I remember the first day I wore my engagement ring.
Except I hadn’t got engaged over the weekend, like I told my colleagues – the whole thing was a lie. After months of being subjected to sexual harassment at work, I had decided to start wearing an engagement ring in a last, desperate attempt to make one particular colleague, Dan*, leave me alone.
Dan was relentless. Every day brought rude comments, creepy innuendos and constant questions about my personal life.
After dealing with it silently for almost five months, I brought it to the attention of my manager who told me it would be ‘looked into’ but that it was probably a misunderstanding. Nothing was done and the harassment only got worse.
A few weeks later, while walking towards me, Dan pretended to trip. He grabbed my breasts to ‘break his fall’ and said: ‘They don’t just look great, they keep a man upright, in more ways than one,’ and pointed to his crotch.
As I sat in my manager’s office, telling my story and fighting tears, I thought about how much I needed this job. How multiple complaints had led to no meaningful action being taken place to fix the situation. I even considered whether I had done anything to encourage Dan’s behavior.
When a female colleague mentioned she thought Dan ignored her because she was married, I went out and bough a beautiful fake engagement ring.
It made me feel ridiculous. Pathetic. It was a pretty ring but I was sad knowing that this was what I was resorting to in order to stop a man’s advances.
We have to be ‘marked’ to earn the same type of respect a man gets straight out of the gate.
At work the next day, I anxiously awaited the moment Dan would come over to my cubicle, as he did daily. ‘How was your weekend? Did you spend it thinking of me?’ he asked.
I somehow managed to spit out the lie: ‘Actually, I got engaged.’ I wiggled my finger with the fake ring on it and he stared at it for a second before walking away without another word. He never spoke to me again.
In one way, it felt like a victory. To be able to just do my job in peace was all I wanted.
Mostly, though, it felt stupid. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that this was what it took to get a man to leave me alone. Why were my words not enough, but a £50 knock-off ring was? Of course it’s not fair.
I left that company six months later when I was offered a position elsewhere. I decided to start the lie from the beginning. I walked into the first day of my new job wearing a plain wedding ring. It seemed simpler – people ask less questions than when you wear an engagement ring.
I can’t claim it was entirely down to the ring but I wasn’t harassed once in the four years I worked there. There was a distinct difference in how I was treated when men thought I was married.
They spoke to me like a peer instead of trying to be flirty or showing off. I was included in discussions and felt like my opinions were valued. When I’m not wearing that ring, it’s more about how they can impress me.
Even the other women treated me better when they thought I ‘belonged to’ a man. I was no longer a threat.
I’ve now worn a wedding ring for so long that I don’t even really think about it or notice it on my finger. I don’t wear it to the gym before work, and I remove it at weekends, but otherwise it’s always there.
I’ve faced sexual harassment in high school, college, just walking down the street and on public transport. I just don’t want to deal with it again. I want to be valued for my work.
Maybe it has stopped me from meeting a nice guy – there’s every chance a man might have approached me respectfully but didn’t because he saw the ring.
Lying is another downside. I would like to make friends at work that I don’t have to start off by lying to.
I’ve also struggled with the feeling that my worth is tied to a man instead of me. When my mother tells people she has two children, they ask what my brother does for a living and if I’m married – never the reverse.
Women are rarely asked if they are successful; instead success for women is in being married and having children. Being a wife and a mother are wonderful, noble things, but they’re not all that a woman can be and no one ties a man’s worth to a woman in the same way.
I don’t know why some men feel like they can only respect women who are with other men. I can only guess it’s something to do with the thrill of the chase, or machismo.
I’ve become better at identifying those types of men and steering clear, but it’s unfortunate that women even have to do that, that we have to be ‘marked’ to earn the same type of respect a man is afforded straight out of the gate.