The misting of her eyes almost completely distracted me from the words coming out of her mouth. As we stood side by side, overlooking a magnificent skyline view of twinkling skyscrapers, she told me her summer in Manhattan was not what she had been expecting. I knew something was very wrong when my strong-willed, outgoing friend told me to this story with tears in her eyes:
“Whoa, what size shoe are you?” her 30-year-old male co-worker asked.
“I’m a size 11. I have pretty big feet,” my 6’1″ friend replied.
“You know what they say about a woman with big feet?”
“A big clit.”
This conversation took place on the first day of my friend’s bartending job. Balancing two jobs, an internship, and a night class, harassment in the workplace is not something she was interested in adding to her plate.
Later that night, after her first-day training had ended, the same co-worker asked her about her sex life. “You’re young, you should just fuck. Fuck everyone! You are so young, you should just fuck everyone,” he said.
The next night, as she was leaving the bar, another male co-worker asked her, “Are you really going out in that? You look like you’re about to go work a street corner.”
This harassment went on for weeks. It is still going on as I type this. The most recent comments transpired last night. On her way to the gym, my friend was wearing her spandex when she went back to the bar to pick up her bag that she had forgotten.
After commenting about her spandex, her co-worker asked her if she was taking steroids. “Are you gonna grow a dick? Are you wearing a cup?” her two co-workers said, laughing.
My friend shot them an angry look, told them they were being gross, and asked them to stop.
“You’re going to walk out in the street and have every guy looking at you. At least let us, people you know, check you out!” another co-worker said.
As we were discussing this issue on the rooftop, my friend shared with me her growing feelings of self-disgust.
“I feel incredibly uncomfortable at work, and it’s a big distraction that doesn’t just stay in the workplace, but is constantly on my mind when I’m at home or trying to concentrate in class,” she said. “It makes me feel terrible about myself, and that I am just an object to look at.”
I could feel myself swell with anger when my friend told me this — not only because this was so wrong and no one deserved to be treated with such disrespect, but also because I realized that, unlike her, I was having the time of my life this summer in Manhattan. I’ve never concentrated more in any class than the journalism class I currently attend, and the lovely women I work with here at The Frisky compliment me rather than torment me.
I thought I was lucky, but why should I be one of the very few? A study conducted in 1994 of interns working in mass communications found that 49 percent of those questioned said they had experienced sexual harassment during their internships. (Likewise, 77 percent of unpaid internships are filled by women.) Outside of an internship, 40 to 90 percent of women in the U.S. workforce have reported being victims of some form of sexual harassment in the workplace, according to the Equal Rights Advocates. The percentage of sexual harassment in both internships and jobs are hard to calculate due to various reasons, including women fearing the lose of their job or further harassment if the incident(s) is reported.
Working with seven other women, I never have to wonder if I will be sexually assaulted or harassed in a meeting or talking with a co-worker. While I am fortunate to have such a great internship, I know that feeling safe in my workplace is not something that I should see as being “lucky” to have, but something that should be required and expected in every internship and job that women pursue.
Watching the city life dance below us, my friend and I stood on the rooftop, totally perplexed by what our summers were shaping into. Months before school got out, we were ecstatic about our “summer in the city” and all the adventures we would chase and the quirky New Yorkers we would befriend. Although we both have been experiencing moments this summer that will last a lifetime, I hope that some of the experiences my courageous friend has been facing will die in that bar.
This post is originally published at The Frisky, where Daley is currently serving as an intern. It is cross-posted with permission.