It’s time to speak up
A friend of mine created the excellent campaign “It’s ok to say” (if you don’t feel ok). It’s about letting people know that you have anxiety and/or depression so that you’re not going through this alone. But with the news of women in Hollywood speaking up against Harvey Weinstein, it got me thinking about other matters we don’t speak up about: bullying, unwanted attention, loneliness, abuse or things that scare us. It’s time to speak up and get some help.
There is so much we don’t say. And so many reasons why we don’t. Fear that we won’t be believed. Second-guessing ourselves (‘maybe I did something to create that situation …?’) Fear of rejection, isolation, loosing our job, or being ostracized. But people it’s time to tell someone. It’s time to speak up when something’s not ok.
I once had to speak up at work about a man who had showered me with unwanted attention on my morning commute in London. And I’m so glad I did, because it short-circuited his campaign of lecherous advances.
For days I had unsuccessfully tried to avoid this guy on the little shuttle train from Clapham Junction to Olympia. He worked on the floor above me for a different company, but I saw him every morning on that commuter train and the walk to the office.
He seemed oblivious of my increasingly not-so subtle body language: putting up the Metro newspaper in-front of my face to physically block him out, wearing earphones and avoiding eye contact. At night-time I had to walk for 30 minutes across Clapham Common on my own and I was terrified he would follow me across the dark, empty parkland. I had even stopped going out at lunch on my own in case he was waiting for me. Yet I told no one.
He finally got the message on the day that I waited until he had gotten onto the train and then ran along the platform and ducked into another carriage. When I got to work there was a barrage of emails from him to my work account starting with the words “Never have I been so offended….”
Until then I hadn’t told a soul. Not my friends, not my flatmates, not my co-workers. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I wasn’t sure I wasn’t making a mountain out of a molehill. I remember also feeling embarrassment and shame. Surely I should be a big girl and fix this by myself.
One of my male co-workers must have seen my face because he asked me what was going on. I explained and showed him the email. He asked if he could reply on my behalf. I said yes. Before I knew it he had typed “F… Off” and pressed send. I was petrified of the repercussions. What would this man do now that I had been so direct? Nothing it turned out, because he was a creep who shriveled the moment I stood up to him.
With my colleague’s encouragement, I told our HR person. They talked to his HR person and started an inquiry. Within 24 hours they found out that he had harassed every female in his firm with the exception of the PA to the CEO. And he was newly married (poor woman). A’hole.
No one had spoken up before. It took my complaint for them to come out of the woodwork and talk to each other. He ended up being fired from his job and we were free to catch the train in peace.
We’re all terrified of being rejected, harassed, laughed at even. But if you speak up, there’s a chance you can help yourself and maybe others. So speak to someone. Tell someone if you’re not ok. Tell your friend, a family member or a work colleague. Or find someone neutral and non-judgmental like a counsellor. Just make sure you speak up.