Workplace Sexual Harassment Happens to Men Too: Interview with Mr. SSC

Last week, I wrote a post about the workplace sexual harassment of a teen girl I know. Outraged by her situation, my focus was entirely upon harassment experienced by women. Both Laurie and Mr. SSC commented about the fact that men are also harassed in the workplace – by women as well as other men. I asked Mr. SSC if he would be willing to share his own experience of workplace harassment, and I’m very grateful that he has. For me, it is an unwelcome surprise to learn that some women in positions of power can be just as corrupted and lecherous as some men.

Please describe each of the 3 experiences of workplace sexual harassment that you encountered in your 7 years working as a waiter.

     I experienced workplace sexual harassment from 2 women and 1 man. The 2 women worked at the same restaurant, and the man was at a corporate restaurant.

#1: “She was a constant butt grabber. It was ridiculous.”

     The first time, it was a middle aged lady, quite nice, fairly attractive, married and she ran the front of the house. She would flirt some, but nothing sleazy, but she was a constant butt grabber. It was ridiculous. Not every time I’d be around her, but close to it, she would grab my butt. Not just a little pinch, but a full on grab. I asked her to stop repeatedly, and then once she said, “Well you can grab my butt” and put my hand on her butt. She also started making inappropriate suggestions about what else we could be grabbing…
     Did I mention she was married? Yeah, not a situation I want anything to do with, but the owner, also a woman, didn’t take it seriously or see it as harassment. Maybe in her defense she never saw it and thought I was exaggerating, but the manager got a wink, nod, “quit doing that” sort of reprimand and the behavior continued. Ultimately, I left there to take a job in Atlanta working with my brother in a different restaurant, so that was how that situation resolved itself.

#2: “If you picture a stereotypical ‘dirty old man,’ this was how she acted.”

     The second time, was at the same restaurant, with a different owner, and the woman was again the front of the house manager. If you picture a stereotypical “dirty old man,” this was how she acted. It was very similar to your post and the person the teenage girl was dealing with. She wasn’t very subtle about it at all to me, but was reserved around other waitstaff and kitchen staff. Again, she was a married woman, and she also would give out drinks at the end of the night and want people to hang out at the restaurant with her after hours. She was just crass, suggestive, and crossed the lines way worse than the first person. Sure butt grabbing, but way more straight up dirty talk that was just uncomfortable and kind of gross.
     I went to the kitchen manager who gave me the “dude, deal with it, and quit being a wuss” response which wasn’t helpful at all. Then when I talked to the owner she didn’t believe me, at least not to the extent that it was happening. She thought it was just harmless flirting from what she’d witnessed, and nothing was really done about it. It did get back to the manager and then she got vindictive and mean while still being lewd and suggestive. I’d get bad shifts, bad sections, and was usually cut first on the nights she was working. Ultimately, I moved to Colorado – for school not to get away from her, lol – and I got resolution that way, thank goodness.

#3: “This time it was a guy that was harassing me . . .”

     The last time it happened was in my new restaurant in Colorado. It was a corporate place and they had training against that sort of behavior, so they tried to run a tight ship. This time it was a guy that was harassing me, though it didn’t start off like that. It started as just flirting, which I didn’t think anything of to be honest.

      Then it kept on, and got to a point I felt like I should’ve said something early on. I didn’t feel like I was leading him on, but  I felt like it was my fault it had gotten to where it did because I didn’t come out and say, “quit flirting with me, I’m not interested” back in the beginning. I just ignored it mostly. Then it crossed a line and all the stuff I should’ve said months earlier finally came out. He was embarrassed that I was feeling harassed by him, and after that we got along great. No more harassment, no negative repercussions, we just had a good working relationship.

Would you say that your personal finances were impacted by harassment in any of these cases?

      Overall, I wouldn’t say that my personal finances were affected by any of the situations, except from the dirty old lady. Because she started giving me bad shifts, bad sections and would cut me first it definitely affected my tips and take-home money. Fortunately, it was only a few months before I got to move away from there.

How would you compare the issue of sexual harassment experienced by men as opposed to the issue of sexual harassment experienced by women?

      I don’t think my experience was much different from what women experience to be honest. When I read about the teen girl in your post, I just thought, “Yep, been there, done that. It sucks.” Not that I was saying that it’s okay by any means or that it should just be accepted as “restaurant behavior” but rather that it’s a pretty ubiquitous situation regardless of your gender. It’s not right and shouldn’t be tolerated in any workplace.

Do you think that sexual harassment experienced by men is taken seriously in our society?

     My experience did make me feel that sexual harassment of men isn’t taken seriously in the workplace. Granted, if that same thing happened at either company I’ve worked for in the O&G (oil & gas) industry, there would at least be a reprimand from HR, and maybe some training. I’m not confident that it would be seen as seriously as if I was doing that stuff to a woman. If I was accused of that same stuff, I feel like it would be an uphill battle to not get fired.
     Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d be hard pressed to go to HR about sexual harassment, even in a mega-corp situation. I don’t know why I feel like it wouldn’t be treated seriously, but that’s just how I feel about it. I could be totally wrong. Fortunately, I haven’t had to find out what would happen because I haven’t experienced that in either of my O&G workplaces. My only experiences were with smaller, private owner restaurants where they didn’t take it seriously.

Do you know of men who have been sexually harassed in the workplace? Why does our society generally treat harassment of men less seriously than harassment of women? Your comments are welcome.

Image courtesy of Flickr

27 comments on “Workplace Sexual Harassment Happens to Men Too: Interview with Mr. SSC

  1. Thanks for sharing this story Mr. SSC, and for covering this less-talked about topic, Ruth. I wonder if embarrassment of men is treated less seriously because there is some misconception that men won’t mind the attention, or there is less fear of physical violation because men tend to be stronger? This story illustrates how untrue both those assumptions are. This brings to mind the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. Unfortunately this has been issue since antiquity.

    1. I think that both of those misconceptions could be true. Surely with the one manager I talked to it was apparent it wasn’t treated as seriously. The other point is that maybe people don’t think of women as sexual predators because it’s so much less likely to happen than with men. Not saying these women were predatory, but just that it’s easy to think of guys in that manner, but even in my head I don’t have a default “dirty old woman” setting. Even in my description I had to use the “dirty old man” as the analogy for a woman.

      Maybe a pefect storm of all of those things?

  2. Thank you for speaking up.

    My first full-time non-summer job was in a small retail establishment where harassment was all too common, and where anyone who complained got accused of “not having a sense of humor.” Uncomfortable behaviors received laughter instead of reprimands, and both men and women were targets. Rarely did it cross the line to touching, but there was a lot of verbal ‘play’ that wouldn’t have been tolerated at any of the places I worked later, and it was very difficult to root out in the 17 years I worked for the company, particularly at that location.

    1. That’s rough. It sounds like the kind of restaurant environments I’ve worked in. Out of the 4 different restaurants I’ve worked in 3 corporate and 1 small privately owned one, even in the corporate stores, there was that sort of behavior. Uncomfortable, but rarely if ever crossing the line to touching. There would be some verbal reprimands if it got out of hand, but even then it was, “hey, hey kids, play nice, calm down” as opposed to a “this isn’t appropriate and won’t be tolerated moving forward” approach.

      That leads to a slippery slope of what is acceptable and what isn’t and it makes it easier to get to the point those lines are crossed.

    1. I agree. As evidenced in many situations brought public by women, they can also get that attitude or like the Uber situation, a blame attitude of “maybe it’s not them, but something you’re doing to attract this type of behavior.”

      Regardless, it sucks that it still happens, and that it isn’t always looked into or taken seriously for either gender.

  3. Thanks for sharing Mr. SSC. Can’t say I have ever run into or heard of any situations in my 20+ years in the corporate world. I did have to ask a female employee to dress a little bit more appropriately for work once, because I feared her attire could lead to some inappropriate behavior or comments by other staff.

    I agree with Kalie, I wonder if the thought is most men would like this type of attention, so why is it an issue. We all need a safe, trusted environment to work in man or woman. Seems like less formal, non-corporate work situations are areas where this type of behavior could be more common.

    1. I’ve run into that situation a couple of times where newer hires, men and women had to be reminded to tone it down/dress it up due to some rather odd interpretations of “work appropriate” lol.

      I agree in a non-corporate situation, things can get out of hand WAY easier because there’s no HR, there’s no guidance in place other than “the law” and like my examples and the one of teenage girl, if the owner doesn’t see it as a problem, well then the only other place to go to would be someone outside of that company that can attack it from a legal standpoint. Who’s going to do that for a $10/hr job or a serving job?

  4. Ughhhhh. This kind of stuff is not okay. Most of the time I think people are trying to be funny, but they have no clue that what they’re doing is illegal, uncomfortable, and downright wrong. Sorry this happened, Mr. SSC. My dad puts up with a horribly inappropriate woman at work and management wouldn’t get rid of her (she would touch him and block his way out of rooms, take stuff from his desk and hold it hostage, ask for dates, etc.).

    I had my butt slapped at work–and it was actually by another woman. I was so shocked that I couldn’t even do anything about it. In hindsight I should have told her “Oh hell no” right then and there, but sometimes it’s so surreal that you have trouble addressing it.

    I’m glad to said something to the guy, but ultimately the onus isn’t on you to get him to stop–he should know it’s wrong, period.

    It sucks, but I know the restaurant industry is more of a “suck it up, buttercup” kind of environment. Typically men’s harassment is addressed in a corporate environment where HR departments are present.

    1. I agree that most of the time people are trying to be funny and don’t realize it’s illegal or uncomfortable for the other person.

      That sucks about your dad’s situation, good grief that’s ridiculous… I hope it gets resolved for him soon.

      Yeah, especially in restaurants, I agree that the suck it up mentality is the norm. That’s why I didn’t even bring it up until it got way past the realm of “restaurant normal” which shouldn’t even be a thing. They’re definitely a different environment, even with the corporate ones. They still remind me of the movie Waiting as being closer to the norm, than a restaurant parody.

  5. I agree with Kalie’s comment. Domestic abuse situations are much the same when men are the victims – they ask for help, but aren’t typically taken seriously. Yet, it can and does happen more than we realize.

    It’s unfortunate you had to deal with those situations, Mr. SCC. I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been (especially in #1 and #2) to ask for help to stop the harassment and being ignored and even punished because of it. #3 is interesting (it’s great you became friends) – I think sometimes we think we are sending all the social signals that a behavior is unwanted, but some people need it more clearly communicated to them. This has happened to me more than once – I will think I’m giving all the cues with body language and ignoring, but it’s not explicit enough to really get my message across. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Ugh, yeah I ahdn’t even thought about the domestic abuse side, but you’re right, men get the same sort of dismissal when it’s brought up because of the same reasons. Like, “What you’re getting beaten up by a woman?! Come on man!” It’s sad.

      Yeah the 3rd situation turned out the best, I mean, I didn’t have any animosity towards him, because it hadn’t gotten to a point like the other situations, where it was repeatedly, constantly crossing the line even after I’d asked them to stop. After I brought it up to him and asked him to stop and let him know how I his behavior made me feel, he was fine with it and was sorry it had gotten to that point.

      It never should’ve gotten to that point, but if you’re flirting with someone hoping for a relationship, it’s a little different behavior than when it’s coming from married women looking for something on the side or who knows what they really were after. I think that was probably the key difference, but hey, I’m glad it worked out well afterwards.

      Yeah, sometimes you never know if your body language is enough or not and start doubting yourself until you realize, “okay, the ignoring and body language cues are not doing it…”

  6. It’s funny how different our reactions are, depending on who the attention is coming from. If it’s someone we’re interested in, it’s all fun and roses. If it’s someone we’re not interested in, it’s sexual harassment. Been there, done that, t-shirt etc., so I won’t go into details here, but I would like to say that I’m sorry you went through that crap Mr. SSC. It sounds gross, to say the least. I think I may get slapped down for what I’m about to say, but I think it’s different for women, especially very young ones like TG. You see, men can be menacing, and not knowing how stable they are is the scary part. A man will stalk a woman. A man can much more easily rape a woman than a woman can rape a man. I don’t want to downplay sexual harassment perpetrated on a man, but I do want to clarify how scary it is for a girl, not just in her paycheck, but often her safety and life can be at risk too.

    1. I thought I’d get smacked down for suggesting it’s not taken as seriously by men, so no worries there. I agree, our default isn’t to see women as a predator, and again, not saying they’re predatory, but even I don’t have a default “women sexual predator” picture in my head. Like in that 3rd story, that flirting went on longer because well, I don’t tell anyone to stop flirting with me, or didn’t back then. I was young, single, what do I care. I just hadn’t had anyone cross the line, and like your point, yeah that’s why I felt like, “Crap, I didn’t lead him on, but I didn’t stop it in the beginning, maybe it will just stop and he’ll get the idea if I ignore it even more…” It took him crossing a line to where I finally had to say something and then it worked out fine. Yeah it can definitely be a grey area as to “is this sexual harassment or is it just that I’m not interested or can it be both?” I think it can still be both.

      You’re right, it’s probably more dismissive towards men because of the fact that it’s easier for men to rape women, intimidate women, and more. In most situations, that’s just a fact.

      I’ve been stalked by some exes and some non-starter relationship females I’ve encountered before, but I never felt physically threatend by them even when they’re showing up to the house at 3am… You’re right, the situations are different, especially for younger women and younger girls.

    2. Kay, I get a bit of a chuckle out of what you say here: “If it’s someone we’re interested in, it’s all fun and roses.” I don’t think too many of us would continue to be interested in someone who started out with butt grabbing and dirty talk. Is that ever “fun and roses”?

      1. I understand what you mean. I wasn’t trying to sound trite. I was just thinking about Sting and Ricky Martin and their “stalking” songs. If someone with a Gilbert Gottfried vibe sang it, it wouldn’t be quite so charming. I do have to say though that back in the 80’s, office life was way different. It was quite a randy affair. The only time it got unbearable is if it came from the top and if it was from a Gilbert-type character. I’ve seriously been grabbed and kissed by co-workers and even if I didn’t like it, I didn’t consider it sexual harassment. I just made it clear that I wasn’t interested. There were always people who yelled “sexual harassment” over almost anything. If a guy said they looked pretty that day they’d go ballistic. It seriously made it difficult for bonafide harassment complaints when people like that would get all up in arms about anything and everything and make a federal case out of it. I do think Mr. SSC’s perpetrators were WAY out of line for sure. No blurred lines there!

        1. “I’ll be watching you . . . ” Oh my! I really liked that song. But it does have “stalker” lyrics. Pre-Anita Hill days at work were definitely very blurry in terms of the “line”. I’m sorry you had those gross moments. Some things have changed for the better.
          That “line” . . . It stillmakes people second-guess and self-doubt. It really is where anyone says, “Stop doing that to me.”

  7. Ugh, so sorry to hear that. I think in smaller businesses don’t take it seriously. They don’t realize the financial risk. I not so subtly reminded an employer that a certain level of harassment is in fact illegal and carried a $50k penalty from the state. $50k wasn’t worth it to me, but might be for the next person who gets tired of this crap. I ended up leaving that job. It was actually by another woman but they had created a culture that constantly crossed the line. Like my boss one day joked that my work attire was “business casual” only if I was a stripper. Then joked that they would install a strip pole by my desk. I confronted him about it, and he said he was just joking. To which I said, “Here is the test of a joke: Is the other person laughing? I wasn’t laughing. A little pro tip for you, women don’t like being called strippers. Just FYI.”

    1. That’s a great point, that the penalties can be steep for small business owners. Then the onus would be on the victim to prove that this happened, that it was brought to the attention of the owner/mgmt and that it was ignored and continued to happen. That’s a lot of work to put into recording that stuff, and documenting it, especially pre-cellphone days all for a $10/hr job.

      It sucks that in those situations the perpetrator has the easiest route to get the case dismissed. Like your “stripper” comment from your boss. That wasn’t recorded and there’s no way to do anything about it beyond confronting him. It’s easy for him and others to get away with those seemingly little, benign comments because they’re so hard to prove.

      I think the way you handled it was perfect because at least now he knows you’re not one to be messed with and there could be repercussions. I didn’t have that type of confidence or insight back when I was 20 or around that time frame. I was too naive to think it wouldn’t be handled appropriately or just go away at some point. Live and learn.

  8. Thank you for talking about your crappy experiences Mr. SSC.

    The accepted narrative of our times, of the manly, macho man, the man who is always thinking about sex and always wants it is damaging and stupid.

    I’m sorry you had to go through that and I’m glad you have not experienced anything since.

    A woman that Mr. BITA dated briefly in college was physically abusive. She liked to throw things at him when she got mad. One time she threw a chair across the dorm room. Someone called the cops. When they showed up they assumed that the violence was perpetrated by Mr. BITA and treated him as such. Good men end up paying for the crimes of their brothers and crappy women sometimes take advantage of the suffering of their sisters.

    1. No problem, yep there are still some stupid narratives being played out in regards to male sexual harassment and domestic abuse.

      I’ve been there too and it’s not fun. Like you said, automatically the assumption is that the man perpetrated the violence, and eesh, it’s like trying to swim upriver convincing them otherwise.

      It’s been nice not experienceing anything like that since then both from a sexual harassment standpoint and a physical standpoint. It’s been an interesting life that’s for sure, lol. 🙂

  9. Mr. SSC, thanks so much for sharing your experience here! Your story brought to light a few things for me:
    1. You self-doubted/self-blamed when it came to knowing where “the line” was (#3). It reminded me of TG saying, “I feel so stupid!” for not having confronted her creepy boss sooner. To me it’s so sad when the victim of sexual harassment – whether male or female – feels this way. (And I’m glad that all was resolved well in #3.)
    2. There really are creepy, lecherous women out there (#2). And you’re right, we don’t have a stereotype image for “dirty old woman” in the way that we do for “dirty old man.”
    3. It’s so unfair that harassment against men is not taken seriously (#1 & 2).
    Each case of sexual harassment, no matter if the male or female perpetrates or is the victim, is equally violating. For society as a whole, I’m with Kay in still believing that harassment against women is an issue of greater concern. I believe it’s much more common – a function of the fact that men still hold more positions of power than women – so the whole corrupted power bit can more often come into play. Also as Kay said, men are physically stronger, so the threat of physical force looms more for women.
    That being said, harassment against men is on my radar now, and I hope that I will recognize it if it ever happens around me. I won’t be a silent bystander.
    Thanks again, Mr. SSC!

    1. Yeah that was why her story connected with me and I thought, “yep, been there…”

      I’m kind of glad there’s no stereotypical “dirty old woman” because it means as a whole, there aren’t enough of them out there to bring that stereotype to life. Good job ladies!

      I agree that as a whole, harassment of women is a greater concern for all of the reasons you and Kay mentioned above. It still happens to men, and in a UK study of domestic violence, they found 40% of the cases were male victims. The study also found that the female aggressors were more likely to be ignored by police, go free and not face prosecution.

      Violence against anone regardless of gender is wrong, and like mentioned above, domestic violence against women makes up the other 60% of that study, however, the refuges and resources they have, 7500 in England and Wales, compared to 60 for men reiterates the fact that not just our society, but culturally, globally, we (people in general) still have that “suck it up, you’re a man” type of attitude.

      Maybe like with you, it at least puts it on your radar where it may not have been noticed before. All changes start with little steps, so here’s to making little steps towards change in some of these attitudes. 🙂

  10. In a survey conducted across BPOs, IT sector, hospitals, legal and educational institutions in 10 cities by an NGO, it was found that only 69.8% victims complained of sexual harassment at their workplace. The NGO conducted the survey among 6,047 persons at various sectors.

    The association carried the survey across Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Assam, Jalandar, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, and Lucknow. The group interviewed mostly women and 22 % of them were men “to understand the severity and present status of sexual harassment at workplaces in India.”

    The survey claimed 68.9% of the victims did not step forward to complain about the sexual harassment “because of fear, embarrassment, lack of confidence in complaint mechanism, unawareness and due to the stigma attached to sexual harassment.”

    When the victims were asked where they faced harassment, 37.8% victims said they were harassed at their workplace, 40 % were at other places and 22.2% were targeted in school or college.

    Most victims said they did not complain because of fear of retaliation, subsequent repercussions and sympathy with the offender due to past mutual understanding.

    Highlighting the current scenario of the companies’ ways to tackle such cases, the survey found that only 65.2% companies did not follow a proper process under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2013.

    Of those interviewed, 93.5 % participants agreed that harassment occurs at schools, colleges, in societies and at workplace.

    Zameer Nathani , Honorary National Secretary, Indian National Bar Association, said, “We found that women are sexually harassed by lewd comments, asking for sexual favors, touching inappropriately, eve teasing etc. The act has clearly defined the rights of women and the complaint mechanism to be at the workplace. Once there is awareness regarding the same, we would find the cases of sexual harassment dealt in a better way and slowly stop them.”

  11. I can understand the results of that survey. Even in a corporate environment that I’m in now, unless it got horrible, I would be really leary to go to HR and report sexual harassment, whether it was from a guy or girl. I wouldn’t go unless I had a lot of evidence that backed up my claim, but even then I’d probably use that to tell the person to leave me alone or I’ll take that evidence to HR, and hope that stops it, prior to actually going to HR.

    Like that study found, I just don’t have confidence it will be treated appropriately and there won’t be negative repercussions for me if I ever had to go that route and report something. It sucks, but for me, that’s the reality of how I feel about it and what would happen if I did experience it again.

    Thanks for sharing the data with that study.

  12. I was reading a similar article about this on Cracked the other day. I think the primary problem is that men are afraid to report these kinds of incidents. Somehow, society thinks that it’s a joke. So if a guy reports it, he’ll be seen as less of a man if he can’t stop the issue on his own.

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