I thought long and hard whether not to include this post on ‘Me and my ADHD’ but decided that I would for several reasons. Firstly, the debate surrounding #metoo is of national and international importance, secondly because people with ADHD are not immune to sexual harassment and thirdly because my reaction to incidences of sexual harassment has been influenced by my ADHD and for a long time I believed that I over reacted to these incidents because of the ADHD emotion of ‘flooding’ and thought that I was in the wrong… I wasn’t.
I am not a special person, I have not been targeted for sexual harassment in the past because I have ADHD or because of any physical or personality attribute that I may possess, in all of the incidents I mention below I was targeted specifically because I was a woman and the perpetrators of the harassment- and those who witnessed it- thought it was ok.
My first experience of sexual harassment occurred in high school when I was 11 years old. I have always possessed particularly “full” lips, particularly my bottom lip which sits in a natural pout and many people have commented on photographs over the years with the likes of, “Look at the trout pout on you.”
When I was in Primary 6 (Year 5/Grade 5) a number of the children in my class took to calling me “fishy lips” which, after a sustained amount of name calling upset me to the point I remember sitting in the girls’ toilets of my primary school crying my heart out to my Primary 6 teacher, Mrs C, after I had ‘over reacted’ with emotional flooding- as is typical of someone with ADHD- and had apparently upset all of my tormentors by my reaction. Instead of shouting at me or giving me into trouble, which I had come to expect any time I was unhappy, Mrs C consoled me and she said, “You know, a lot of people pay good money to have lips that look like yours.” At the age of 9 I failed to see why anyone would want to be subjected to the constant torment about my lips and I reacted by wailing loudly in tears about how stupid these people were, “Why would anyone want to be called names because of their lips?”
When I moved into high school, the attention towards my lips morphed from “fishy lips,” a comparison I actually understood, into “blow job lips,” something I definitely did not understand, nor should I have understood at that age. As an 11-year-old girl who attended a private Catholic high school, had attended a Catholic primary school and grew up in a strict Catholic family- I had absolutely no idea what a blow job was and it took three years of being called this name, that I did not understand, before I finally found out its true meaning and implications. Another girl in my year group, who I will not name, told a story in our third year of high school about visiting a spa with her family where a couple were engaging in ‘oral sex’ in a hot tub. Not understanding what that meant I asked, “what is oral sex?” (Bearing in mind that my knowledge of what sex was also extremely limited).
The assembled group of boys and girls laughed hysterically at me, “You should know, blow job lips!” was one of the replies.
But I did not know what that terminology meant any more than I knew what “blow job lips” meant, and when it was explained to me whilst mocking my lack of knowledge I felt disgusted, ashamed and dirty.
There was no way I was going to tell my parents or teachers that boys (and apparently girls) had been calling me “blow job lips” for the last three years- I would probably have gotten into trouble for even saying the words to them. So, I kept quiet and lived with that term all through high school and later into University until I managed to sever every single relationship with people from my year group in high school so that the name did not follow me about.
As referenced in other blogs, I had spent most of my high school years in trouble for “over reacting” to incidents that upset me, if I reacted to this name in the same way I did to other incidents I was sure that I would be in trouble for saying the words- a risk I was not willing to take.
Aged 16 I took a job in Conference and Banqueting at a well known Glasgow hotel on one of the Zero Hours contracts that are spoken about so often nowadays. My job involved serving food and clearing tables at functions in the hotel ranging from weddings, corporate events and even serving the entourage of Mike Tyson. My uniform consisted of black shoes, black tights and a black skirt and the hotel provided a white, button down, jacket with gold buttons and gold epaulettes.
In those days I was quite thin and was a UK size 6-8, several of the girls I worked with were similarly thin, so I always arrived at work early to ask for the smallest sized jacket from the laundry. It was a size 8 and swamped me but as there were only three or four available and the next size up, a 10, was like wearing a large tent and almost reached my knees.
The fashion at the time was for short skirts and all the women I worked with wore black skirts that were no longer than their mid-thigh, no matter their size, and the size 8 jacket that the hotel provided was short enough for my skirt to show quite well, but when wearing the larger size 10 top it swamped me and sat below the line of my skirt.
Despite my efforts to get into work early to get the better fitting jacket, I had to wear this larger size on several occasions and as this same issue affected several of us, it was quite normal that staff would be wearing ill-fitting uniform. There was one occasion that sticks with me that made me incredibly uncomfortable, ashamed an embarrassed and I distinctly remember it to this day.
At one particular dinner, the Chefs in the Conference and Banqueting kitchen thought it would be funny to comment every time I walked into the kitchen to pick up food or clear plates. They made comments about not being able to see my skirt, suggested I wasn’t wearing a skirt and said that I was “asking for it” by not wearing a skirt to work. Several times I told them that I was wearing a skirt, lifting my jacket to show it more clearly, which set off cat calls while they accused me of stripping for them. Those not involved in the torment, Chefs and waiting staff, laughed along as I became more anxious and unhappy every time I went into the kitchen.
On one occasion after clearing plates, listening to their lewd comments and hearing them shouting across the room behind me, I left the kitchen visibly upset and one of the older men working as a waiter told me, “they have no right to speak to you like that, they are out of order, speak up.” Buoyed by his support, the next time I entered the kitchen to pick up desserts, a Chef called Chris made yet another lewd comment about my legs and I turned towards him and said, “That’s sexual harassment.”
You could have heard a pin drop in that kitchen the moment I spoke, I can still visualise exactly where everyone was standing.
Chris screamed at me to put the plates down and ordered me to get out of his kitchen- I did not need to be told twice. Seething and very upset I left the kitchen and told the supervisor what had happened. In an attempt to appease the situation, the supervisor said I needed to be able to serve and clear for the remainder of service but Chris launched into an expletive ridden tirade about how I had dared make an accusation of sexual harassment about him in front of his kitchen staff and that I was no longer welcome in his kitchen while he worked in the hotel- no one else had much to say. Immediately, I thought that I was in the wrong to have provoked such a reaction, that I had crossed a line and it was my typical ADHD over reaction (I was undiagnosed at the time but aware that I quickly reacted to things) that had gotten me into trouble and I would lose my job. An uncomfortable situation was made far worse.
I did not want to enter the kitchen that night and I was clearly not welcome so I was told I could finish early and before the next shift I was told to come in and meet with the conference and Banqueting Managers. Neither of them wanted to lose me as a member of staff but they also wanted to appease the kitchen so I was told by the female manager that the Chefs found short skirts “distracting” and the fact that my jacket covered my skirt was a problem, so in future I should think about that and wear a longer skirt- there was no effort to ensure they provided me with a correctly fitted jacket or that the comments made towards me had been lewd and inappropriate.
I was held accountable for the Chefs’ comments and the length of my skirt was blamed for “distracting” them.
What I distinctly remember about this conversation was the female manager, who was telling me off, really trying to brush over the whole affair. She was giving me into trouble but I’m not sure that she really felt that I was at fault, she was appeasing the Chefs who were more important than me.
Workplace harassment was not limited to this incident. Circa 2001-2002, I worked in a popular nightclub in Glasgow City Centre. It opened from 4pm till 3am most days and I worked nearly every night of the week there, building up a great set of friends amongst the staff. The bar area was a square shape in the middle of the club and as one of the only female members of bar staff, I had the additional responsibility of carrying out toilet checks once an hour- clearing glasses that were abandoned, sweeping for broken glass, flushing toilets, making sure toilet roll was refilled and generally ensuring no one was being sick in there. It might sound like an unattractive part of the job but at the time I was a smoker and you could still smoke in bars and nightclubs at that point, so it was actually a way for me to get off of the bar and have a sneaky cigarette every hour- so I enjoyed having that responsibility.
What I did not like was the frequent occasions where I would leave the bar into the incredibly busy club, moving at a snail’s pace through the club to get to the ladies’ toilets and where I would often have my breasts, buttocks or vagina grabbed in the crowd.
This did not happen every night or indeed more than once a night but it happened at least every week and those unfortunate enough to get caught by me got a verbal bashing, usually full of expletives, usually calling them perverts. But more often than not, I would be grabbed and turn into the crowd to find the perpetrator, only to see a crowd of guys standing, none of them looking at me and all looking like they were just chatting to their friends. As bad as it is to face the person who gropes you smiling like they have done nothing wrong, it is far worse to not know who did it in a sea of faces- faces knowing they have done wrong and refusing to acknowledge it.
I should have had a reputation for taking no shit from guys who groped me by shouting at them (actually I should have called the bouncers down and had them ejected, but I knew the managers would not have supported that- the bouncers would have as they were great guys) but instead I had a reputation for not being smiley at all times to customers- no matter the innuendo or whether they groped me. The management of the club saw my reaction to being groped as an over reaction and I left there knowing that I didn’t want to be groped but struggling to reconcile how I could communicate this without “over reacting” like I had been accused of.
I have worked in several night clubs, hotels, retail banks and in the education sector since these incidents and have not experienced sexual harassment at work in any other employ- and believe me I have reflected upon it as I do tend to reflect on all my social interactions. This is probably because sexual harassment does not exist in every workplace and because not all men engage in harassment, but does not mean that I have not experienced harassment since. When you have ADHD and are already afraid of speaking out because of the reactions you receive, it can be all that more difficult in cases of harassment.