My Boss’s Hugs

By Hadis Fallah

People today tend to believe that standing up for yourself as a woman has become easy through the recent discussion of the “#MeToo” movement. Many women from different industries have come forward about their own experiences of sexual assault and harassment. Especially women in public industries have used their voices to raise awareness through social media platforms. Actresses like Tarana Burke, Uma Thurman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lawrence and Alyssa Milano opened up about men like Harvey Weinstein and Billy Cosby who had abused many women in different ways. These were all forced into sex or kissing and threatening them to damage their career if they refuse to participate. It’s the misuse of power or other higher social status which leads to sexual assault and harassment in such workplaces like the movie industry. I have heard people saying this issue gets annoying or is too unrelatable than the experience those actresses had. It seems to be too far from “our” reality. But what does the misuse of power look like in “our” ordinary lives?

It probably happens everywhere in every workplace like in schools, in hospitals or in usual offices like in my workplace. It might not exactly look like the experiences those actresses had but it’s somehow still the same thing. When I finally decided to tell my boss that I do not like to be hugged after he made several inappropriate jokes about women and how they should look or behave like “I like seeing women bended on their knees” I came to a strange realization. I realized how uncomfortable I felt knocking on his office door and it almost felt like I was about to throw up after he hugged me before. Although his hug was not meant to be sexual and I guess it sure did not look like it, I still felt very uncomfortable and felt like a line was about to be crossed. This lead me to ask myself why I was so nervous before notifying my boss about his wrong behavior? I could not answer the question except I wanted to stop acting like I do not have a voice and I wanted to stop thinking that I was afraid to speak up for myself. Women should not feel the pressure to stay silent just because they are afraid of their boss’s reaction in such situations. Men in general have the freedom to behave however they want to behave and society claims their behavior as completely legitimate. They can urinate wherever they want and they can say whatever they want without thinking about the consequences. Especially men in higher positions think they have the right to tell others what they are doing is wrong and get along with it. They themselves can not take it when somebody else gives them a little nudge. 

While it is true that it is a boss’s job to talk to his employees about their behavior at work or about their work methods, it does not necessarily follow that they are able to be told about their own flaws and failures. In truth they usually get very nervous and one can see that their pride is somehow scratched. While looking at my reflection in the dark computer screen I thought to myself “I was raised to have the courage to speak up for myself. So there it went, all my courage and pride. On the way to his office my fear level went up to hundred. I knocked on his door, stepped in and said “I just wanted to say, I actually don’t like hugs.” He looked up from his printer and suddenly turned red as a tomato and I could see in his eyes that he knew exactly what I meant. He knew that his hand before went little bit too far “downstairs”. While I was staring at his red tomato face, trying to read his facial expressions, I thought “dear God, please don’t act like you don’t know what I am talking about!” But he said “it’s good that you told me” and then started to talk about my attendance at work to change the topic. After I reflected on  the situation later, I felt so “dumb” about my feelings. I actually should not fear his reaction. Instead, he should fear my reaction! His behavior was inappropriate and unprofessional so why did I felt sick while knocking on his office door? I blame our current society for that. Obviously, it is hard to change how people thought and still think over decades but one should be able change his own way of thinking and to step up for others and for him- or herself.

To put it in a nutshell, stepping up for yourself is never easy. Still, it should not be that way. Instead women (and men) should be able to encourage each other to talk about this, to confront people with their wrong or unprofessional behavior. Nobody should be afraid of the boss’s reaction—for example mine, who is now ignoring me completely. I see the point that he might feel uncomfortable and wants to be careful of what he says or does around me but I do not get why he has not the decency to even say “Hello.” Probably because he is ashamed and afraid now. Maybe that is the reason why this discussion might be annoying for some people because they cannot relate or can relate and feel guilty.