Toxic Work Environment
I had been working at a car dealership in Arlington for about two months. Because I worked from 3 pm to 8 my mom packs me a lunch; she’s so considerate and thoughtful. I was a receptionist so I often brought out my lunch whenever the incoming call volume was low. One day I was eating rice and vegetables when one of the car salesmen approached me. I’ll call him William to keep his identity protected. Anyways he was trying to make conversation. He sauntered over and was like, “What you got there?”
“Just eating some rice.”
“Did you cook that?”
“No, my mom fixed it for me.”
“Do you know how to cook?”
“Well how are you going to cook for a husband when you’re married?”
“Well he’s going to be one cooking for me. Because I don’t know how.”
“You know the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
“Well I’m just going to have to find someone who can cook for both of us.”
By this point I was already annoyed and wanted to be left alone to eat my meal in peace. What I really wanted to say point-blank was that cooking should not be a way of convincing a man to choose me as his wife. There’s so much more to love and romance than cooking. Real love does not have conditions or a checklist. Does she know how to cook amazing dishes? Check, this is the girl I’m marrying. That is such an old-fashioned antiquated way of thinking. My knowledge of cooking, or lack thereof, should not be the ultimate reason a man decides to love me and stay by my side. Also, I was just angry at this sexist remark and wanted to retort, “You never know I might end up marrying a woman since I’m bi. How do you reconcile that kind of marriage with your idea of gender roles?” But I did not and now I deeply regret it. Sometimes you come up with the clever quips once the argument or disagreement is done.
Unfortunately, he is one of many ignorant persons out there that still thinks ‘men do this’ and ‘women should do that’. He then proceeded to ask me if I wanted children to which I replied with a firm ‘no’. “Why not, you should pass on your lineage.” This man has called me beautiful on many occasions. I do not take it as a compliment because his tone and gaze make it sound sleazy and makes my skin crawl. It is not a compliment when it comes from him. So, what he was implying is that a pretty girl should definitely have children because what a waste it would be if that beauty died with her. “You don’t want kids calling you mama? Think of how nice it would be.” “No, I don’t want children.” “I think you would make a great mother.” He was making these statements while non-discreetly looking at my boobs.
Thanks for the vote of confidence William. Your opinion will sure influence my choice on motherhood because you know me so well. This is a man who has no clue that I am burdened with anxiety and other disorders. There are days when I just feel like I want to yell at everyone or days where I cry out of the blue. That is not the kind of mother I wish to be for my children. I’m sure there are magnificent mothers who are also coping with mental illness, and they are inspiring. What a wonderful act of courage to be able to mother someone and be strong enough to nurture another person even when you are not always feeling great. That takes strength and patience. But I don’t see that being my future. Also, how in God’s name am I supposed to have a child when I am so broke? I might change my mind about kids but only if my income increases exponentially.
No man should ever tell you what to do with your body though. In the past, I did not understand this. I myself was the kind of annoying child and or teenager that when making casual conversation might have asked questions like those. “So why don’t you have kids?” But I know better now. That is an invasive question because motherhood is not just about you having a child inside you for nine months. You are a mother forever. That is a huge commitment. No one should ever question you about the choices you are making about your life or body. Women’s rights and liberty over their body are always being trifled with by all kinds of people. You should be the ultimate authority on what to do with your body, period. Strangers feel they have some sort of say in how we lead our lives or that they should be able to voice their own concerns over our biological matter.
The reason this sexist remark stayed branded in my memory is because another salesman, I’ll call him Andres, came by and said the exact same thing. It was like someone hit the replay button. He also asked me if I cooked or not when he saw me munching on my meal. When I told no he replied, “But a way to man’s heart is through his stomach.” I yelled at him, “Andres, not you too!” I was dismayed since I actually have some rapport with him and I like having occasional conversations with him. Wow guys really? I might not ever settle down with a man. But also, I believe that if I do learn how to cook it shouldn’t be a skill to seduce and/or entice a man to choose me as his partner. Cooking should be learned simply because it is a skill that gives you more autonomy, allows you to make healthier choices, and helps you save money. Everyone should learn how to cook, men and women, just because it would be an extra ability that allows you to rely on yourself. Anyways I was disappointed with the fact that gender norms like these are strongly held beliefs by some.
I was thinking about complaining to the General Manager about this behavior. The thing is I caught him staring at me too a few times in an uncomfortable way. This behavior comes from married men, who are much older than I am, and who I presumed were mature enough to act with respect towards another fellow employee.
Back to this William fellow though. He had also remarked, “She will make one lucky fellow out of whoever marries her.” He would say this from time to time. One day when I heard him say this I retorted, “Or a woman.” Because that is the truth. Life is too unpredictable and maybe I’m going to end up marrying a woman. Who knows? His jaw dropped and he looked astounded. “Oh my gosh, if I could only divorce my wife so I could show you…” How disgusting. Show me what? Show me the pleasure of having sex with you? A man who I find totally unattractive, too old for me, and much too backward? Dear God, it is 2017. Grow up. There is nothing wrong with same-sex couples and they deserve as much happiness and acknowledgement as a straight couple.
Partially, this is why I quit. This was a male-dominated industry with incredibly rude people who constantly made me feel disrespected in small ways or significant ways. Should I have complained? Yes. My sister urged me more than once to e-mail HR or to tell a manager. There’s something so thorny about having to steel yourself for that conversation though. You have to deal with your own sense of embarrassment even if you know you did nothing to invite this behavior from others. Also, I would watch everything happening around me since I was at the receptionist’s desk. From my perspective, it seemed like management liked William. Thus, the best alternative would have been to call or e-mail Human Resources but it was too overwhelming to consider. Besides, I kept justifying to myself, it is not like he’s been physically predatory. If he had ever touched me inappropriately I feel I would have decided to speak up. I just kept waiting for that moment so I could complain. Luckily it didn’t cross into physical assault or groping.
This is why I’m writing about the experience. To urge and encourage you, the reader, to complain. If anyone is encroaching on your bubble, troubling you, and being creepy this is unacceptable. Don’t wait like I did until things get to the point of unbearable. The sad reality is that these disrespectful individuals probably won’t change their beliefs or behavior until you say how it’s making you feel. Even then they might pretend you are over-reacting; this means you will have resort to a higher authority to defend you and ask that the other person stop. Yes, I know you might be feeling embarrassed or ashamed. Be brave though and say something for your own peace of mind. Stand up for yourself and set your boundaries, you deserve that, no matter who you are.
Sadly, this behavior is a frequent occurrence for women in the workplace. My younger sister has told me stories of being harassed on her train commutes, at train stations, and at her job by clients at her workplace. I’ve seen it happen to friends. Not only do women often get paid less than a man, they are also subjected to a hostile environment that degrades them. If you are a witness or a victim speak up, or send an angry e-mail. You can even google the address of the HR department for your company and give them a scathing letter of complaint. Don’t let others make you feel less because you need to place your own body and mind above petty matters, like hurting your co-worker’s ego.