My #MeToo moment

February 13, 2018
Portia Stewart, Editor, Team Channel Director
Portia Stewart, Editor, Team Channel Director

Portia Stewart is a pun-loving editor who spends her days arguing the differences between cats and commas (commas are a pause at the end of a clause, while cats have the claws at the end of the paws). She is a minion to two cats and a dog.

In 1994 I had my first experience with sexual harassment. And 24 years later women are still fighting the same battles to be safe in the workplace.

As a 17-year-old high schooler, I thought I was lucky to land a job at a perfume stall in the local mall. But very soon it became clear that the 29-year-old male business owner enjoyed bragging to his all-female staff about his sexual exploits. I was uncomfortable but didn't speak up. Neither did the other women who worked with me.

Then the owner began flirting with me. I tried to ignore it. The compliments became more intense and personal, and the questions probed into my relationship status, sexual experience and more. I avoided and deflected, but it didn't stop.

One day, when I was supposed to be working a solo shift, the female assistant manager unexpectedly showed up. I sensed something was wrong. My boss didn't like to pay for two employees during slow times. And I was right.

The manager explained that the owner had asked her to work that day for a specific reason. He wanted me to know he was very well off financially. He wanted me to start dating him. And he'd asked his manager to work that day to act as a negotiator and procurer. She explained, in so many words, that things would go better if I just said "yes."

I said no. The assistant manager pressed me, again indicating the owner was very financially stable. He was a "good catch." I said no again, and the rest of the shift was strained.

The next time I worked with the owner, he spoke coldly and abruptly, and he always seemed to watching me-especially when male patrons approached our displays.

Ultimately, before another dreaded shift, I confessed all to my parents. They urged me to quit immediately, and I did.

This was not my last experience with harassment, but it was the first time I found my voice.

Sexual harassment and discrimination shouldn't be an accepted rite of passage for women in the workplace. Our greatest tool is to speak our truth-and then insist on a safer work environment.