While I was at University, a colleague from my sponsor company, in a superior postion to me, tried to rape me while on a work trip.
I said no, he didn’t hear me, I said this is a bad idea, he told me he couldn’t have kids, that it was fine, I said about his wife, he said it’s fine.
I couldn’t get away but fortunately for me, my fight response kicked in, I punched him and swore and kicked and yelled and felt so angry and violated and how dare this person try to take something from me without my permission, I wanted to kill.
I was very lucky, someone heard me yelling which meant the person had to leave and couldn’t do anything else. I had a fight response out of fight, flight, or freeze (you don’t get a choice it just happens).
Both of us had been drinking when this happened, that doesn’t make it okay and it does not stop it from being attempted rape. I said no, they heard and didn’t care, continued acting for what they wanted anyway.
When I talked to my friends about it, most of them told me to go to the police to get the bastard. Enough of my male engineering friends/ colleagues that I talked to said, what was I playing at, I could hurt this guy’s career; he could lose his job just because I couldn’t make my mind up; that I needed to get my act together; no one will believe you anyway; it’s your fault, stop being such a little bitch.
Now, I know they were wrong. At the time having been immersed in the sexist, derogatory, backwards culture I believed at least some of what they said. I didn’t report it, I told very few people after that and I essentially had a year of battling between trying not to feel anything and trying not to kill myself because the anti-depressants I started taking damn near made me do it.
I pulled my shit together, what the nice counsellor I saw several years after, as the mental health support in the UK is wank, told me is called post traumatic growth and have my docotorate and a successful career in STEM. My attempted rape was less than 5 years ago, I still experience sexist shit most days. Engineering is one of the worst sectors for it and if you’re not willing to keep your head down and let the toxic culture be, then prepare for it to be all the worse. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting!
I probably did experience sexism and microaggressions when I was at school, I seem to remember being called a dyke and fat and remarks about my large boobs, but it didn’t really bother me, because I was very lucky that my parents had raised me to believe that I was amazing and it was my body, my rules – no one else got to make me feel bad about it.
Unfortunately, when I moved to University and then into work I had a very different experience. I was in a far less liberal part of the UK and most of the compliments I received were along the lines of: that’s a good set of tits to get you in here; lucky you’re not like us, cis white men are the new underprivileged; ah, you’re just like one of the lads really; to name a few. With this culture change I began to slip into habits that I would now say threw my own gender under the bus for the sake of belonging.
I thought I really felt I belonged that I could be myself completely, until university or work socials happened and I experienced sexual harrassment multiple times, mainly in the form of bum pinching and groping, colleagues would try and get me to have sex with them and when I didn’t want to they’d try to persuade me and keep touching me, cornering me instead of letting me walk off.
Through all of these experiences I began to believe what was spouted back by the group of male colleagues that I talked to, ah you had one too many; ah they had one too many; no harm done; nah it’s not weird, just blowing off steam; god, you’re slutty; lads lads lads. It just became part of the status quo. When at university the gropers included staff, at least one of whom had a wife and children. When I outline it like this it sounds obvious, in your face, but it wasn’t. It was insidious, subtle and daily and it was the culture that likely made that attemped rape possible, it definitely made me so unconfident in the system that I couldn’t report it until almost 2 years later.
When I did, no one wanted to know.