I went to university to be a screenwriter and, as i’m sure you know, it’s not exactly an easy industry to break into (especially if you’re female – ‘old boys club’ indeed). A couple of years ago (late 2013-ish) I went to a casual networking event with a couple of classmates and met a television writer (let’s call him Dale) who’s at least in his early to mid 40s. I was 20 years old at the time.
Dale and I exchanged email addresses and I sent him a copy of the television pilot I’d written and then we met up for a late lunch/early dinner shortly after so I could get his notes/pick his brain about his career/networking etc.
Fast forward to 2015. We’ve met up maybe once or twice a year at most since then, always to talk about writing stuff. I was planning a trip to LA last year too so I asked him for some tips on networking etc because he spends a lot of time over there. He kept complimenting how I looked and offered (multiple times) to let me stay with him at his place in LA and one point even to fly me out on his own dime to stay with him when I jokingly complained about how expensive my trip was going to be. He’s also invited me to a number of parties with him and his and other middled aged male friends and has texted me subtly suggestive sexual things in the past(it’s always him initiating the conversation).
At the end of December, I asked to meet up with Dale one last time because I needed a professional reference letter for a program I was applying to.
We meet up, Dale stares at me really suggestively the entire time and makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable with some of his comments about my appearance and then when we leave (it’s night time by this point) he refuses to let me walk to the train station by myself and puts his arm around my shoulder and gets really close to me without asking. He did eventually take his arm away and finally left me alone when we reached the train station (not before getting into my space again and kissing me on the cheek).
I stupidly ignored my intuition and also because I figured it was worth putting up with a bit of creepiness if it meant i could get some solid career advice and a reference letter. I stopped replying to his emails and his texts and just the thought of seeing him again gives me intense anxiety. We both live in the same city and I’m terrified I’ll bump into him somewhere.
Dale still keeps contacting me and clearly cannot take a hint even though i have not replied to a single one of his messages since late December. He refused to respect my boundaries or even stop to consider that I, as a female in my early 20s, have no desire to sleep with or date someone his age (especially considering i’m not even interested in dating men period).
How do I get him to leave me alone? Every time I see a new message from him I feel sick to my stomach.
Majorly Creeped Out
“Dales” of the world….your sad, pathetic, disgusting tactics are showing, and the young women you try to “mentor” are figuring out that they are not alone.
Majorly Creeped Out, I hope you’ll tell some people you know what Dale did. I hope you don’t feel like you are the only one this has happened to, and I hope you won’t beat yourself up for being targeted by a sad creep with a standard playbook. You’re doing the right thing by not responding to his messages. He knows what he did, and he knows that it’s weird & desperate to keep texting you.
You could say, “Dale, please stop contacting me. Your ‘mentoring’ is no longer wanted.” He’ll never apologize for or admit what he did, so that message is more for you, so you can document that you asked him to leave you alone. Then skip directly to blocking Dale on all fronts: Block his number and his texts from your phone, block his social media profile, and either block his emails or filter them somewhere that bypasses your inbox where you can see them. He can send them into the ether forever and you’ll never answer, because you’ll never even see them.
You can make other inroads into the business. You’ll open better doors than Creepy Dale could ever open for you. Leave him far behind you.
I’m a white, straight dude in my mid-30s, working in an industry traditionally dominated by white, straight dudes. Further compounding my white, male privilege, I work in a developing country in Asia. It’s not Thailand, but for the sake of my anonymity, let’s say it’s Thailand.
Building a career in this industry these days is kind of complicated. There are lots of pitfalls, and mistakes you can make. Building a solid network of formal and informal mentors is a really great way to avoid some of the pitfalls, and can even be a source of job opportunities.
I’m at the point in my career now where I probably have coffee or lunch with 1-5 different junior people a month where I offer career advice.
The thing is… Most of the recipients of my mentoring are dudes. Thus goes the cycle of perpetual patriarchy.
As you’d be aware, white dudes in this part of the world have a reputation as inveterate horndogs. For good reason, really. A lot of them are just so gross. Ugh.. Fuck those guys. I’m not one of those guys. I’m really not. I’m very happily married, and–barring some sort of disaster–I have no plans on getting it on with anyone other than my wife for the rest of my life.
More random men than women reach out to me, and there’s probably not much I can do about that (though I’d be interested if you have any ideas on how I may be better able to make it clear to randoms that I’m an equal opportunity mentor), but I would like your advice on what I can do with my direct staff.
I have a new female Thai employee, Ang, that started today. I’m planning on going out for a drink with a senior guy, Steve, from another firm tonight.
Should I invite Ang to come out with Steve and me? If Ang was a guy, I totally would. In fact, I just invited Pai, a guy that used to work for me.
The thing is, Pai is pretty sure I’m not trying to get into his pants. And, when I turn up with Pai, I’m fairly sure that Steve isn’t going to try to get into Pai’s pants (I don’t know Steve that well, and you know what they say about white guys in this part of the world).
Inviting Ang along would almost certainly make her feel awkward because she doesn’t know whether to trust me or not. Then, even if she did trust me, she will definitely feel judged by people while we are out, and maybe even by our other colleagues who can’t be sure that I’m not a creepster.
Plus, I get judged when I’m out with a young Thai girl too. And I don’t like that…
It’s really so much easier just to mentor men, but, really? Like, surely that’s not the right thing to do here…
Thanks for your letter! It illustrates the way that women get left out of informal mentoring networks and social events that can help their careers. I don’t think you can single-handedly fix the culture, but I think there are a few things you can do to help the Angs you know get ahead.
I deliberately posted your letter with the previous letter because that offers a such a good blueprint for when supposed mentoring relationships are creepy. A red flag I noticed even before the unwanted touching and the staring and suggestive texts were that “Dale” always wanted to meet the LW alone or bring her into spaces with only other men. It’s one of the hallmarks of the Mentor Of Women Who Does Not Actually Like Women – he grooms a woman he wants to fuck by inviting her to be the sole woman “worthy” of his attention/his exalted company into spaces that are mostly populated by other men, like it’s some kind of special privilege, and puts subtle pressure on her to “go along to get along” if she wants to stay there. One thing you could do for your colleague Ang and others like her is to foster networking with other women (even if they are few) in the business – use your social capital and experience to include more professional women overall in social events, invite a young man and several women out for drinks, introduce Ang to women senior to her at the company and beyond as well as men. That might mean doing a little research and digging deeper than you currently do into your contacts list, but that is good for your career as well.
You mention being happily married, which is great. Is your wife in-country with you and will she help you out a little bit with this? When I was in my very early 20s I worked a lot internationally, sometimes in very patriarchal/traditional societies, and there was an unwritten code I went by when fielding social invitations from male colleagues. The magic words were “My wife and I would like to invite you….” (Or My sister and I, girlfriend and I, mother and I, female cousin and I, etc. for unmarried men) When the initial social invitation included a woman close to the colleague doing the inviting, it served as a code for “This is all above board and not a pretext to get you alone.” Once I met the family, solo invitations to talk shop were totally routine and fine and normal-seeming.
When male colleagues from the host countries invited me out solo for coffee or an excursion, without mentioning a fellow woman in the initial invitation, I would probe it a bit – “That sounds lovely, shall we also include (female staff member) and (staff member I felt really comfortable with)?” If the guy was open to the others being included, I could relax a bit. If he seemed very disappointed by not being alone with me, that was a sign that I might want to be very “busy” with work that day. I’m sure I refused some invitations that were perfectly above-board, but without that safety net of “The closest woman and I invite you…” I didn’t want to risk having Ivan from Accounting turn into Handsy Ivan from Accounting, or for one random after-work drink to turn into daily bad seduction poetry in my work email (true story, y’all). All this is to say, before you invite Ang for solo drinks or drinks with all dudes, is there a way for her to hang out socially with you and your wife or another female friend or colleague? There’s something about that that can break the ice without having to awkwardly say “I know Western dudes can be creeps but I swear I’m not objectifying you.” Someone familiar with the local culture about men, women, & friendship can probably guide you as to specifics here.
Another thing you can do is to set expectations with Steve. “Hey Steve, I’m inviting a few of my best and brightest to drinks tonight. There’s Pai, who used to work with me, and Ang, who just started recently but is already a crackerjack [whatever her skill or job title is]. See you at 8?” Introduce Ang (and other young women in your company) by making their job title and/or accomplishments and skills front and center in how you talk about them.
If Steve (or Pai, for that matter) act creepy or make “joking” comments, put a stop to it. Sexist boys clubs persist partly because the worst offenders think their behavior is accepted by their peers, and if their peers won’t make waves, then the behavior is being accepted. It’s great that you’re not one of Those dudes, but I think you also have a responsibility to speak up when Those Dudes tell jokes or brag about their exploits. Fuck “guy code” or “boys will be boys.” “Creepy, much?” coming from a respected dude has weight. Raise your voice to say it if it needs saying.
If down the road, Ang or another female colleague doesn’t want to associate with someone who is sexist and gross, curb any impulse toward playing Devil’s Advocate and believe the women. No “Well, what did he say, like, exactly?” or “I’m sure he didn’t mean it.” Chances are “he” meant it, and chances are the woman only told you about it with great anxiety about risking her own status & job. Believe women, and use your greater status and power to shield them from gross people who want to take advantage of them. Remember on Mad Men when a client sexually harassed Sal the Art Director and he went to Don for protection and Don threw him to the wolves? Don’t do that. Do the right thing – aka – “That was inappropriate and I am sorry. You won’t have to deal with that person anymore.”
Seek out women to appear on panels and be speakers at public-facing events. Raise the visibility of the women in your organization. When you are on panels or doing public work, raise the profile of the women on the panel with you. Make sure they aren’t talked over.
Two final things I can think of are Pay Equity and Job Status Equity. Make sure your Angs are paid as much as your Pais from the minute they start working for you. Even if they don’t negotiate the same salary, negotiate for them within your company! Give them ammunition to negotiate salaries better in the future. They don’t have perfect information about what the salaries are, but you do, so use it on behalf of women! Don’t make your non-administrative female employees unduly responsible for note-taking or event planning or client handholding unless you also ask the men to do the same types of work, and make sure that you publicly recognize their contributions to your team and accomplishments.
Readers, what else can male supervisors due to make sure that their female mentees aren’t creeped on or left behind?