Was this “just” inappropriate? Am I paranoid?

It started with his funny nickname for me.

Over a decade ago I worked as an administrative assistant at a temple in my city. I’d like to be more specific but I don’t want to needlessly embarrass Mr. X’s family. Although they may have known about his über-friendly ways. Anyway, he’s gone now.

This memory still bothers me, even though it didn’t approach the level of my definition of sexual assault. Maybe it would have if no one else had been around?

X’s nickname for me was “Pretzel girl.” Fitting, because I used to bring a small  baggie of pretzels to work every day as a snack. Not fitting, because I was in my 60s, far from a “girl.”

X was the top religious leader of the temple, whom everyone revered, since he was the founder of the place and typically seen as a happy family man and all-round “great guy.” This is why his behaviour bordered on creepy to me – or at the very least, transgressive. Isn’t it incumbent on someone in such a position to be a role model? Or at least to keep their hands in their pockets?

He was on the cusp of retirement when I started working there, and came in just several days a week, to my relief.

Here’s what he did. As I’d be typing away at my computer, which faced a wall (not my choice, small office!), X would hover behind me, calling me that silly nickname, and immediately start massaging my shoulders. Gently at first, then more deeply. I would freeze. It felt kind of nice – but wrong! It would last only about 20 seconds… very long seconds.

I’m sure most men, and maybe some women, reading this would think it was a whole lotta nothing. But here’s the thing. I can understand a handshake, which is usually consensual. But this was not consensual. He came up behind me and did this. I froze, and because he was the venerated head of the place, I felt I couldn’t squirm away. The power imbalance was considerable. (The power to hire and fire, I call it.) Perhaps I should have been thankful, nay, honoured, at his special touch. After all, what’s a shoulder massage?! All this was the conflict going on in my head.

My life experiences may well have factored into my feelings. I’d been sexually assaulted long ago, so I was wary of uninvited touching. On the other hand, I had been celibate for ages (divorcée, taking a long dating break), so my positive physical reaction was understandable.

But why do men in power positions feel so entitled to touch the women who work for them? I doubt this happens in reverse – female bosses massaging male underlings. Okay, perhaps it does, but I’m betting not nearly as often.

I don’t think this rises to the level of #metoo stories… or does it? What do you think? Have similar things happened to you?



24 thoughts on “Was this “just” inappropriate? Am I paranoid?

  1. The nickname; not a problem. The touching; a major problem! And completely inappropriate. No one should ever “get physical” at work.
    Same sort of thing happened to me several times. I really needed the job so at first I didn’t say anything. One day I finally found my voice. I told him very loudly, so most of the office could hear, to keep his hands to himself. He pretended like he hadn’t done anything; but after that he kept his distance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the validation! And good for you! But was there a power imbalance in your case? If so, kudos for having the chutzpah to speak up… loudly!! Lol! Love that “pretending”… Same reaction when I once told another diner in a restaurant (where I was eating, alone) and who was staring at me continually, from a couple of booths away – to STOP STARING AT ME! He startled as if in a trance, as if he wasn’t deliberately doing it. But then he stopped. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree that the nickname is not a problem for me. Stuff like that doesn’t even annoy me (girl, I’m referring to). But the massaging. CREEPY. Ugh. I’m shrugging and shaking as if I have to get away just writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ellie, I think you are absolutely justified feeling uncomfortable about being touched without consent. I recently attended a workshop for the McGill School of Occupational and Physical Therapy, both very touchy-feely fields of practice. Whereas we used to touch students in order to demonstrate the location of an anatomical part or assessment and treatment technique, we now must ask their consent. This person was way out of line, definitely hashtag worthy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Totally wrong and creepy! I’m sure similar things have happened to me, but I don’t recall specific incidents. I do not enjoy being touched, in general, so it would be a huge violation for me. There was a woman I worked with once who would touch me and call me “dear” and it drove me nuts, so I finally asked her to quit. She was really surprised it bothered me. Yeah, I may be overly sensitive, but my boundaries are my boundaries.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m a retired letter carrier and the workplace can be a “funny” place. I saw and learned early on not to touch anyone else whatsoever. To tell the truth, I didn’t even want to talk or say anything out loud. There was generally conversation on the workroom floor. But it’s so easy to have something misinterpreted or misconstrued. And a joke can always go the wrong way.

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  6. Ellie, this man was completely inappropriate. My guess is that he understood, consciously or unconsciously, his power advantage and likely used it on more than one person. I don’t excuse him for being unaware or for being “in a time when things were different.” Good people don’t take only their own needs and desires into account. Good leaders, religious or otherwise, pay attention to those they are supposed to be leading. Shame on him! And I understand your not knowing how to stop him. That was a challenge for me also, for similar reasons. But he was at fault, not you. Bravo to you for writing this!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Oh, wow. This provoked a memory for me of my first long-term office job in a small family run business. The manager in the warehouse (the boss’s nephew) did two things to bother me. First, he liked to put his cold hands on the back of my neck. Not a massage! He did it to most women in the office; that is if he could close enough! The second thing, he had such a potty mouth. Jokes about sex, all that. I’d tell him I’d report him for sexual harassment; he’d say that as long as he was just talking and not touching there was no grounds for complaint. Which, of course is not correct. I never did report him. The bigger concerns was which employee was into drugs and which one was stealing from the company. Anyway, that was the situation about forty years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

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