A Letter to My 22-Year-Old Self
Dear Past Me,
Do you remember that day?
Actually, it was evening and you were just doing your job. You were sitting at a desk in his office minding your business, looking for a file on the computer so YOU could do your job. You weren’t expecting to click on a file and suddenly find yourself staring at thousands of pornographic images of women, disturbing, violent, and demeaning. You were shocked and uncertain what to do because this man was in charge of a program that counseled and treated men with anger issues, most of whom were there because of domestic violence charges.
Certainly, you were stupid. Of course, you misunderstood the intention behind these images. Right?
In the blur of the moment, not only did you feel stupid. You feared you’d lose your job for discovering this little secret.
At twenty-two, you would soon learn the world wasn’t black and white. – Piper Punches
For days, you pondered what to do. You discussed the situation with another female co-worker just as new to the world of the taboo as you. Hunched over the copy machine, the two of you discussed the pros and cons of telling. You even teamed up to go back to his office together so you could show her the evidence. Part of you hoped it wasn’t there. That you dreamed the whole scenario. But, no, the images were still there.
You and your co-worker stood in front of the desk staring at the computer no more certain what to do. What could you do? The man who owned this computer was in a position of power. The head of a program meant to do good, yet he was doing something terribly wrong at work. You knew that people stood on either side of the moral line that pornography drew, but certainly graphic, violent images on a man’s work computer – who was in charge of a men’s anger management program – crossed that line, right?
Ultimately, you decided to tell and, initially, you felt heard and empowered. Then he gave his side of the story. He claimed it was research for his job. You dismissed his response and rolled your eyes because you knew it was bogus. You waited for him to be fired. It would be only a matter a day or two, and then you’d never have to worry about facing him again – feeling embarrassed and slightly dirty. After all, this was an organization built on the foundation of protecting women and children from abusive natures.
At twenty-two, you would soon learn the world wasn’t black and white. Justice didn’t lean in the favor of right. It leaned in the favor of saving face. It leaned in the favor of a man who didn’t deserve to be treating other men.
When you were told the man wasn’t going to be removed from his position, you feared retaliation. Momentarily, your fears were squelched when you heard he was being moved to another site. You would not have to see him or worry about what he would say to you. What he would accuse you of? But, your relief, well, it turned to shame and confusion because you knew he would still be treating men and probably doing the same thing somewhere else. You realized that you weren’t heard. You weren’t empowered. You were ignored.
His behaviors? Well, his behaviors were justified by the company’s refusal to see the wrongness of his actions.
Why am I reminding you of this part of your past? I suppose it’s to remind you that even though you’re not that uncertain, frightened 22-year-old anymore, there are others who are. There are young women entering the workforce for the first time that may find themselves in situations where they feel powerless.
No, I was not sexually harassed by this man. I don’t think he meant for anyone to see those pictures. However, as was typical then and now, gender bias existed. His actions, wrong and inappropriate in the workplace, were accepted and allowed. Mine were an over exaggeration and too quick to judge.
To my young self, you did nothing wrong in this situation. The system of supporting men who disrespect women, wronged you, and it wronged a well-intentioned program designed do good and affect change.
You did good, kid. Telling was the right thing to do even when justice was absent. You fought a battle that so many continue to fight today and you fought it valiantly.
About this letter . . .
Workplace inequality takes many forms. From gender-bias policies to sexual harassment and assault, women still face obstacles that aren’t always recognized right away. I shared this story because often young women just entering the workforce are put in situations that aren’t crystal clear in terms of appropriate behavior. We know that sexual harassment and assault are wrong, but there are less obvious problems in our workplaces that exist that need to be addressed. If you’re in a situation where you feel something is off or out of place, trust your gut and speak up. Together we can stop sexual misconduct in our workplaces – one voice, one story at a time.
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Piper Punches is an author of fiction and truth, tackling topics on social justice, mindful living, creativity, and the writing life. She is the Amazon bestselling author of The Waiting Room, and the short story, Missing Girl. Her newest book, 60 Days (Missing Girl Series — Book 1) is currently available on Amazon. For a limited time, readers can sign up to get a free copy of Missing Girl here.