I’m at work. I cannot focus.
I’m wearing tight skinny jeans, a professional black and white tribal print top with an aqua blue cardigan and open toed black leather kitten heels. My hair is up in a bun so that I can show off my antique silver earrings.
My supervisors are out of the office on lunch. Even though I have an open concept office with two walls being clear windows so that I can see the students passing by I still feel alone. I am isolated in my thoughts and fears.
I not only work at my college but I am also a part-time student.
My college is in a secluded South Eastern part of the U.S. where young men in boots and jeans hold open doors for you and there is the atmospheric “Southern Charm” with implied etiquette. We are a college so we are educated but it is a different culture. Things are backwards in many senses, especially in regards to equality. Many times men are gentlemen but many times those gentlemen consider women inferior.
This fall I signed up for a sociology course. Sociology was my minor during my previous academic endeavors. There is something absolutely fascinating about it that has me gripped for hours upon end. My mind never wanders past the subject content. I type ferociously as I try to soak up every word the professor is lecturing on and often times ends up dictating the entire lecture word for word. Sociology is a love of mine. There is something about understanding dynamics (or at least theorizing about them) that grips me into an embrace that I never want to be let out of.
My three hour Thursday night class could not have been more disturbingly different.
The teacher, who is also the VP of my institute, didn’t teach us sociology. What he did was tell “funny” anecdotes about himself for three hours straight. When anything sociological was in fact mentioned it was straight out of the textbook and the sexism that he spewed hung thickly in the air above the small room filled with 17 bright eyed students. Everyone laughed at his jokes except for me. The jokes had an edge to them. My teacher was charming but underneath it was pure slime. He was rude and a narcissist. I had often times encountered this in my past and was not going to play into the ego of another self-absorbed man. So I sat, I listened with a straight face, no scowl crossed my features but the forced laughter that others had didn’t either; because of this he singled me out. He tried to embarrass me in front of the class. He continued to make sexist remark after sexist remark and he belittled me. He made my learning environment hostile and as I left my class, pulling out of the deserted college parking lot after 9 p.m. tears of anger and disappointment were liberally forming in my eyes
I like to consider myself a strong, independent woman. I am a woman who has not only endured more than people twice her age have but also has learned to flourish despite past events. But that teacher, who knew his status as VP ensured his maltreatment of me guaranteed him no backlash, injured my pride as well as my feelings. Every nerve in my body screamed to keep driving. The anxiety that was crawling around my chest, legs and gut kept rubbing itself against my stomach as it purred “you have the finances, you have the transportation, there is nothing to stop you, go, keep driving. Never stop until you have a new life.”
I let my anxiety roll around inside of me but somehow resisted the urge to drive to Canada (which is a solid 17 hour drive).
Now, the trepidation I feel just being in my office is overwhelming.
I had to stop the class for my sanity, it triggered too much of my past abuse. I could not be bullied, and insulted for another man’s pride once more. I did what any strong, independent woman would do in an unhealthy environment; I went to his department head to drop the course. I signed up for a history course starting in October but I had to drop this insanely backwards sociology course where “it’s just his generation” is the excuse for his behavior. Let’s not look at the many men I know his generation or before who have never treated me with such contempt. No, let’s just pick the most convenient excuse so that we won’t have to go head-to-head with the Vice President of financing. Let’s let this man try to break down an innocent student whose only mistake was not laughing. I never once was rude, I never once provoked this man. I consider myself an honest person who admits when she is wrong and even holds herself accountable for more than is necessary so I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that this was not ok and I could not go through it another night.
The head of his teaching department (he is an adjunct teacher but a full time VP) was disturbed by his behavior. “Especially in a sociology class” was a phrase multiple women mentioned. Luckily, all the dealings I conducted were with women and luckily all of them were good ol’ feminists who jumped to help me, or at the very least didn’t brush it under the rug. The problem with this, however, is that a Title IX was filed. I had no say. Because I reported what had happened he will be notified and he will be investigated. He will also be notified that it was I who complained. And that terrifies me.
I cannot describe how disgusted I felt when he said women only fell into two categories: “angry, driven and lonely” or “a Disney princess.” Or that he “refused to teach feminist theory because it was just angry women arguing social conflict.” How is someone like this able to teach at all? And more importantly if he holds women in such low regard what will the repercussions for my actions be? There will be some. This is not the paranoia of a woman suffering from PTSD, this is just fact.
I informed my coworker of the situation and she seemed horrified that I actually reported it. “No one messes with ‘insert his name here’ he’s the VP, the right hand man. You know he’s going to retaliate somehow.” And she’s right, he will. Everyone kept calling me “brave” for being honest about the situation but fuck, I honestly didn’t even care about a Title IX, I just had to get out of that class. I could not sit and hear another degrading comment about women or have him ridicule me or confront me for not enjoying his class again. I knew it would just get worse.
Here we are now. HR most likely informed him of the complaint already just before she left for a week-long vacation. HR made sure to tell me that I could drop it at any time but that he would be notified of my name and when I asked if the record went away if I did she was not at all hesitant to confirm it. She seemed to awfulize the process hoping I would let it go. No, I can’t scurry away with my tail between my legs because he has such a prestigious position or because he gets money for the school. Wrong is wrong and sexism, not matter if its a rural southern town or if it’s a booming city, is wrong.
So I sit at my desk, in front of my laptop, in a room that is surrounded by windows and shake my leg as I graze my plum painted fingernails across my laptop forming the words on this screen. This is not where I wanted to be but I’m glad I am pushing myself. I am glad that I can be an example for my son, even if he doesn’t realize it I am doing this partly for him. Sexism can go either way and I would never want him to experience the shame I did and if he ever did I would want to be able to help him learn from my experiences. But the strongest reason I am doing this is for myself.
When my abusive ex-boyfriend had charges pressed against him I was not the one who made that choice. It wasn’t empowering, the whole process re-victimized me. I had been forced to visit campus police by my RA where they took pictures of my cheek bone, jaw bone and forearms and took witness statements who had seen my ex and knew his car make and model. They were the ones who pressed charges. I had person after person visit me to tell me to do it but I couldn’t. I was scared, but also I lacked the will to. So they took away my choices. Once he informed that he had been served with a trespassing order and been arrested for “assault on a female” I fought to get the charges dropped. The whole process killed parts of me and to this day my heart sinks when I think about it.
On a good day I wish that I had been the one to contact the county police. On a bad day I wish no one had ever interfered. Now, in this present, very different situation I am empowering myself. I am going forward with this complaint and I am making sure at the very least someone goes to this misogynist and forces him to change his behavior. It is not OK to act this way. People have complained before but never to the department head or HR, how many more women have to be verbally victimized where he puts down your intelligence and accomplishments in front of a class full of students to elevate himself and his ego? I hope the answer is none but I am not naive enough to believe that.
I am dreading the moment where he is informed. My coworker says “I wish I could be a fly on the wall when he finds out” but for me, I am terrified of what the repercussions of my actions will be….