What Do You Do When Your Boss Wants To Fuck You Then Fucks You Over: A Statement By an Angry Feminist WorkerPosted: January 6, 2011
I am filled with anger. Anger and feelings of injustice towards this capitalist patriarchy that exploits me as a worker, and as a woman. For the last year and a half I have been struggling to stay focus and sane while dealing with harassment in a hostile work environment by my sexist boss. I worked at an middle school/high school in East Oakland as an after school educator. I love what I do. I love working with youth, building trusting relationships with them, and having the special opportunities to politicize them and expose them to revolutionary truth.
Youth work is generally a gendered form of labor. It’s caring work and ‘caring’ is naturalized as a womanly attribute rather than a skill we must all learn to develop. Most teachers, daycare workers, after school educators, like myself, are women. Principals, after school program coordinators, and other boss-like authority figures come with power, and these positions are usually populated by men. Not always though. In my case my boss’s boss was a woman, but she did not have empathy for me as a woman, which is why my job was terminated and my boss carries on.
I was very aware of these gendered dynamics as soon as I was hired to work at the after school program at this school. The coordinator of the program, my boss, was a man in his early 40′s and all of his staff, including myself, were young women. From the very beginning I found him to be sleazy and unproffessional; his behavior was intrusive and made me highly uncomfortable. He was flirtatious with me and immediately asked me inappropriate personal questions about my romantic life, while making sure to reveal to me that he was single. He contacted me through facebook through a friend request, and even invited me to breakfast with him when I came in early one day to do work; I, of course, declined the invitation and all of his inappropriate questions. I felt so torn over keeping the job, because I needed it. I was broke and new to Oakland and needed to save up some money fast. But I hated tolerating his flirtatious behavior and feeling disempowered at work. I was there to educate young people not to be another piece of meat in my boss’s personal dating pool, a.k.a his staff.
In general this guy doesn’t know how to interact and relate to people in a respectful and healthy manner. He uses his power over you to get what he wants and his power takes on different forms, depending on what he wants from you. He was attracted to me so in the beginning he was overly attentive and flirty. He didn’t care for his former assistant so he was cold to her and used his power to marginalize her at work. She finally had enough of it after only a month and a half of work and walked off the job one day cussing him out. In many ways I was envious of her decision to leave and the fierceness with which she did it. I could relate to her, because she was good with the kids and cared for them and was only trying to do her job admidst his unprofessional and aggressive behavior. I was angry that she had to leave and he didn’t when he was the problem. I began to act much colder to my boss as a response to his behavior towards me and the other women staff. He picked up on my change, and was clearly hurt by it, because he began to behave like a whiny child that doesn’t get the toy he desires. Now he no longer flirted with me, but actively tried to marginalize me through ignoring me, giving me the silent treatment, and acting very mean when he was forced to talk to me. I knew he wanted me gone, because my presence was a daily reminder that I rejected him, and heaven forbid you damage a man’s ego.
At first I was going to quit, because it was really emotionally damaging to be in such a hostile work environment. However, I grew to love my students so much. I knew their parents and their siblings, and was even invited to family functions. I also knew that he was trying to push me to quit, because he had no basis to fire me. I let him know that I intended on staying on for the next school year, and that combined with pressure put on him from my co-workers forced him to accept that decision.
I started this school year with a positive spirit. I was determined to do good work, despite his sexist behavior, and hopefully work to get him fired. After 3 weeks into the school year he blew up at me during a staff meeting. He yelled at me for not checking in with him during our prep period before school was out three days in a row. I was subbing those days, at the school I worked after school at, and he knew that because he saw me during lunch time. It wasn’t like I was just showing up late. And I also thought it was ridiculous that he was upset, because he knew I subbed and told me he was okay with it. It was just an excuse for him to attack me. He was very aggressive yelling and puffing his chest out like some wild beast. I calmly asked him over and over again to lower his voice, because I felt uncomfortable by his aggression. His response was “Im talking to you the way you are talking to me”, and continued to yell. I finally confessed to him that I thought his treatment towards me was personal and not related to our work, because he did not speak to any other staff members like that. This struck a chord in him, because he knew I was right; his treatment towards me has always been based on personal feelings and not business. He began to yell at me and say that it wasn’t personal, that he didn’t care about me, and this is just business. I then revealed that I knew he didn’t want to rehire me (my co-worker told me that he was trying not to bring me back on) even though I continue to do good work there. His response was “you’re right. I didn’t want to rehire you, but I did because of the quality work you do.”
At this point I was overwhelmed with emotion: I was happy that he finally admitted, in his own words, that he was a sexist pig who would discriminate against me for personal reasons, but I was also sad and angry that I was being treated like this and it had nothing to do with my work performance. It felt so unfair. I hated feeling unsafe at work and vulnerable to this man’s attacks. I immediately wrote up a report documenting the incident and gave it to my boss’s boss and the principal of the school. Neither one of them did anything about it, and I remained at work, but I was treated like I was nonexistent. My boss did not communicate to me at all; he didn’t tell me when we had staff meetings or schedule changes, ect,. The final straw came for me when 5 of my performing arts students, all 7th grade girls, came to me and confessed different stories where they felt unsafe around my boss. At this point I was determined to get him fired, because if they weren’t going to do anything about my safety I hoped they would do something for the kids safety. I submitted another incident report to my boss’s boss detailing what my students told me then we went on winter break for two weeks. I went to work the first monday back this week, and my boss continued to ignore me as he usually does. The next day I received a voicemail from my boss’s boss telling me my contract was terminated on December 17th, right when we went on break, and that I shouldn’t have come into work the day before. That guy let me come in, knowing that I was fired, and let me stay and work without saying a thing to me. He didn’t tell me why I was terminated and his boss’s boss still hasn’t informed me of the reasons why my contract was terminated. I know that none of the reasons have to do with the positive work I was doing. I was and am infuriated. I submitted two incident reports documenting my boss’s behavior towards myself and my students (all women) that left us all feeling unsafe, and they dealt with it by firing me!
So many women workers, maybe all women even, have experienced this before where a male boss feels like he can intrude upon you because he can and has the power to do so. It reflects the power relations built into the sexes and the worker/boss social relation. Under capitalism a workers labor is objectified, because she does not control her labor process or the fruits (profit) of her labor even though it is a a part of her. While you are working the boss owns your labor, and can command you to do whatever he wants you to do with it, because you need that paycheck in order to survive. As a worker the boss tries to limit any power you might have over your labor and your work environment. The only way workers can achieve gains or real power is through force and struggle that comes in the form of withholding their labor, seizing the means of production, occupying their workplaces, these acts move towards taking back the boss’s power over you. In the same way a workers labor is objectified, women are objectified as sexual objects for the pleasure of men. We often don’t feel like we have sexual agency and control over our bodies and desire. This patriarchal oppression of women has existed before capitalism, but it has taken a different exploitative form under capitalism that we must study and understand. In Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts he writes,
“From the relationship of estranged labor to private property it follows further that the emancipation of society from private property, etc., from servitude, is expressed in the political form of the emancipation of the workers; not that their emancipation alone is at stake, but because the emancipation of the workers contains universal human emancipation – and it contains this because the whole of human servitude is involved in the relation of the worker to production, and all relations of servitude are but modifications and consequences of this relation.”
These power relations of worker versus boss, where the boss’s power over the worker is the result of the devaluation and exploitation of the worker, intersect with gender power relations, where male power is the result of the general devaluation and objectification of women in society. These social relations can intersect in very oppressive ways and mutually enforce each other when a male boss can execute his power as a boss and as a man over you as a female worker, and can intrude into your life in many different ways. He can command you to work overtime and command you to fuck, and if you resist you are fired. This leaves women with general feelings of powerlessness. It is disturbing to me how so many women I come into contact with have similar experiences and stories. Since women make up the majority of the workforce, and we share these particular experiences of sexist exploitative labor why hasn’t it been taken up enough by our revolutionary movements and labor movements? This must change and we must build women power as well as worker power in order to fight the boss with stronger and more advanced strategy. Marxist revolutionaries understand the importance of struggle for human emancipation, as Marx pushes in the above quote, and we understand that the people must feel their agency. A huge part of that is bringing clarity to the people about the truth of the system and how it is designed to exploit and oppress. It is not that you aren’t working hard enough, which is why you didn’t get that raise; and it’s not about the clothes you are wearing that solicit unwanted and often violent attention. Our exploitation and oppression as women and as workers is not our faults! It is the system that relies on an oppressive division of labor that privileges rich men, and that disciplines us and keeps us in positions of inferiority and powerlessness. But these aren’t fixed positions. As we learn the truth, together, we can build networks of women and of workers who can take the power back for ourselves and hopefully smash this system and its oppressive social relations that come in many forms and places.