Nimz and Everything Under The Sun
So recently I’ve come to realise I experienced work place harassment and the gravity of it is only really daunting on me now.
I’m pissed to say the least. I’m pissed for several reasons and I’m still discovering new reasons. I can’t ever think my thoughts through without reaching a blockade of anger, sadness, regret, guilt, disgust and shame.
We learn and we grow, and when I think back on certain situations in my past I can’t help but think how lucky I am to have survived this long with all the dumb ish I’ve gotten up to in the years.
But that’s going off track, I was harassed and I’m pissed, I’m vengeful and saying it, admitting it, makes me shameful.
It was 2013/14, I was working in retail, my manager was Muslim. I could finally pray comfortably at work - not that I couldn’t before, but before I wasn’t really understood. Or maybe that’s what I projected. Or maybe that was the atmosphere. Either way prayer was something I did when the shop front quietened down, not when it was due. So working with a Muslim manager and being able to pray was a big deal to me.
A few weeks after I started working, the store was hiring again and I got to work with my friend from uni. The store was relatively young and the atmosphere was fun and vibrant. We’d banter, gist and chill. Most of us part timers were in our final year and we understood each other.
I started off intent to work hard, I’d come from a more intense store so I didn’t have to do much to prove myself.
I quickly rose in reputation, from newbie to trusted advisor. Which came mainly with the responsibility of helping the others.
Life was pretty much calm, till one day my spider senses kicked in.
I started feeling uncomfortable around my manager, I couldn’t put my finger on it directly. But I knew I hated being around him, his gaze lasted a little to long, I’d look up to find him staring at me, he’d stand a little too close. He seemed to always enter my space.
I fobbed off the problem as being mine, I’m notoriously sensitive about my personal space and hate people encroaching. I felt I had to get over it because I couldn’t expect everyone to understand my unsaid laws about personal space. So I kept quite.
He continued to stand closely and I continued to look for random reasons to ‘naturally’ move away. “I need a drink”, “I need to tie my shoe”, “what’s outside” and sometimes randomly helping someone else lol.
My behaviour towards him started to change. I grew cold and dismissive, I shortened my responses and replied with closed sentences. I began to dread doing late shifts, because all the staff would have to close together and walk to the station together. Early shifts meant I could walk out on my own and the manager usually never does an early shift. I hated being called into his office. It was the size of shoe box and you were literally recycling air with the other person in there. If I had to go into the office I’d stand by the door leaving it slightly ajar. I’d fake smile and keep it short and sweet, so as not to prolong the conversation.
However I was still convinced it was all in my head and I was being sensitive. My fix for the issue was to just be cold and distant and hopefully he’d get the message. I didn’t want to cause issues with my manager and I didn’t have the vocabulary I do now to be able to highlight the issue properly.
At most what could I say? “you stand too close and the way you look at me makes me uncomfortable”, even now I look back and I see that as asking for further problems. For him to explain he had no negative intention, for their to be an elephant in the room, for the rest of the staff to rush to his defence and talk about how great a guy he is, how he’d never do anything to harm a woman. How nobody saw it like that, it was just me, I read too much into it and now things are awkward.
In the middle of the store was an oblong shaped island where the staff would naturally huddle around and chat during quiet time’s. During one shift we were all standing around and the manager came to stand too close to me once again. Our elbows were practically touching, I naturally shifted a little to the side.
I can’t remember how the conversation went exactly but my (Muslim) manager says “Nimat is my work wife”, I remember freezing. He then says another staff member (who was married) was his other work wife. She laughed it off saying he’s always saying that.
I felt disgusted. If I remember correctly it was during one of the many times he told us about his really brief marriage to some woman. I never asked questions because I was never interested, but it seemed prior to me moving to the store he had been in a marriage with a woman that barely lasted. The staff used to talk about it a lot. That conversation some how led to me being announced as his work wife whilst he stood too close to me.
The statement validated all my suspicions. This guy was intentionally in my space and staring at me, I wasn’t imagining it. And now he’s making a statement of it. Almost looking for my co-sign. If I laugh and banter it off then this’ll be the running joke and a catalyst for worse.
I didn’t laugh. I made a rubbish excuse and I moved away. From then on I hated work. It could be seen in my attitude. I’d be the first one out, id sit far away from the group and I’d call in sick on days when my manager was scheduled in and I couldn’t stomach being in with him.
But I never said anything.
He one day pulls me to the side and tells me how I used to be so sweet to him, but now I’m cold and how he felt like I faked my personality just to get the job. How he doesn’t even know how to talk to me anymore. I felt bad for him. I wanted to reassure him that everything’s fine, but I couldn’t. I said I’d try to be better.
But the gazes continued and I remained uncomfortable.
Eventually he got promoted but I still never said anything.
I mean he’d never actually done anything.
Did he even harass me?
I spent months navigating myself, my personality and my time around a man who made me uncomfortable rather than calling him out. I grew sensitive and anxious, always aware of where he would be, where he was going to stand. I tried to preempt his moves, go for lunch after id seen him eat or heard him share his plans. I never wanted to be caught off guard, all because I was protecting someone else. Someone I didn’t even care for.
That’s why I’m so pissed when I think back to this situation. I’m annoyed at myself, I feel like a sham, this superwoman persona I parade in, #OpenYourMouf, and here I am silent. I didn’t speak out on a situation and I let the man continue with his behaviour, never once checking him and thus allowing him to be promoted into a higher position of power.
If I felt powerless at him being a store manager, with all my bravado and fearlessness... how would the next girl feel now he’s higher ranking.
I’m annoyed that a part of me still feels like it was my fault and all in my head. That I dramatised the attention given and made it into more than it was. I was sensitive.
I wrestle with the idea that it was sexual harassment or that I was harassed and I let it happen. If I read a story where someone is detailing events that happened to them and it feels a little too close to home I scroll past. I never finish reading, I never want to know how it was labelled.
#MeToo really shook the tree I live under, it’s uncomfortable. It makes me hyper aware of how much I’ve betrayed myself, my values, how fraudulent I really am.
All the wrongs I’ve rewritten as rights in my memory bank. How complicit I really am in the betrayal of women.
I’m trying to navigate an energy consuming world whilst relinquishing as little energy as possible. I with my none of my business, just gonna mind my own, go hard or go home attitude.
I’m finally starting to see how tiredness is part of the package when you’re born female, how minding your business and working hard isn’t enough. How the silent suffer, offer ourselves as sacrifices and if we don’t speak out now we choke on the words swallowed till eventually we either die or vomit it out.
I’m currently vomiting. I refuse to let mad men and women kill me, I rebuke it. - I wish I can claim exaggeration for dramatic effect but the Nigerian jumped out. I honestly to God cannot come and kill myself. On this formally green earth of God, that you people have come to ruin and demolish with your over consumption and non renewable lifestyle, I cannot allow you to come and kill me too.
I eventually left the company after a few more run ins with mad management. but when I think back to 2014, this incident sits firmly in my top 5 triggers for what was to follow that year.