Wife was followed to parking lot by a coworker,she felt unsafe. Options?
July 8, 2021 11:42 AM   Subscribe

So I just got off the phone and a little reeling so forgive me. My very pregnant wife (8 months), was followed by an unfamiliar co worker to a distant parking lot today and felt both unsafe and that she couldn't leave/disengage for 40 minutes. Is that ok, if not what should we do?

We were supposed to have lunch at 12, I kept calling at around 12:15 then 12:30. Finally she calls me distraught telling me this guy she never met (but who works there, by his uniform) started talking with her on the way from work. Then despite her disinterest, followed her to the parking lot, which is distant and remote from people and cameras and then kept talking and flirting for 40 minutes. I asked her why she didn't immediately leave or told him she has to go, she told me that he was big and scary and she felt something very off about him. She told me, "I was afraid he is going to punch me in the stomach".

Now I want to get some feedback if that's a big deal or just a socially confused person and I'm taking it out of proportions.

For some context, she works at a city public service company. There are many hundreds of workers and mechanics. In the last few years she told me about a number of inappropriate comments from some of her peers, some trying to hug her, comment about her clothing, figure and body parts and etc. Unfortunately, she never mentioned any of this to HR, as she doesn't want to "cause trouble" or "drama".

My only goal here is to make sure something like that is not going to happen again to her and others, and that if that person has a pattern/history with that type of behavior that will be addressed.

So a few questions:

1. Am I right to feel angry and wanting her to report this to HR, if not for her safety, then for future female workers in that company. In theory, she is a grownup and big girl and can take care of it herself, if she felt the need for.

2. If she does decide to act on it, what are our options? We can write a letter to HR, my only worry is that it will be "lost in the shuffle" and underplayed to reduce liability and public image and uncomfortable conversations. I was thinking about paying an attorney a few hundred bucks to write an aggressive letter to HR explaining the incident. They can definitely locate and identify the person as they have cameras in the lobby coming out of main office.

Please let me know if I'm bein over protective, and if I should encourage my wife to take this matter seriously.
posted by Sentus to Human Relations (51 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yes, 1000x yes, this is a big deal. The fact that she is extremely pregnant and therefore obviously physically vulnerable makes this even worse. I don't have experience dealing with this, but yes she should report this to HR. I doubt it will be lost in the shuffle - this is serious, and HR will know that. A lawyer might be worth it, but I wouldn't force that on your wife if it makes her uncomfortable. At least not until you see how HR responds.
posted by coffeecat at 11:50 AM on July 8, 2021 [21 favorites]


Yes, take it seriously. Yes, if someone followed your wife and made her uncomfortable for a long period with flirty (inappropriate) workplace behavior, she should strongly consider reporting it to HR. My one hesitation is that if this person seems violent/unstable, your wife needs to be careful about how she reports it, so that she does not wind up targeted by the guy for more bad conduct. I think she should consider talking to HR first about how she will be protected if she makes a report -- i.e., anonymous and whatever else they can offer (i.e., someone walks her to her car for a time or something). I would hold off on the lawyer letter - most employers are going to act on something like this and a lawyer letter seems to me like overkill and perhaps also counterproductive in the sense that they will think your wife is considering legal action, when she is actually just looking out for her own safety.
posted by Mid at 11:51 AM on July 8, 2021 [9 favorites]


I think right now your body has flooded you with energy to do something you don't actually need to do (go physically defend your wife). You shouldn't make any decisions using this energy as they probably won't be good ones. You're right to feel angry, defensive, and scared, but decisions made while feeling that way are usually not the most fitting. I'm not really sure if anything can or should be done, but if anyone has any better ideas, definitely do not do them today.

It might be worth it for her to write down what happened and have it documented somewhere; if it gets lost in the HR shuffle that might not be a bad thing, you just want it on record if God forbid someone needs to find it later.

I think today you guys should just do something totally relaxing. Binge-watch something fun and funny. Get that lunch you were supposed to get.
posted by bleep at 11:51 AM on July 8, 2021 [16 favorites]


In the last few years she told me about a number of inappropriate comments from some of her peers, some trying to hug her, comment about her clothing, figure and body parts and etc. Unfortunately, she never mentioned any of this to HR, as she doesn't want to "cause trouble" or "drama".

This is harassment, full-stop.

What are the office rules/policies for harassment? In my place of work, for example, behavior like that should be reported immediately to HR through whatever channel is provided. The organization has a vested interest in rooting this out quickly and effectively. It's the right thing to do, but (pragmatically) is cheaper than litigation after-the-fact. You're not being overprotective. FFS, these are the precise scenarios shown in the training.
posted by jquinby at 11:52 AM on July 8, 2021 [8 favorites]


Best answer: I'm not sure what the next moves are, but I want to encourage you to be kind in the way you talk to your wife. If you are talking to her like you have worded this question then you may be coming across as quite aggressive or condescending to someone who, among other things, needs to feel safe right now in order to work through a very difficult experience.

For example, "Am I right to feel angry and wanting her to report this to HR, if not for her safety, then for future female workers in that company. In theory, she is a grownup and big girl and can take care of it herself, if she felt the need for." This may be an uncharitable reading of this, but it sounds like you're angry with her.

And should you encourage her "to take this matter seriously"? She already is. She called you distraught. You are confusing "taking this seriously" with "doing what I, in my angered state, currently think she should do".

None of this is meant to invalidate your feelings, and I tend to agree that she (or you) should do something (e.g. report to HR). But that is her call. Your job is to provide support.
posted by caek at 12:01 PM on July 8, 2021 [130 favorites]


This sounds really scary for her in the moment, and for you to hear about. Please be careful with your impulse to say she should have (or could have) left the situation when she felt something was off. She was cornered and vulnerable, and her "lizard brain" (the most primitive, survival-motivated part of her brain) calculated that the safest option was to appease the person rather than try to escape. And she did survive. It wouldn't have been wrong for her to run away, or be "rude" to the person, or otherwise make a different choice, but she wasn't foolish or irresponsible for staying.

Likewise, remember that workplace harassment, while illegal, is common and people who speak up about it are often labeled as overly dramatic or trouble-makers, especially in some industries and organizations. When faced with this type of situation, many women fall back on the (toxic) social norms we're socialized with--don't make a scene, just avoid being alone with this person, it's just a joke, he probably didn't mean it that way, etc. Your wife should absolutely feel free to report this recent incident and the previous incidents--it's not "too late" because she didn't say something earlier.
posted by theotherdurassister at 12:01 PM on July 8, 2021 [16 favorites]


The very first thing that needs to happen, while the incident is still fresh and everybody is still jangled, is for her to get as complete an account of it as she can down in writing.

Once that's done, sleep on it, review the record of it, and then make a plan.

Even if she subsequently decides not to take this particular incident to HR (which, given that she works at this place and has a better idea of the way the local power dynamics work than any of us do, needs to be her call and nobody else's), having a detailed, date stamped record of it will be of value, especially if something similar happens again either with this same guy or some other historically inappropriate peer.

Even a highly dysfunctional HR and/or boss will always have more trouble sweeping a documented pattern of harassment under the rug.
posted by flabdablet at 12:03 PM on July 8, 2021 [9 favorites]


Your first question is “what should we do?”. I’d gently suggest that you should be led by your wife and what she wants to do; it’s her decision, and she’ll need support whatever that decision is.
posted by JJZByBffqU at 12:25 PM on July 8, 2021 [12 favorites]


"Please let me know if I'm bein over protective"

Maybe you are, but I'd feel the same, were I in your shoes. This would really grind me.

One of the things that stands out to me from your question is just how dangerous this parking lot sounds. Even if this particular guy had the purest intentions, the parking lot itself seems like a time bomb. Even if all your wife's co-workers are angels, there's still the potential for non-employees to hang out in this parking lot and cause trouble. Kids skipping school to break into cars, stuff like that. I worked at a place with a parking lot like this once, and every single woman in the 10-story building who had to work after dark would take their break at 5pm so they could move their car closer after the 9-5 people left, because it's inherently creepy.

If your wife isn't inclined to report her co-worker to HR for his behavior, she can still report the danger of the parking lot. She doesn't have to give specifics, just say that there have been times where she hasn't felt safe walking to her car, and ask the company to do something about it. What that is, exactly, I don't know, but I would ask for a security guard on duty, some lights and cameras, and depending on how remote it is, maybe a blue phone?

She can also talk about her past experiences without giving specifics. Mention that there has been a pattern of inappropriate behavior, and maybe request some training about how to create a safe work space.

Does she actually work for the city? If so, there are layers of bureaucracy, so if she's not comfortable talking to HR in her office, she can go up the chain of command to someone she feels more comfortable with. The advantage of that is that the higher-ups generally have a pretty strong CYA instinct.

In the meantime, there's usually a whisper network about in any workplace about creepy male co-workers. If she mentions the incident to a couple of her friends, she should be able to find out fairly quickly if this guy has done this (or something else) before. You can then use that information to decide how you'd like to proceed.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:26 PM on July 8, 2021 [8 favorites]


What does your wife want to do? This is not for you to decide, this is for you to support your wife in any an all decisions she makes about the matter going forward. Your job is to not doubt her and to have her back whatever she decides. The option to just walk away from a scary situation like this is one that only men have and certainly not immediately open to a pregnant woman, do not ever project what you would do in that situation onto any woman ever, especially your pregnant wife. She got away unharmed, so whatever she did worked.
posted by wwax at 12:36 PM on July 8, 2021 [9 favorites]


This is your wife's job, she understands her options best, your job is supporting her and validating her. She doesn't need added stress from you pushing her to do something that she thinks will make the situation worse. And from the description you gave, it isn't clear cut from HR's perspective - the guy may have been socially clueless and chatty, you don't mention that he was saying anything inappropriate, she didn't ask him to leave her alone. I'm not blaming her for this or saying the situation is fine, but these are things HR is going to ask about.

As a lateral option, any chance she can get closer/safer parking given her physical condition? Does she have a sympathetic doc who would sign off on her getting a disabled parking permit?
posted by momus_window at 12:40 PM on July 8, 2021 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: "I'm not sure what the next moves are, but I want to encourage you to be kind in the way you talk to your wife. If you are talking to her like you have worded this question then you may be coming across as quite aggressive or condescending to someone who, among other things, needs to feel safe right now in order to work through a very difficult experience.

For example, "Am I right to feel angry and wanting her to report this to HR, if not for her safety, then for future female workers in that company. In theory, she is a grownup and big girl and can take care of it herself, if she felt the need for." This may be an uncharitable reading of this, but it sounds like you're angry with her.

And should you encourage her "to take this matter seriously"? She already is. She called you distraught. You are confusing "taking this seriously" with "doing what I, in my angered state, currently think she should do".

None of this is meant to invalidate your feelings, and I tend to agree that she (or you) should do something (e.g. report to HR). But that is her call. Your job is to provide support.
"

Thank you for that and I do agree with you completely.
I'm just so angry at the situation and also angry that she is upset YET not willing to do anything about it. Its like this impotent rage, where I want to help but can't.

"Your job is to provide support." I understand but at this point I almost feel like its a somewhat enabling behavior. One word to HR and it can all stop or be greatly helped.
posted by Sentus at 12:40 PM on July 8, 2021 [3 favorites]


Best answer: For example, "Am I right to feel angry and wanting her to report this to HR, if not for her safety, then for future female workers in that company. In theory, she is a grownup and big girl and can take care of it herself, if she felt the need for." This may be an uncharitable reading of this, but it sounds like you're angry with her.

yeah

it's very natural for people not to start with The Authorities, but to work up to them gradually, especially when those authorities are not known for being helpful. They do this by doing test-run reports to people they feel progressively less and less safe and secure confiding in, and as each such report goes well, they gain the confidence to escalate towards reporting to strangers who may or may not be on her side. You are in theory the absolute safest person to tell. therefore, everything you say to her should have the primary goal of convincing her that telling you was the right decision. If you cannot make her believe that, which should be easy, you will not be able to convince her that telling (presumably) even less sympathetic people is the right decision.

it is VERY logical for a person to think: if my husband, who loves and cares for me and our future child more than anyone on earth, is more aggravated with me than scared for me, how much more contemptuous will HR be, never mind the police?

I mean: of course she should go to HR, maintain documentation of everything that happens, call additional people beyond you as or right after such things happen, so that they can bear witness later that she was consistent in her descriptions of events. of course. but the way to make this happen is not by telling her what you want, but by backing her up and backing down.

finally, while the guy may or may not be a further physical danger, he has already cornered and threatened one woman that you know of. "just a socially confused person" is obviously not among the possibilities seriously worth considering here. Please keep this speculation bottled up inside your own skull and never float it by your wife.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:42 PM on July 8, 2021 [51 favorites]


I’d want to be escorted in the parking lot from here in.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:43 PM on July 8, 2021 [6 favorites]


One word to HR and it can all stop or be greatly helped.

You don't know that. You don't work there. She does.

queenofbithynia is, as usual, right on the money.
posted by flabdablet at 12:45 PM on July 8, 2021 [41 favorites]


Best answer: I'm just so angry at the situation and also angry that she is upset YET not willing to do anything about it. Its like this impotent rage, where I want to help but can't.

This is your pre-dad hormones talking and I totally get it.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:45 PM on July 8, 2021 [4 favorites]


"One word to HR and it can all stop or be greatly helped."

This is incredibly, dangerously naive. Please defer to your wife on the accuracy of this statement.
posted by caek at 12:47 PM on July 8, 2021 [40 favorites]


Response by poster: "This is your pre-dad hormones talking and I totally get it."

Yes, I never felt such a sudden rush of aggressive-protective energy. I almost wanted to drive to her place and demand to speak with HR, or start calling attorneys. We will eat and then sleep over it and think about it before doing anything.
posted by Sentus at 12:49 PM on July 8, 2021 [6 favorites]


Best answer: Am I right to feel angry and wanting her to report this to HR

One of my biggest frustrations, and something I've heard from cis women friends, is when something bad happens to us, and then our cis male partners become so angry and upset that it becomes about their feelings and emotions in the situation. Yes, it's okay if you feel angry--and it's probably worth thinking about what that emotion is really about underneath that. I suspect it could be fear (for your wife), hopelessness, loss of control, like perhaps it's your job to protect her and you can't.

But, and this is really important: it's not your wife's job to help you manage your anger about this. Talk to a friend or therapist or family member you trust (no one she works with) about your emotions in this. Please do what you can to not make this about you.

Your wife, who is pregnant, had a really stressful situation, and she needs to work through that and figure out what she wants to do. But I guarantee you that your reaction is adding to her stress. Right now, you are an additional stressor in her life.

Please do what you can to get support from other people who care about you, and do everything you can to support your wife. And remember that this happened to HER. This did not happen to you.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:52 PM on July 8, 2021 [95 favorites]


Best answer: Also, to follow on from bluedaisy's comment, if you are not a person who is in a vulnerable and oppressed position in society, at greater risk of danger from those around them, you probably have an unrealistically naive and optimistic vision of what "sorting things out" by "going to the authorities" actually is like, and what it actually can achieve. Not to say that going to HR might not be the right thing to do; it probably is. But when you are subjected to this sort of thing from a schoolchild and the people who are supposed to help refuse to listen, or don't believe you, or do nothing constructive to help if they do believe you, you begin to feel a sense of futility in reporting incidents like this one. It's like when people say "why didn't she go to the police?" about survivors of domestic violence: often it's because the authorities can be worse than useless. This might be a factor in your wife's response, which you cannot understand from your own lived experience, leading to your frustration with her. Try bearing this element of being a woman in the world in mind when thinking about how you would ideally like her to respond vs. reality.
posted by Balthamos at 1:00 PM on July 8, 2021 [47 favorites]


Best answer: Its like this impotent rage, where I want to help but can't

Cup that rage in your hands, surrounded by fluffy tinder. Blow gently on it until the smoke stops and the flame starts. Then shape it and build it into a fine strategic anger, directed against the systems of oppression that give your wife her completely justifiable and unfortunately typical reasons to suspect that HR could well make things worse instead of better.

Because as a parent you are going to need that anger. Your wife isn't the only member of your family who is going to experience oppression at the hands of these systems. Your kid will too.

I'm sure you see the main part of your job as husband and father as protecting your family. Doing that competently turns out to be hard. You really, really need to make a conscientious and principled decision that from this point forward, anger faces outward and only love, compassion, understanding and support faces in.
posted by flabdablet at 1:00 PM on July 8, 2021 [32 favorites]


There should be security guards at her building who can escort her to her car. Or maybe you could pick her up at the door for awhile?
posted by slidell at 1:02 PM on July 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Not We. Your wife and your wife alone is capable of making these rescissions. You can always tell her what you’re thinking and give her advice if asked for or warranted, but you’re not giving autonomy to the perfectly capable human being you’re married to. I completely understand wanting to protect and being protective over your loved ones, but the way in which you write about your wife comes across as condescending and I just hope that you can reflect on the fact that your wife needs support and understanding from you, and not invalidation of her own feelings thoughts and wishes. Be there to support her, not strong arm her into anything she doesn’t want to do.
posted by Champagne Supernova at 1:02 PM on July 8, 2021 [3 favorites]


Best answer: she is upset YET not willing to do anything about it

Whoa. WHOA. It is deeply, DEEPLY unkind to suggest that the victim of frightening, inappropriate behavior is somehow unwilling to stand up for themselves.
posted by jesourie at 1:07 PM on July 8, 2021 [42 favorites]


While developing and honing our strategic anger against systems of oppression, one of the most useful things that we men can do is spend time contemplating the extent to which we have, for most of our lives, been inculcated into normalising the beliefs and behaviours that support and perpetuate those very systems.

Any time you feel a sudden and urgent need to Take Charge Of The Situation is a good time to reflect on that. In many many cases that's just our default social training kicking in, and in fact the person who actually needs to take charge of the situation has already done so and the single most useful thing we can possibly do is have their back. Even if - especially if - what they're doing is not what we believe that we would do in their shoes.

Most of the time we don't even fit in their shoes.

Adulting is hard. Adulting in a genuinely egalitarian fashion is harder. Totally worth it though.
posted by flabdablet at 1:14 PM on July 8, 2021 [7 favorites]


One word to HR and it can all stop or be greatly helped.

LOL what? Have you ever met an HR department? This is not remotely guaranteed. You say your wife is an adult, then trust her to have an adult's understanding of her own workplace.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:15 PM on July 8, 2021 [39 favorites]


Its like this impotent rage, where I want to help but can't.

Congratulations, you now have a tiny tiny taste of what it is like to be your wife, or pretty much any other woman, every fucking day of her fucking life since she was a fucking child. SUPER FUN HUH?

Dudes do just not know, largely, how much rage and fear and calculation women are dealing with every day of their lives, always. Well now you have a hint. Try to learn from that feeling and channel it into support for your wife and education for yourself and the other men in your world.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:21 PM on July 8, 2021 [40 favorites]


Response by poster: "I'm sure you see the main part of your job as husband and father as protecting your family. Doing that competently turns out to be hard. You really, really need to make a conscientious and principled decision that from this point forward, anger faces outward and only love, compassion, understanding and support faces in."

Can you please elaborate on that? I'm the problem solver type. So when people come for advice I immediately have actionable advice or want to help them myself. I understand how most people just want to be listened to, but my mind rushes to try to help them in the most efficient manner. How can you protect your family while allowing harm to be done to them and allowing them 100% space and agency to take care of their problems by themselves while still supporting them?
posted by Sentus at 1:21 PM on July 8, 2021


I think you should take a step back. Your wife was scared, but she is ok. The baby is ok. You are ok. She is a grown up who can decide what to do about this thing that happened to her. It's possible to let a scary situation wind you up to an unhelpful degree and I kind of feel like that's what's happening here. There is nothing you can do about this today except help your wife relax. That is the problem you are the best person to solve today.
posted by bleep at 1:27 PM on July 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


" I'm the problem solver type. So when people come for advice I immediately have actionable advice or want to help them myself. I understand how most people just want to be listened to, but my mind rushes to try to help them in the most efficient manner. "

It's like...if you had a bleeding wound that hurts terribly. And then your wife, instead of bandaging you up and giving you painkillers (and a hug), set to work removing all the knives from your house while you're sobbing in pain.

The emotional toll is the problem right now. So go fix it. Do you know how to fix a problem like that? It's not easy. But if you can hack it, and care for your wife right now, she will be much more likely to make great decisions in the morning.
posted by toucan at 1:27 PM on July 8, 2021 [25 favorites]


The one thing I don't see anyone mentioning here is the possibility that this person in a uniform could be prowling the area in a costume. I had this once when I was a teenager and worked in mall. The guy wore similar clothing to the security guards, and carried a radio. He even pretended to use it in front of me. The difference was that I had even met him in a different situation before.

My point is, that if you are concerned about this, you could mention to your wife that simply because he was in uniform, it does not mean that he is an employee. You could gently suggest that she mention this to HR (or whomever oversees the parking garage security) that someone made her miss a lunch date because she could not disengage from someone who had no business bothering her. If this person is an employee, they could phrase it to said employee as such. If this person is *not an employee, there would be a record of a prowler impersonating security of the building.
posted by itsflyable at 1:29 PM on July 8, 2021 [6 favorites]


...just be careful how to go about this with your wife. You don't want to instill more fear in her at this point. It is still her decision, and her choice to act upon it. You could simply express this concern, and tell her how much it scares you to think about it.
posted by itsflyable at 1:31 PM on July 8, 2021


She felt scared, and that's enough. There is a bit of a problem in that how she didn't firmly say "no" or "please go away", nor did she have any recording or proof that he did (but may not be against policy) things to scare her.

The other problem is figuring out how the HR department would react, and how the perp may react if HR does something. HR who takes ​this seriously may do some discreet investigation (like talk to security and verify some camera timestamps, or interview witnesses). HR who just want to get it over with may call in the perp in to get his side of the story (which he will deny) and sweep it under the rug. Or HR can ignore the whole thing. We don't know how HR will react.

My personal opinion is buy your wife a super-long-life audio recorder. I'd prefer video, but those are harder to hide. You can easily get something that'll record tens of hours, enough for a workday or more, even automatically triggered (voice-activated). Have her keep it on her at all times, always on. (This may be against HR policy, so beware). She needs to document the interaction, multiple times, and her refusal to engage, to leave absolutely no doubt this wasn't just a "misinterpreted attempt at friendship", but a creepy sexual harassment. Obviously you need to download it daily and cut off the irrelevant parts and leave the serious pieces, while leave the raw files as archival evidence should this get serious.

Harassment is not stopped in a day, even though we'd all prefer it was. One needs to build up a "case", by getting witnesses, your own recordings, surveillance camera footage, and so on.

But the most important thing is let your wife know that you support her whatever she chose to do.
posted by kschang at 1:51 PM on July 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Can you please elaborate on that? I'm the problem solver type.

I believe this was referring to the circles of support thing. The wounded person is in the middle and there are circles of support around that person. Only love and support should go in. Stress should go out. So in this case, your wife is in the center. She needs your love and support, not your own stress over this situation. In the same fashion, your stress should go out to the people in the next outward circle, a friend, a loved one, etc. And if those people are stressed by the situation your wife is in and you with her, their stress should go out, not back into you and your wife.
posted by Fukiyama at 1:56 PM on July 8, 2021 [15 favorites]


How can you protect your family while allowing harm to be done to them and allowing them 100% space and agency to take care of their problems by themselves while still supporting them?

I hope you revisit this thread down the road, when you are past this specific situation. You are asking some very big and good questions, and you seem to be thinking about deeply about this. I think it might be helpful, in the slightly longer term, if you regard your reaction to this situation as a crisis of masculinity. It's a great topic to explore, especially in therapy and in conversations with other many, for many cis men.

You need to let go of the idea that you can protect your family. Or, you need to reframe ideas about what it means to protect your family. This notion of a man protecting his family is pretty old, based in outdated notions of masculinity and strength in men and weakness in women and children. Because you can't protect your family -- you can't be with them all the time, and you can't control if a safe drops from the tenth story of a building you're walking by. So, some of this is letting go of the fallacy of control. You never had it. Maybe you just didn't realize that until now.

So, what do you do now? How to move forward? Here's an example from my life. I am a white mother of Black sons. I realized pretty early on that, while they are with me, I can do what I can to protect them from racism and from police brutality. But I have to prepare them for the world that is, with them venturing out on their own, rather than the world I'd prefer, or rather than never letting them leave the house without me. So I tackle this on two fronts: I do what I can to teach them how to act in a racist world (I rely on information from folks who have lived in the world as Black people, which is not my experience); and, I do what I can to make the world less racist. This means speaking up when I see racism, even when it's directed to people who aren't my sons. This means trying to be pro-active in ending racist practices and white supremacy.

Similarly, some cis men, especially when they have daughters, start to realize that they can't "protect" their family, and that's when they become more feminist in their thinking and they start to realize that the world would be better not if they were constantly with their wives and daughters, but if the world was less dangerous for women. Your role isn't to have a gun/club and be their constant and literal protector. Your job is to like, be a dude who talks to other dudes about not being assholes. Be a man who confronts sexism and violence towards women and other vulnerable people, even if it doesn't directly threaten your family. That's how you protect your family: by channeling that anger into making a more just and safer world for everyone.

And in the meantime, the best way for you to protect your wife and future child is by giving them tools to be empowered. Right now, you are maybe behaving like another angry man, lashing about with angry words and other uncontrolled expressions of strong emotions. You're showing your wife that men, even the "good" ones like her husband, are unable to regulate their behaviors and emotions. That could make her feel scared and vulnerable even of the good ones, you know?

So work on understanding and then regulating your own emotions. Work on un-doing whatever you've learned that says your value in the world is in protecting your wife. Un-learn this idea that your wife needs protection (as someone smartly noted above, she got out of the situation safely all on her own!). Stop pretending that you have control in making sure your child will always be safe. Think about a parent bird pushing its baby out of the nest.

How do you protect your wife? By giving her what she needs. How do you know what she needs? You ask her. Then, you also figure out what you need to handle your emotions in this situation, and you work to get those needs met by people who aren't your wife.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:02 PM on July 8, 2021 [55 favorites]


You absolutely cannot take the lead on this or be the one to contact HR. Doing that could reflect very badly on her and make her workplace worried about her safety in relation to *you* and your sense of appropriate boundaries. If she files a report and explicitly wants your support, you can come with her, otherwise your role stops well short of the reporting process.

You can support her in what she wants to do, encourage her to report, help her look for ways to do so, offer to find an attorney if she wants to do that, offer to give her rides, let her know you take her fear absolutely seriously and she would be well within her rights to report it, review a written statement if she wants your feedback, and find ways to work through your own anger in ways that don’t make your wife provide emotional support from you while she is working though her own emotions.

This just isn’t one that you get to problem solve for her.
posted by Stacey at 2:04 PM on July 8, 2021 [7 favorites]


Can you please elaborate on that?

Happy to.

I'm the problem solver type.

Me too. Check my AskMe comment history.

So when people come for advice I immediately have actionable advice or want to help them myself.

I fully understand the impulse.

What I've had to learn - and it's a humbling thing to have to learn - is that quite a lot of the time I have the wrong end of the stick and my actionable advice would, if followed, only make things worse.

I've often said that people suck at taking advice, and that the better the advice, the worse we suck at taking it. That's certainly true for me. I've had endless good advice given to me over the years. How much of it have I actually taken? Not much. Because for good or ill, that's what it is to be a functioning, autonomous adult. I get to choose what to do, and then I get to live with the consequences of those choices, hopefully long enough to learn from them.

I understand how most people just want to be listened to, but my mind rushes to try to help them in the most efficient manner.

As does mine. But again, the humbling thing I've had to learn to accept (and it's taken me far longer to learn this than my self-image as a competent, intelligent man keeps telling me that it should have) is that I am merely a man, not a god; I therefore do not and cannot have access to the same information as those I'm advising; and that what I would choose to do in circumstances that I understand as comparable has a very high chance of not being "efficient" for my advisee at all. My skills and circumstances are not, in general, their skills and circumstances. Our options are different. The consequences of our choices are different.

How can you protect your family while allowing harm to be done to them

By swallowing the bitter pill that some of the harm that is going to be done to your family will always come from places that are completely beyond your control.

Prevention is better than cure if prevention is available. But the only way to prevent systems of oppression from inflicting damage is to dismantle those systems, and that's a project that requires lifetimes of consistent and focused work by like-minded people; in-the-moment protective responses by individuals are simply not effective against those systems.

So the unfortunate truth is that in many instances cure is the best you can do, which makes building your curing and nurturing skills is the best use of your time. Hulk could just look around for more TP.

and allowing them 100% space and agency to take care of their problems by themselves while still supporting them?

This is the nub of the thing. The only way to do that is to believe all the way to your core that everybody else in your family has the same right to the space and agency to take care of themselves as you have. And this is difficult.

It's not something you can just decide to believe, though obviously that's a necessary first step. You have spent your entire life growing up in a culture that has systematically been working to convince you that there's a ranking of entitlement to agency with white hetero cis men at the very top and everybody else in successive layers below, and although that's clearly a disgusting and unsupportable belief it gets in. We're human beings, not rational data analysis engines, and suggestion works on us. Countering a lifetime of it requires a great deal of internal work, pursued assiduously over a great deal of time. Much of that fine strategic anger I mentioned earlier has, in my own case, turned out to be a very useful fuel for that internal work.

And that work is never complete, so the sad fact is that you're going to fuck this up. Often. Repeatedly. With any luck, over time you'll fuck it up less often and less badly, and never so badly as to be unforgivable. It's like driving a car. Every near miss shows you something you need to approach with more care next time.

The best way I know to give advice is to give it when it is asked for and not before, and then treat it as a gift, not as a command.

Understand and accept that when you give advice and it's not taken, that doesn't mean it was useless or that the person you gave it to is belittling you or your opinions or any of that. You've given it, they've heard it, and if they can't use it right now, perhaps they'll find a use for some of it later. Give your advice and then let it go.

Remind yourself that you suck every bit as much at taking good advice as any of us do because it is your right as an autonomous being to suck at taking "good" advice. Or even good advice.

If somebody in your family comes to you seeking support, the very first thing you need to work out is what they actually need from you right then and there. In most cases the best thing to do if in any doubt about that is ask exactly that question, and then do what is asked of you instead of immediately leaping into Take Charge mode.

Does that help?
posted by flabdablet at 2:07 PM on July 8, 2021 [26 favorites]


Strong endorsement for what bluedaisy just said.
posted by flabdablet at 2:19 PM on July 8, 2021 [2 favorites]


everything you say to her should have the primary goal of convincing her that telling you was the right decision.

Can't second this strongly enough.
posted by praemunire at 2:22 PM on July 8, 2021 [7 favorites]


As a slight aside, further to the point about systems of oppression and the subtle ways our culture acts to perpetuate them and the work that needs doing to unpick the internal tangles we accumulate as a result: let's take a look at the idea of "protecting your family".

"Your" has two meanings in English and they're not the same. There's "your" as in "your chainsaw" and there's "your" as in "your people". The first is about ownership, the second is about membership, and the fact that the same word is used for both these kinds of relationship smears the ideas together in a way that is unhelpful to the project of constructing an egalitarian culture.

It should be obvious that "your family" is an instance of the membership meaning, but it's distressingly easy for smearing from the ownership meaning to reinforce patriarchal assumptions about the hierarchy of entitlement to agency, especially within the minds of those whom that hierarchy has actually and literally designated as owners.

"I do not own this family. We have each other's backs" is a useful counter-idea. Ten reps twice daily or more often when symptoms are severe.
posted by flabdablet at 3:12 PM on July 8, 2021 [20 favorites]


You asked for what options are open to her, would she be willing to ask coworkers to walk her to her car after work for a few days? If she is looking to avoid drama this might be a quick and easy (but not permanent or ideal) answer.
posted by Vatnesine at 3:54 PM on July 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


I'm really sorry about what happened today.

You're getting some great comments here; I am just going to write specifically about the sexual harassment aspect.

(This is for you, because it's stuff your wife presumably already knows.)

So sexual harassment is super super super common. Most women have been sexually harassed at work.

When people get sexually harassed, practically nobody reports it to their employer, and that is because reporting rarely accomplishes anything positive, and can backfire really badly. Study after study after study shows that when people report sexual harassment to their employer, i) the harassment rarely actually gets addressed, and ii) the person reporting it gets labeled as a troublemaker and is retaliated against. The person being harassed is often disbelieved or blamed, especially by men. They are penalized in terms of advancement opportunities. They are perceived as less promotable, less hireable and less worthy of a raise. If they're in a union, the union backs the harasser. Quoting from one study: “Given the immense psychological and economic costs to individuals who use formal action, in contrast to the potentially meager gains, it is not surprising that so few victims choose this response.”

Your wife already knows this. If her boss was thoughtful & supportive, if her workplace took this kind of thing seriously, she would have already reported by now. The fact that she hasn't, means she believes it isn't safe. She is almost certainly correct.

So absolutely yes, you should sit with her, and listen carefully, and try to help her think through what she should or could do next. But don't try to make her do any particular thing, because the risk of you getting it wrong is very very high.
posted by Susan PG at 4:05 PM on July 8, 2021 [22 favorites]


Lots of good and thoughtful responses here. I just want to add one idea: I work for a large public sector employer, and we have the option to request security walk us to our cars. I wondered if that's an option open to your wife that she may not have considered yet.

(Agree with the general thrust of the bigger picture comments here, and appreciate your openness to hearing the feedback)
posted by latkes at 4:19 PM on July 8, 2021 [5 favorites]


Advise specific to the incident in the parking lot:
The employee can speak to her supervisor about safety in the parking lot. Given her pregnancy, she may be able to use a closer parking space in a safer location.
The employee can speak with coworkers about being followed into the parking lot. There may be an unwritten system in place for remedying this, such as several workers leaving at the same time, using the same exit, parking in the same general area, etc.
The employee can reach out to the security patrol about getting an escort to her vehicle on a regular basis. Be a familiar face to your allies.
The employee can speak to a trusted coworker about the option of making a formal statement to HR. The suspicious person may not be an employee, which can be an excuse for shaking things up.
Fly the idea of having a friend meet the employee at the front desk as an escort for lunch. This overt show of solidarity may discourage nonsense. It may sound regressive, but use what works.

I agree that your spouse is the employee, so she must take the lead in this.
She has leverage, given that she is pregnant. Not taking her seriously is a bad look for a "city public service company."
posted by TrishaU at 4:29 PM on July 8, 2021 [2 favorites]


Can she purchase a camera-pen? They aren't a huge investment, and fit snugly in a breast pocket, or back pocket.

Maybe alongside some mace, and an emergency dialer/notification app like Silent Beacon? ("Silent Beacon is a free app that can notify emergency personnel and your loved ones so they can find your location.")

This is if HR does nothing, which is occasionally the case.

If security is willing to accompany for a bit, definitely.
posted by firstdaffodils at 4:31 PM on July 8, 2021


I work for a city. If your wife asked me for advice, I would suggest she go talk to either HR or the female department head she trusts the most. Our Government HR is great. Not all HR is. I am a female department head and I would throw hands if this happened to one of my colleagues.
posted by notjustthefish at 5:25 PM on July 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


This guy acted aggressively to a woman who is obviously vulnerable/ pregnant, and not very likely to be interested in flirting. Some men get weird around pregnant women. Her instincts are very likely accurate that he is dangerous. She should talk to HR; there may have been other reports about this unevolved jerk. I'd ask HR for a safer parking spot and/or an escort. I'm so sorry she was put in this position.
posted by theora55 at 7:39 PM on July 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


Former lawyer - help her prepare a written account, print and date. Keep it where you both know where to find it and add details as you establish them.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 11:43 PM on July 8, 2021 [5 favorites]


I've been in the position of your wife, having a scary thing happen and then going back to my home and partner, relying on the idea that my own home was the ultimate place of safety where I could calm down and ground myself again.

I can tell you, that if I experience some random stranger's weird inappropriate emotions and controlling behaviour and get shaken and upset, it is really really really awful if I come back to my own house to find that my partner, the one person I would like to be able to rely on in this situation, suddenly experiences a flood of angry emotions, spills them all out on me and starts being controlling about my behaviour.

That is more terrifying than the original incident, because it's happening in my own house with my own loved ones where I'm supposed to be safe. I'm already overloaded and this is the one time I have the least energy to cope with someone else's scary angry controlling emotions as well, let alone think through the long term consequences of discovering that I'm partnered to someone who behaves like this when things get difficult.

For goodness sake, please find a way to manage your anger and your difficult emotions that doesn't involve making them your wife's problem. And maybe contemplate what it is that has led you to this curious pattern where your wife is vulnerable and needs your support, and your emotional reaction to this is to be angry with her.
posted by quacks like a duck at 2:43 AM on July 9, 2021 [20 favorites]


You've gotten a lot of great responses here, and thank you for trusting the hivemind here. Your first instinct is anger, and that isn't always the best way to move forward. Trust your wife to understand some of the politics of her workplace. But gentle nudges to not let this be ignored can also be helpful. Some women may have a tendency to not want to cause any trouble. If that might be the case, you might help her understand that her action might help other women avoid this situation in the future.

I really hope things turn out well. Can you give us an update? How did your wife choose to proceed?
posted by hydra77 at 9:32 AM on July 9, 2021


If your wife does go to HR, I suggest asking for specific safety precautions. For example, having her park in the closest available parking space, and/or having a specific KNOWN coworker walk her to and from her car. This is especially important during her pregnancy, but may also be appropriate when she returns to work after the birth.

I also suggest taking very seriously your wife's statement that she was afraid this large stranger "was going to punch her in the stomach." Your wife knows best what level of apprehension was appropriate. You have to trust her, and tell her you trust her, that her spidy sense (or whatever you call that thing that happens in your brain when you know you are in danger) was correct. She did the right thing at that moment. She was successful. She got away safely.

I also suggest preparing yourself and your wife, in advance, for the possibility that Human Resources will blame your wife, say she is exaggerating, say she could have just left, blah blah blah. Because the man did not actually say "I am going to punch you in the stomach" or "I am going to rape you pretty lady" or some such explicit statement of intent to hurt her, HR may just blow it off. I am very sorry to tell you this. I know this is not what you want to hear, but I have actually seen this happen multiple times in large organizations. I have seen this happen in law firms. You would think law firms would be acutely aware of the liability of having one employee assault another employee, but in my experience, they are not. I can't emphasize enough that going to HR may be futile, and it has the cost of possibly impacting your wife's job prospects. I am a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice, just practical information that tells you why your wife may be less that willing to go to HR.
posted by KayQuestions at 7:18 PM on July 9, 2021 [2 favorites]


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