The podgy hand on my thigh

The allegations against former Lib Dem chief exec Lord Rennard have brought back some unpleasant, unwanted memories of a time when I was a vulnerable young woman hovering excitedly, uncertainly on the first rung of the career ladder.

He was an ugly old man (they usually are, aren’t they?), in his late 50s, with a huge pot belly, red, flaky skin and tiny snake-like eyes. He had an even uglier wife, (they usually do, don’t they?) enormous with a moon face and rotten smoker’s teeth.

I respected him a lot for his knowledge and was eternally grateful to him for giving me my first break in journalism. I wanted so much to please him.

It was after an office party one night.  He insisted on driving me to a pub where we would all meet up for a nightcap.

My subconscious flashed red alert signals, but I ignored them. He was my boss and my ticket to the only career that ever interested me.

Five minutes into the ride, a fat little hand with podgy sausage fingers and nearly transparent skin landed on my thigh. I froze.

He just kept talking as if nothing had happened. I moved away, his hand moved higher.

I did nothing…

By the time we got the pub, he was all over me – in front of all the staff members and his wife. Nobody said anything. He was literally pawing me like a big bear, laughing merrily all the time, while I sat motionless, tears stinging behind my eyes and bile rising in my throat.

The next day I went into the office, shaking uncontrollably. He pretended nothing had happened. I sat staring at my blank computer screen, unable to type a single word.  Every time I looked at him, I flushed, remembering his sickening sweet smell and sweaty hands on my legs. I knew I would never respect him again and I was devastated.

After a few days, I told my dad, an accomplished businessman, who instructed me to confront him.  It was the scariest thing I ever did.

I told him that if he’d ever touch me again, I would go straight to the police.

He exploded with rage, his face turning blood red and he shouted at the top of his voice so that everyone in the office could hear: “You think you’re God’s gift to men. I’ve never touched you and I would never want to touch you.”

It was terrifying, but even as he said it, I could feel the emotional distress of the days since the incident dissolving, the shift of power. I was in control. This would never happen again.

From that day on his behaviour towards me changed, as did his wife’s. They became businesslike, hostile, but very careful around me. He never touched me again.

Of course, I knew this would be the end of our working relationship, but there was no way I could have stayed there any way.

Eventually, after a few weeks, I found another job and left with a glowing reference. I bumped into him a few times after that – and every time he treated me professionally, with respect.

As pointed out by many women in the past few days, these type of incidents, which are sadly very common and typical of a certain generation of older men, are not about sex but about power.

The only way to deal with them is confrontation.

8 thoughts on “The podgy hand on my thigh

  1. It’s funny how they always pick on really young women (as opposed to equally attractive women in their 30’s and 40’s.) Of course, the immediate response to the hand-on-the-thigh situation would be to calmly say something like “Please don’t do that”, but in my experience, it was always so shocking that I was tongue-tied and frozen. Ugh, I get so angry when I think of this type of abuse of power.

    • In hindsight it is so easy to think of what you should have done, but the problem here is as you say that you’re in shock because you trusted someone and you just can’t believe what’s happening. No woman should be in this situation, yet it is so widespread and easily dismissed.

  2. Wow, this must have been a very tough post to write, but I am glad you did it. Women in the same position as you might benefit from your bravery to confront the perpetrator. I am so glad that you got the respect that you deserved in the end.

  3. I think most women have had experiences like this and sometimes it’s easy to dismiss, but it’s when it’s when you depend on the person for something or your career, future, etc depends on him that it is at its most upsetting.

  4. Well done-what a wonderful inspiration for other women. I imagine tough to write but so very worthwhile. You absolutely did the right thing. I have been very fortunate not to experience this kind of thing but I still hate the patronising remarks you get from men when out. When they learn that I am a SAHM (never mind the degrees behind me) they pretty much turn their backs. So frustrating!

    Fellow newbie blogger at http://www.samandasha2.blogspot.com

    • Thanks for your comment. I was surprised how much I was still upset by remembering this when I wrote it, even though it happened a long time ago. Fighting perceptions about SAHM all the time! Will check out your blog too.

  5. Wow. This should be required reading for every young person. It applies to men as well as women, to sports, music etc. as well as work — any situation in which a person with power takes advantage of their power. It should be required reading for anyone with power over anyone else.

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