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In 2020, a survey was shown where over 50% of women have faced gender discrimination in workplace.
In light of this, and the fact that Malaysia is in the midst of tabling a new Sexual Harassment bill, I decided to compile multiple womens’ experiences of harassment in the workplace.
1. I tolerated my boss’s inappropriate behaviour because I thought it was normal
Image via Canadian Occupational Safety
In 2018, I joined an advertising company for a 3-month internship. My direct supervisor was a single man that was around his early 40’s. He would constantly try to act young and trendy, and not behave very professionally.
Maybe he was just very friendly, but there were times he would cross professional boundaries. Once, he asked for my social media, and reluctantly, I gave it to him and allowed him to follow me on my Instagram.
Things started getting weird when he would bring up my social media posts during work hours. We would be working and he would say things like, “Oh I saw you went out last Saturday, who did you go out with?”
At first, it was just my pictures he would comment on, saying I looked pretty and so on. Then it escalated to him asking about my Instagram stories. I would post about my hangouts or parties, which he would be very curious about for some reason.
Image via Shutterstock
I never took it as a big deal, because I thought maybe he was just trying to strike up a conversation and be friendly.
However, one time I posted about a guy friend of mine, and he kept pestering me to tell him if that was my boyfriend. When I admitted I was single, that’s when things started getting weirder.
From then on, whenever he answered a work-related question I had for him, he would always teasingly say, “Try not to fall for me.”
And when there were times he needed me to do something for him, he’d say stuff like “Baby, please help.”
Despite how it made me uncomfortable, I would try to diffuse the tension by laughing it off. Again, I just thought that maybe he is ‘friendly’ and has a sense of humour that I am not used to.
As the weeks went by, he would start to invite me out, at night after work hours for drinks. I would always reject him and pretend like I already had plans.
He never specified whether his plans involved just us or with a group, but I assumed it was just us.
Image via Getty Images
I later found out that he had told other people that were working in the office that he wished he could spend a night with me. But the way they shared it with me, it was very casual, so I did not think too much about it.
Throughout all of this, I never really spoke up about it to anyone or made an issue of it, because everyone in the company treated it like it was the norm. Maybe I was being dramatic and his behaviour is harmless.
So I kept it to myself and tolerated it for 3 months until my internship was done. I got out of the place. It took me a while to realise that his behavior is not ok, and in a work environment, it should not be tolerated.
2. My manager started by tickling me but it eventually led to more things.
Image via Unsplash
When I was 18, I got a job as a waitress in a restaurant. Everyone who worked there was older than me — the chefs, the waiters and my manager. I was the only female.
They also preached about being a “family” and believed in building close relationships within each other. So they were very friendly.
In the beginning, it was nice to work there. Everyone would talk to each other and joke around but as time went by and we got friendlier with each other, the jokes changed.
There was a chef that was working there, he was probably twice my age. But he would jokingly flirt with me and the other chefs would just make fun of us together.
I would usually just act like I was oblivious whenever they did this and brush it off. The floor staff’s behavior subtly changed too. They would touch me even when they didn’t need to.
Whenever I am in their way, instead of saying excuse me, they would put their hands on my lower back to get past me. Sometimes they would poke me on the side of my stomach so I would be startled and move away.
Maybe they did it unconsciously but it was always only towards me. I have never noticed them doing that to the other waiters. It was uncomfortable, but I just thought it was because guys bonded differently with each other.
Image via Unsplash
At one point, the manager started doing it too! But again, I brushed it off and acted like it did not bother me.
One day, when I was closing the shift with my manager, he started tickling me out of nowhere.
It was odd and I had no idea how to react.
I just told him to stop but I guess I did not say it sternly enough for him to take it seriously, because he did it again, on different occasions.
The tickling slowly led to other things. He started touching me inappropriately; he would grab my breasts and sometimes slap my butt whenever we were alone.
Even though I have told him to stop, I don’t think he ever took it seriously.
In my head, I started making excuses for him.
“Maybe it’s because we were somewhat friends.”
“Maybe he is just being playful.”
“He doesn’t seem to be doing with a sexual intent.”
I even went to the extent of rationalising that his inappropriate behaviour was because he had feelings for me and perhaps that was how he showed it?
One day, when we were alone and just talking, he asked me to kiss him out of nowhere. He was taking a week off work and said I should give him something before he leaves.
He then tried to kiss me. I dodged it and just laughed it off. But I knew from that moment on that I didn’t want to continue working there.
It’s unprofessional, but I decided to stop showing up to work before he came back from his holiday, and after I left, I ignored all his texts.
I never realised how uncomfortable I was about everything until I stopped working there. I felt like a weight was off my shoulders when I quit.
I was just left in confusion for a while, I would always think did I give him signals that I am interested? Or should I have been more stern?
It’s something that I still think about sometimes, but I know now no matter what, there is no justification to his actions.
For more stories like this, read: How Malaysian Women Survive Career Challenges in Their Workplace and I’m Constantly Harassed And Told That I’m Exposing Myself On Tiktok, Here’s The True Story.
Edited by Gabriel Gan.
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