least 50), AM’s friend, nice guy otherwise, doesn’t go beyond my hands and shoulders and I haven’t caught him staring at my rack yet. I’m a confrontational person most of the time and I’m not afraid to stand my ground most of the time and I don’t take shit lying down most of the time but I thought, hey, I’ma just let this roll off my back. I convinced myself that the touching is innocuous and didn’t let it bother me. On his last visit last month, however, after yet another super friendly conversation wherein he touched my hand, DS, who witnessed it, whispered to me, “He’s really flirty with you, isn’t he?” I was quite shocked that he took it as him being flirty and not just being friendly. I thought that DS, being a fellow Westerner and coming from a culture where hugs and kisses are freely bestowed upon opposite-sex strangers you just met – even though he and the rest knew not to do it with me – would see the old guy’s touchy-feeliness as just being a bloody ignorant Westerner and not as being flirtatious. See how we women second-guess ourselves even when our instincts tell us it’s harassment?!

Anyway. Today, he came in, and this thing happened after he’d come to my desk several times, asking me this or that (legitimate questions). I was seated on my chair with both legs tucked beneath me and shoes off. (I love sitting like this.) So my naked feet were sticking out from one side of my chair, in his direction. After the conversation ended he suddenly said, “You know, I have a temptation right now.” I thought it sounded a bit weird, but I asked anyway: “What?” I really shouldn’t fucking have. Guess what he said, or rather, did next? He bent down and tickled my feet! My hands immediately flew to my feet to push his hands away and I simultaneously pulled my feet away as I nervously laughed a “NO!”. But my hands of course touched his, and he lingered, and he’d already managed to do what he wanted to do anyway, and I felt sooo dirty afterwards. I should have slapped him. I should have at least not let out a nervous laugh and instead scolded him in unequivocal terms, “DO. NOT. TOUCH. ME.” But I didn’t. It caught me by surprise, it all happened so fast, plus I had already gone into that situation with the mindset of him not being a pervert but just a really friendly guy. It was one thing for him to be a pervert but I didn’t stop him.

He left the office soon after, and I later related the incident to DS, who wasn’t in the office when it happened. He kept saying, “I knew it! I knew he was flirting with you! Dirty bastard!” What else can he say besides that? The perv returned to the office in the evening, and I was about to leave but remembered I hadn’t done my dishes in the sink yet. I had to pass by him to go to the bathroom and saw that he was packing up to leave as well. He started telling me that he was returning to Hong Kong tomorrow and when he would be back in Singapore (next month, thank God) and I feigned interest. I was so engrossed washing my dishes that I didn’t notice him walking into the bathroom. (Even if I had though, even if both of my hands weren’t occupied, what could I have done – stopped him coming in? No.) He was going to deposit his used cup on the counter next to the sink. As he did this he said to me, “Well, I hope you feel better soon (I’ve been feeling a bit off these last couple of days and I told him so). Because you usually have a big smile on your face…” – as he said this he squeezed my shoulders like he was trying to comfort me – “and these days you haven’t smiled as much.” I hunched my shoulders and tried to move away but in that crammed space I had nowhere to go. Fucking hell. He just managed to touch me again.

Yes, sure, shoulders, not boobs. But still a touch that is unwelcome and not to mention completely unnecessary. He has to know I’m a Malay-Muslim (though my hair is uncovered). In my culture you don’t touch a woman anywhere unless you’re blood-related. Some women aren’t even okay shaking hands with the opposite sex and most men respect this! He has no excuse though cuz like I said he’s worked in Malaysia before. He should know this! But even if he had never worked among Muslims, among Asians, he should just err on the side of caution. In your culture you hug and kiss everyone? (Spain, omg. I died in Spain. Everyone wanted to kiss me in Spain.) Fine. But you’re in my territory now, goddammit. Do what the rest of the men are doing, i.e. NOT TOUCHING THE WOMEN.

I don’t want to be that girl that feels harassed by anything and everything. But the feet tickling. Come on.

I’ve had enough of this. Next time I see him and he touches me anywhere, I mean anywhere, even my hands and shoulders, I’m going to tell him in the most polite manner possible (why am I still worried about being polite? Oh, right. I don’t want to make it awkward. Why do I care? Oh, right. Boss’s friend. FML), “Please don’t touch me. I don’t like to be touched*.” Watch me. I’ll do it. He’s not allowed to cop a feel any longer.

*False. I like to be touched. Just not by him.

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8 thoughts on “I knew you were trouble when you walked in

  1. Oh TFC! There is no emoticon to express how angry I am at this guy!

    No matter how far west you go, feet tickling isn’t appropriate unless: it’s a child under about 12, you’re no-physical-boundaries type friends, or you’re family. Upsetting and creepy. Even if you hadn’t *minded* it would be a bit creepy… 😦

    *expression of sympathy, since I’ve just learned that hugs are a cultural no-no!*

  2. S! You need to tell others!! It is firmly sexual harrassment. Last year, I experienced a very similar thing with a superior who was head of my volunteer committee. I, too, also kind of wrote it off and even laughed about it with friends (despite extreme uncomfortability) without giving the full details.

    I even minimized another account of a new volunteer girl who received text messages from this guy persuading her to have a drink with him. It wasn’t until I just had enough of his ridiculous behavior that I spoke to someone I trusted (and who had authority) for advice. Turns out after a big meeting, he was making multiple women really uncomfortable but each one of them (including myself) wrote it off as an isolated incident because this guy seemed respectable.

    Long story short, he eventually got ousted — the conclusion of several months of anxiety. I’m usually a tough cookie, and to have a friend outright tell me “um, that’s sexual harrassment,” really opened my eyes. They worm their way in under “innocuous” pretenses because they abuse their positions of authority.

    Please make sure you have this kind of candid conversation with someone you trust. At least your friend can observe and be witness to this guy being inappropriate again. You really don’t have an agenda here, and I’m sorry I waited so long to expose the guy I was working with. It would’ve been so much easier to just quit everything, but when I learned that there were (and there usually are) multiple other people who have been put in a similar position, there just needs to be one person to come forward.

    Good luck and please be safe!!!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with me, K. Sorry you had to go through the same thing. It’s such an unpleasant situation. :/ But I’m glad you girls rallied to out him and oust him. Such sweet revenge!

      That’s the thing with men who do these things. It’s easy for them to pass off their actions as harmless friendliness – even if they mean otherwise. I mean if this guy hadn’t so brazenly gone and upped his level of cheekiness by touching my frikkin feet, I most likely would’ve continued to second-guess myself and regard his touchy-feeliness as harmless, despite extreme uncomfortability as you said.

      I did talk to my GM, AB about it a day after the incident and telling DS about it (lol sorry for the many initials!). He was appropriately aghast and supported my decision to tell the perv off next time, and also urged me to inform our director AM, since he’s friends with the perv. But I was caught off-guard when he said, “You seem to attract trouble.” I asked him to clarify what he meant – even though I already knew – and he said, “Well, this isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened to you.”

      I have mixed feelings about his statement. On one hand, I agree with him. I do seem to attract weirdos and creeps…I mean one guy even spat on me on the bus. Wtf? I could tell he was mentally unwell, and he certainly wasn’t trying to be a perv, but still, wtf? Why me?

      And on the other hand…exactly what i said, no? Exactly what I feared by daring to feel harassed and daring to voice out my feelings of being harassed. That I would somehow be blamed for it. Not so much for inviting it but more like, could I possibly be too sensitive and think that every little touch is harassment? I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive…but how do I convince him and the others of that?

      AM is here in Singapore now and I’m dying to tell him, except neither of us has had a spare moment this week. I will tell him though. I don’t think he would/could do anything though. I think the onus is on me to tell the perv to stop. It’s my body – my hands and shoulders even, and most definitely my feet! – and I’ll keep it as classified as I wish. But I want AM to be aware of it, at the very least. I just hope he will not end up putting the blame on me somehow.

      Being a woman is hard!

    1. I wish! Alas, all I can do is a) tell AM, b) tell the perv off, c) wait for any backlash from him. If he said something weird or did anything else, everybody would’ve known of the previous issue already and would not be totally surprised, and they would have my back.

      I really hope there is no backlash though. Telling him off would be awkward enough without him being an arsehole about it.

  3. It’s YOUR body. Why on this Earth are we convinced that some random dickhead’s desire to do to it as he likes trumps our desire for him to stay the fuck away??

    Asswipes like this guy know exactly how to slowly push back your boundaries, get you in situations where you second-guess yourself, blame yourself. It’s called “grooming,” getting you to do the hard work of convincing *yourself* he’s harmless, instead of having to do it for you. (Classic child-molester behavior, as well as that of generally handsy creeps everywhere.)

    Don’t say “I’m sorry” when you tell him you don’t like to be touched. You have nothing to apologise for, and that just reinforces his (and maybe the dim others around) belief that you feel you’re being unreasonable. “I prefer not to be touched.” He can’t claim to be confused, he can’t act hurt that you’re being bitchy. You could even soften it with a “It’s a cultural thing,” if you feel the need. But it’s not. It’s a “human beings have a right to say what happens to their bodies, and, NEWS FLASH, DILHOLE, WOMEN ARE HUMAN BEINGS” thing.

    If you feel up to it, you’d be doing womankind a service if you went back to AB and told him the “you attract trouble” comment wasn’t helpful, though he was probably just trying to fill in words in an awkward conversation. You guys are friendly, and hearing this from a friend might make a difference with other women he works with (not to mention other men he works with). He said “Well, this isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened to you.” What he obviously doesn’t understand is that this isn’t the first time it has happened to EVERY WOMAN, EVERYWHERE. He doesn’t hear about it because we are socialized and shamed into telling ourselves it’s no big deal, we’re overreacting, we must be doing something to encourage it. SILENCE = DEATH.

    Fuckwad has done this before, likely worse, and he’ll do it again. Because he knows he can get away with it; he knows that 90% of the time, his victims will punish themselves. Things might be more relaxed in Western countries, but dudes don’t touch ladies who they aren’t close friends with, outside of handshakes and (in certain situations) goodbye hugs. Watch; in movies and tv, inappropriate-shoulder-rubbing is a standard “This Guy Is A Creep” flag.

    And Western dudes aren’t (usually) morons; they know that other countries are more conservative, and keep their hands to themselves, if they aren’t deliberately victimizing. In some douchey circles, there is a stereotype of Eastern women being meek and pliant, and they’ll take advantage of this, counting on the likelihood of your keeping quiet about it.

    It’s hard to be in the vanguard of women who start pushing back against this bullshit. It was hard for our mothers and grandmothers who had to yell “No, we aren’t sluts if we want to wear pants. No, we aren’t unwomanly if we want to work outside the home. No, we aren’t crazy if we want to motherfucking vote.” They fought to get out into the world, now it’s our turn to fight to make that world safer for us.

    Aaaand, apparently I have opinions.

    1. Chelsea! Thank you! I love your opinions! I nodded my head at everything you wrote!

      Why indeed are we so shy to speak up?

      Why do we worry about making things awkward? The harassers certainly didn’t think twice about making us feel awkward before harassing us!

      Why do we care if we come across as touchy (oh, the pun is almost unbearable!) – especially since we know we are not? We didn’t make this shit up! It really happened and it’s not cool with us and who better to decide something isn’t cool with us if not ourselves?

      Why do we continue to doubt ourselves?

      Where did we learn to feel ashamed if we are harassed?

      I feel more empowered now to make the facts about this guy known to AM. (Still didn’t get a chance today.) He has to know his friend is a creep. He has to know his friend is making me uncomfortable. Even if he can do nothing (or doesn’t want to), he has to know.

      I feel more empowered now to be the assertive person that I am in any other circumstances with this guy, when telling him to keep his hands off of me. “I prefer not to be touched.” No, “I’m sorry”, no “It’s a cultural thing”. I’ll say it exactly like that. “I prefer not to be touched.” Just like that. No explanation necessary!

      I’ll find a chance to speak to AB again when he’s back from his holiday. You’re right. When he walks around in the world as a big, strong, manly man, he has no clue what it’s like for a girl and what happens to girls every minute of every day who are just trying to live. I don’t have to wait to be molested to feel uncomfortable. If I don’t like my fingertips to be touched, so be it. They’re mine and I’ll decide who gets to graze them.

      Thank you for reminding me that I CAN be the one to make it stop.

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