I work for myself now. I’m a full-time photographer running my own photo studio and have been doing that for almost 12 years. But before that, and for a few years while I was getting my business started, I worked for other people. When people ask me what made me go out on my own and start my own business I say that several factors contributed to my decision: I had a passion for photography and an entrepreneurial spirit which led me to go out on my own. I never found the right workplace where I could use my talents to the best of my ability so I went out on my own. And I’m a control freak who works well with others until they tell me what to do so I went out on my own.
But what I leave out is that like a lot of women, I felt like an outsider in what’s still considered the man’s world of business. I noticed trends in the way I was treated compared to my male counterparts. I was paid less, I was given menial tasks, I was left out of important meetings or decisions, and sometimes I was straight-up teased or taunted for being female.
After last week’s story broke where Donald Trump was caught making sexist remarks about women (and referring to actual sexual assault of women), and he sloughed it off as “locker room talk,” I kept having flashbacks to all the times I personally felt the brunt of this so-called “locker room” mentality in the business world. Every time someone around the water cooler would make an off-color remark about women or about me, I didn’t know what to do or say in response. I was young and new to the working world and with so many people around me condoning the behavior there was nothing I felt I could do except awkwardly laugh and try to walk away and forget about it. And I did the best I could do to forget about it.
But now that I’m older, wiser, and stronger, I decided to go back and re-live those experiences and respond differently. At least in my mind, of course. I can’t change the past and what my younger self said, but at least I can decide what I would say now if that happened.
So here they are: A short list of sexist things said to me in the workplace, how I responded at the time, and how I wish I would have responded if I could do it again:
SAID TO ME: A boss showed me a picture of his new girlfriend (who was about 15 years younger than him) and asked me if I thought she was pretty. He said his good friend said she was pretty but had “no speedbumps.” He then asked if I thought her boobs were big enough.
I SAID: “Umm… I don’t know.”
WHAT I WISH I SAID: “This is an inappropriate discussion for the workplace or between you and I at all. Please don’t talk to me about the size of any woman’s breasts or the level of her attractiveness.”
SAID TO ME: At a conference, the hotel was one room short with our company’s booking. A guy with a partner company said “well we can share a room if you’d like” and nudged me with his elbow while winking and all the guys around us burst out laughing.
I SAID: “Umm… I’ll see if there’s another hotel nearby.”
WHAT I WISH I SAID: “Please don’t touch me or make a suggestive joke in front of everyone here. I really don’t appreciate that.”
SAID TO ME: On a job interview the interviewer said “this is an options trading firm, so the guys who work here are, well, guys’ guys. They like to make jokes and stuff, and the jokes can get kind of crude, and you’d be the only girl… so, well… you’d have to have some thick skin to work here.”
WHAT I SAID: “Umm… I see.”
WHAT I WISH I SAID: “If this is a workplace that allows sexual harassment of any kind I retract my application. Please get me my coat, I’m leaving now.”
SAID TO ME: A boss said to me “you know, if you wore more makeup, got some better clothes, and did something with your hair, you’d be kind of pretty.”
WHAT I SAID: “Umm… thanks?”
WHAT I WISH I SAID: “It is not appropriate for you to make a comment on my personal appearance like that. Please don’t do it again.”
SAID TO ME: My boss would repeatedly walk past the fax machine to ask me to fax something for him. When I told him I was the marketing coordinator and sending faxes for him isn’t part of my job he said “we all have to wear many hats here. I don’t have an assistant and there’s no receptionist and it makes sense for you to fill that role when necessary, instead of any of the guys.”
WHAT I SAID: “Understood.” (Then quietly started looking for a new job)
WHAT I WISH I SAID: “Fax you. I quit.”
SAID TO ME: On a dinner with colleagues at a convention when I ordered chicken (and was the only girl at the table) someone said to the waiter, “the men will all be having steak, the little girl over there will have chicken.”
WHAT I SAID: I sheepishly joined the table in laughter.
WHAT I WISH I SAID: “You will all die of heart attacks. I quit.” (Then smash a drinking glass on the floor and walk off with my middle finger in the air.)