Learning the Power of No

Learning the Power of No

“No” is a word that every woman should lay claim to. Feel its weight on her tongue, pass it from cheek to cheek, memorize its taste for future use. Her mouth should be a weapon, the word “no” her worthy bullet; anything that sets her off is valid to pull that trigger.

“No” can have a lot of uses for a woman in this male-centric society, and one situation many women have faced is workplace harassment by the hand of some man of higher authority. When I was twenty-one, I worked as a hostess for a high-end resort in upstate New York; I put in a good year, suffering through stressed co-workers, late shifts, and an uncomfortable uniform for the sake of paying my rent on time.

There was a hierarchy of workers there. Lowest was the serving assistants, though they had the most grunt work to do. The hostesses, like me, and the waiting staff were the next levels; then we had captains, managers, and finally the overseeing dining room manager, who wouldn’t give us lower on the totem pole the time of day.

There was this one captain that on my very first day on the job, got a little too close for comfort. There was a hand on the small of your back, leaning in inches from your face when he would speak, compliments that had much more to do with your looks than your work performance. Again, I was twenty-one and still learning that wonderful arrow “no,” and my response to his inappropriate behavior was more to freeze than to fight – which, at twenty-five, I’ve much more learned to perfect.

Another hostess, a rather brash woman in her thirties who didn’t get along with many and was always quick to give her brazen opinion, saw how he made my skin crawl but simply told me to “wear my ovaries on the outside.”

It wasn’t until I started talking to some of my co-workers my age about it that I got a general chorus of sympathy and agreement. Other girls, and even one boy, had experienced the same overt “closeness” at the hands of this captain, and nobody was okay with it. Some of us were even afraid it might lead to something worse.

After months of creepy comments and touches, even out-of-nowhere attempting to hug me (which I always backed out of quickly, thank god), I finally worked up the courage to bring the issue to the attention of the head hostess and another male captain. They were the only ones who I trusted would be willing to listen. I was hoping they would bring my complaint to a manager, considering so many others correlated my experience, though I didn’t give anyone else’s name.

What was I met with? They all chalked it up to the friendliness of his culture, as a Colombian man. They insisted that it was harmless, that any adverse reaction to it was unwarranted and overly sensitive; however, I don’t believe that intention matters so much as the effect. Culture would be a fine explanation if we weren’t supposed to be conducting a professional environment, especially since I was far from the only victim to his leering. Instead of second-guessing my perception, their answers only led to further frustration.

Anyway, due to many reasons such as abhorring working in the foodservice industry, I ended up quitting as a Christmas gift to myself. But I cannot assert that this instance of workplace harassment wasn’t high on my list of reasoning.

Women, learn the beautiful power of “no.” Don’t take the discomfort a man’s actions can inflict upon you lying down. It takes a while, and it might not come naturally at first, but always understand that your space and feelings deserve only the utmost respect. Never cave to the expectations of men supposedly above you in some arbitrary workplace hierarchy. In this case, “no” becomes a “yes” – as in yes, I will stand my ground and demand the treatment I deserve.

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