"HE WAS LOOKING me up and down," says the young woman. "Looking me over. There was that obvious look in his eyes."
It happened on the first day of her summer job in a large chain drug store here. She was in the manager's office filling out employment forms. "He kept shaking his head and saying he couldn't concentrate. Then he'd look at me and say he couldn't keep working. I could tell what was going on. It's happened before. I was trying to ignore it and not do anything to be at all suggestive.
"He was looking at me the whole time, and I got fed up and I looked at him with like a question in my face. He said, 'You have beautiful eyes.' I ignore it and kept filing out forms. Then he said, 'my God, you have just a beautiful body. Let's go into the storage room.'
"My first reaction was it's just another dumb guy trying to be funny. I didn't really feel the whole effect of it until afterwards. You're taught all along it's flattering, it's just something men do. I just didn't pay that much attention to it at first." But, she says, there was "this whole tension in the air. The more I think about it, the more angry it makes me."
"It's like the only way he could deal with me was as a sexual object. Then, later, the other guys would say things, joking arround. It's not for my benefit they do. It's not going to bring them any success with me.It's to reinforce their own position, their own masculinity." Later in the day, she says, the assistant manager of the store also made comments, such as saying, "Look at that rear end," when she walked by.
The young woman is a beautiful 18-year-old who has just completed her freshman year of college. She is working two jobs this summer in order to help finance her education this fall. She is smart and says she was always brought up to feel equal with her brother. Yet, here was a situation she could not handle. She felt put down, angry, frustrated. Like so many other teen-agers looking for work this summer, she found herself in a buyer's market.She was not about a jeopardize her job by telling the manager off and, clearly she would get no help from the manager if she complained to him about the way the rest of his employes talked. He set the tone.
"It's happens to women of all ages," says Peggy Crull, research director of Working Women's Institute, a New York City organization that has targeted sexual harassment of women as it's primary research and legal concern. "But," she says, "one of the very vulnerable groups is young women because they're naive. They've not been in the work force very long and they are very expendable to the people who hired them. If they run off and quit, they can be replaced easily and so employers are less careful with them.
"It is a fairly common experience for young girls to have this happen and to think, 'oh, I must have done something wrong,' and to feel guilty and embarrassed and not recognize that it happens to a lot of women. It's like any sort of sexual advance that comes to young girls. Usually, their first response is embarrassment or guilt."
Donna Lenhoff, staff attorney with the Women's Legal Defense Funds, says teen-age girls can get redress under Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act if they can prove they're been fired or not promoted because they refused sexual overtures. But, she says, it is harder for teen-aged girls than for adult women to seek legal recourse.
"The teen-ager hasn't built up a support system in that job, because she's new and doesn't know anyone. There are no coworkers she can talk to, whom she can trust. Many of the usual avenues to follow in order to stop the conduct are harder. They're not closed to the teen-ager, but they're harder for her to follow because of her inexperience."
Peggy Crull has some practical advice for teen-age girls facing sexual harassment in their jobs this summer. "One of the important things to do is to be sure not to ignore it, because very often it will get worse," she says. "Men will take it to mean you're shy. It's important to say something, even if you don't say it the first time it happens. Be direct and be polite. Say 'I'm not interested, please don't talk to me that way, it's upsetting.' You have to let the person knwo you don't like it.
"I say be polite, because lots of times the person is your boss or he has an in with your boss and you have to be careful about your job.
"If there are other girls or women it's a good idea to get support from them," she says. "Lots of times you think you're the only person it's happening to, but usually that's not true. If he's bothering you, chances are he's bothering other people. If several people go to him and say, 'look this is bothering us, it's upsetting,' that obviously has more force.
"What you should always assume is that this harassment could lead to you losing your job. If you lose your job and you can demonstrate that it was because you refused sexual advances or refused to go along with overtures, then Title Seven will work for you.
"What you need to do when you find yourself in a situation like this is to first document what is happening to you. Keep a diary or some sort of calendar that shows the comments made, particularly if there are any threats attached to it. It's also a good idea if you have any records of your work performance, any evaluations of your work, to keep them. What frequently happens is that if they're going to fire you they're not going to say they fired you because you didn't put out. They're going to say she didn't do her work well. You have to find a way of demonstrating that you were fired for something else.
"It's a good idea, but again you're taking a risk, to complain to personnel or whoever is sort of a higher authority. If the job is in a small drug store then you might not have much recourse (Title Seven does not apply to businesses with less than 15 employes.) But if you work in a large organization, it's important to complain through official channels. Again, that gives you more force if something happens to you."
Teen-age girls are especially vulnerable to harassment in the summer jobs. They probably don't know it is illegal and they probably don't understand how the legal system in their jurisdiction defines and seeks to correct sexual harassment. But it is in the interest to find this information out when they enter the work force, and it is in their interest to assert themselves.
Courts are beginning to find that stores and corporations that ignore sexual harassment by their managers can be liable for damages. So it also in the interests of the stores to let their managers know that trips to the storage room are not in the job description of the teen-age summer help.