Each time in my career that I have ignored sexual harassment aimed at me, I have moved up the corporate ladder. For example, the boss who once pulled all senior management out of the company’s sexual harassment seminar because he thought it was a waste of time — and patted me on the butt as he left the room — has turned out to be my most reliable cheerleader (and a very impressive reference).

In my first eight days of my job at a financial software company, I was sexually harassed six times by my new boss. This list does not include his sexual harassment of me during the interview process, which I chose to ignore, since it was my first interview at a respectable company in six months.

Maybe you’re wondering what, exactly, I regard as sexual harassment. The easiest conversation to relay is this one:

Me: “Thank you for setting up that meeting; it will be very helpful.”

Boss: “Big testicles.” (He then pretends to squeeze his genitals.)

I had no idea what he meant by this comment, but it is short and easy to relay to make my case.

Here are some other choice moments:

When he took me out for lunch on my second day on the job, he told me he once fell in love with a woman as tall as I am but was intimidated by her height, so they just had casual sex. I said nothing in response.

But I knew, from a legal perspective (and also a moral one) that I needed to tell him his comments were unwanted. So that afternoon when he said, “I want to hug you, but it would be illegal,” I said, “You’re right.”

Each night, I relayed some of the best lines from work to my husband. He was stunned. He couldn't believe these events actually happened in today's workplaces. I told him this was standard. He told me I should sue so that we could go to Tahiti. I told him I’d probably settle out of court after three years for about $200,000, and I’d be a pariah in the workplace.

I told my husband that his very hot, 27-year-old boss gets hit on as much as I do. He said he saw her at work all the time and this never happened. I told him that OF COURSE men don’t harass women in front of other men. After all, it’s illegal. Men are not stupid. But I suggested to my husband he was perpetuating the myth that harassment isn’t widespread.

In fact, 44% of women between ages 35 and 49 report experiencing sexual harassment at the workplace — even though almost every company has an explicit, no-tolerance policy. A national survey shows that 21% of all women report being sexually harassed at work, while a Rutger's University study indicates that for knowledge-based workers, the percentage can go as high as 88%. Yet when women leverage the no-tolerance policy their names are plastered over the business pages, and they are blacklisted in their industry.

So the best way to change corporate America is to gain power and then wield it. To get power, you have to stay in the workforce, not the court system, and work your way up. Unfortunately, this means learning how to navigate a boys’ club. But when you know the system, you then are clear about the root of its problems, and you know how to initiate change.

In this spirit, I hatched a plan to rid myself of my harassing boss. Originally, I took a job in business development, even though I hated selling to clients, because it was the only place with an opening. I told myself that the members of the management team were so smart that I would learn to love sales from them. After weeks of harassment, though, I thought management was so smart that if I explained why I wanted to be moved to another department, they would see my request as extremely reasonable. I figured they would be grateful for my low-key approach to this sensitive problem, rather than resentful that I had been hired to work in biz dev and then asked to be switched to a department with no openings.

I was right. I was moved into marketing, which I prefer. I received a more prestigious assignment and gained a smarter boss. Had I reported that I had been sexually harassed during the interview process I would not have gotten the job. Had I reported the harassment to my boss's boss without presenting a plan for solving the problem, I would not have received a better assignment. In fact, if you have a strategy, enduring sexual harassment can be a way to gain power to achieve your long-range goals.

Epilogue: Eventually, my boss was fired. Officially for low performance, though I have always fantasized that it was for rampant harassment.

100 replies
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  1. Carla A Bryan
    Carla A Bryan says:

    Shame on you in the name of every female who has ever been harrassed in the workplace-your “plan” is nothing more than a very transparent excuse for your cowardly behavior.

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      Gee, your comment to her seems kind of mean to me.

      As Penelope says, it’s a sensitive situation.

      So please show some sensitivity!

      You’re certainly entitled to you opinion, and I certainly don’t like the way you delivered it!

      • Kay
        Kay says:

        No, I completely agree with Carla. It’s not right for a man to think it’s okay. Women don’t harass men and get away with it, so men shouldn’t either.

  2. Anna
    Anna says:

    I was with you pretty much in your argument until you went with the strategy of moving around and keeping quiet about it. Not that I dispute that it worked for you- but I doubt it would work for everyone, and it is promoting the idea of sweeping it under the rug. I do admit to myself that more women in power means less sexual harassment ( the straight-men to women kind, which is more prevalent, though I have experienced the women-to-women kind, and others have experienced other kinds). I agree that I think it’s naive that reporting will solve problems- and your assessment that it means 200K if you go to court, but far more to you if youjust ascend the ladder. Still, I’d steer away from espousing it as a policy in general. I guess I have to think more about this. I love your blog and I am very glad that you shared your experiences with sexual harassment- which in a way isn’t sweeping it under the rug at all!

  3. Nicole Maron
    Nicole Maron says:

    Wow. That was the most self-serving rationalization for cowardice I’ve heard in years. I especially like the part where she erroneously claims that “when women leverage the no-tolerance policy their names are plastered over the business pages, and they are blacklisted in their industry.”

    Has the author ever, I don’t know, read a history book? Is she so completely self-involved that she does not see her actions in the larger context of the ongoing evolution of equality intheworkplace?

    While I agree that reporting sexual harassment incidents does not always serve an individual’s career goals, it DOES help create consequences for future actions. Legitimate fear of litigation — not the preponderance of female bosses who gained their positions by tolerating ass-pats and sexual references designed to demean and demoralize women into silence — is what drives equality in the workplace.

    I find it especially ironic that the author shows no cognizance whatsoever that the career opportunities she now enjoys is because of the women before her who fought hard — sometimes winning, sometimes losing — to demand the respect that they and all women deserve, even when their efforts were met with threats, lost opportunities, and sexual violence.

    You’ve come a long way, baby. How proud future generations will be that you set this shining example of soap opera-worthy passive aggression to follow. Way to guarantee that your daughters’ foreheads will bump the same semen-splattered glass ceiling you are working to your advantage.

    * * * * * * *

    Hi, Nicole. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I can see you’re angry about this post. I think the brunt of your anger stems from your last paragraphs — that women fought so hard to get up to the glass ceiling and I’m not advocating the continuation of that fight.

    That’s true. I’ve written a lot about how I think what is above the glass ceiliing is so unappealing the Gen X and Y that we shouldn’t even bother talking about getting past the glass ceiling anymore. Here’s a link to that.



    • sarah
      sarah says:

      What’s beyond the glass ceiling isn’t unappealing to Generations X and Y. What is unappealing is the idea that we have to endure things to do it. By “things” I mean the ancient, pre-Gen X idea of blatant sexually based harassment and discrimination.

  4. Scott
    Scott says:

    That was really painful, but it is accurate, except for the part where you could get $200,000. That figure would probably be closer to $50,000, or lower.

    Unfortunately, the scenario you lay out is eerily similar to the situation kids face when dealing with bullying behavior, or adults face when dealing with abusive (non-sexual) behavior, in or out of the workplace.

    If you make a report before any serious physical contact is made, like hitting or grabbing, you risk becoming labeled a “troublemaker” or a “crybaby”, regardless of the severity of the harassment or non-physical abuse.

    I am sorry that you have had to endure such an enormous amount of criminal and unethical behavior. You and your husband showed remarkable restraint. Unfortunately, you are probably in larger company than you pointed out in your essay.

    * * * * *

    Hi, Scott. Thank you for pointing out all the other situations this is true for. It’s disheartening, to be sure, but good to be aware of. Thanks.

    — Penelope

  5. kevin JIng
    kevin JIng says:

    Don’t “teach” people to suffer the trash you chose to suffer. It is not worthwhile to tolerate the sexual harrassment you tolerated. It is a shame. Your self esteem and dignity is more important than that job. Otherwise, what’s wrong with prostitute ??

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      Uhh, excuse me, but how could you possibly know what she suffered, or how it affected her self-esteem?

      These things are highly subjective.

      As for your comment regarding prostitution, I don’t agree with your insinuation that that’s what Penelope was doing, and I have the definite impression that your mention of the word was intended to be a put-down.

      I really wish that you hadn’t felt the need to resort to that kind of low-blow. No offense intended to any sex workers who happen to choose to make their living that way, by the way.

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      Gee, I guess that means that mine do to.

      Thank you for sharing.

      I’ve never been in this situation before, but I certainly don’t see what unethical about how Penelope handled it.

  6. Raven
    Raven says:

    I pretty much agree with everything except you left out more information on how women can play by the ‘it’s a man’s world’ rules and still get ahead. I think SOME, not all cases are the same, women need to give serious attention to professional attire, make-up, parfume, hair styles, sharing personal side of ourselves, being too friendly vs. personalble etc. I hate to say it, but in some companies, in some countries more than others, it doesn’t pay to look very ‘girly’. And well timed comments like “You’re right” cannot be under-rated. Being too nice, too friendly, and too made-up, can be taken as mixed signals by some who are looking for green lights. I think men in today’s world aren’t looking for a court date, they are just looking for a date. They test the water before they make any move, and we need to be aware of the tests and respond accodingly. And it is up to us to make sure that even one on one lunch dates with the boss are out of the question. Find a gracious and professional way to send out the message “I am here to work, and that is all.” We do this with the way we dress, make-up our faces, walk, talk, and even communicate with our facial expressions / body language. They won’t go fishing where they’re not likely to find fish.

  7. Gwenyth Hayes
    Gwenyth Hayes says:

    Do you feel the same way about racial harassment and discrimination in the workplace? Should people of color stay in there place too or just women?

    * * * * *

    This is a good question. While my husband and kids are minorities, and I do sometimes weigh in on this topic, I don’t really feel qualified on this particular question. However Carmen has covered this issue on her blog, which I like a lot, Racialicious.com.

  8. Pam
    Pam says:

    Unfortunately, I know from personal experience that she is right. My career was ruined and I was blacklisted, because I was a whistleblower. I had ten years in the company and had just received a new promotion when I came in contact with a horrible man, who was amongst other things, stealing employee paychecks. I turned him in and they fired him. My reward was a “lateral move” to a completely different department, in a degrading job. My pay was the same but I went from middle managment to a warehouse attendant. After ten months of trying to get back into my old department, I was fired. I filed a lawsuit against the company and 8 years later it’s still gone no place – and I was blackballed. I only wish I had gotten that $200,000 the author talked about. Instead, I got poverty and depression. I am back in college and changing careers, hoping that will change my ability to get a job again. So, take it from me – turning in your boss for any reason will only backfire on you. It might feel good and you may be doing it for the right reasons, but it will ruin you.

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      I wish I had know about this a long time ago. I made some mistakes regarding “office politics” in grad school.

      I’m still learning about when is the best time to speak up, and when and how to do it. Even though I’m now a free agent, which I love, it was very difficult to go through, and the adverse affects lasted a very long time.

      I’m so sorry about what you went through,and it sounds both devastating and outrageously unjust, to say the least. But is it not possible that there were some silver linings in all of this? I’d like to know if you think there were any.

  9. Richard
    Richard says:

    She’s laying it on thick isn’t she? No woman should EVER have to put up with sexual harrassment. A company has a responsibility to look out for the welfare of its employees, and anything that puts an employee’s safety in jeopardy should be dealt with swiftly. Sexual harassment can and will cost companies millions of dollars. Management is not stupid like most people think, they don’t want to be hit with a harassment suit so they’re going to handle allegations with the quickness.

  10. Allison
    Allison says:

    Your article was very interesting, but a bit baffling. As a 34-year-old single working woman, it reinforces my belief that I really do experience quite different effects of gender politics in the workplace than reported. In this particular instance, it is mainly one thing–since college, I have three times seen male employees be fired within days (need time to get all the HR reps and managers and lawyers lined up!) of initial reports of sexual harrassment (for conduct very “mild” and similar to what you’ve described) and watched as the women involved did not suffer career repurcussions, thankfully. I was once offered by a very supportive boss to report sexual harrassment of a co-worker. I chose not too simply because while I don’t believe juvenile behavior should be rewarded, I also don’t believe it should destroy a man’s life (and no, people that is NOT out of cowardice–it posed no physical risk or employment risk to myself, he is a good worker, and I actually enjoyed “freaking him out” by standing quite firmly and sternly against his first few off-color comments–by the way, he completely stopped when he realized my “death glare” meant business!) But, quite frankly, I could have had HIM fired pretty much on the spot, without fear.

    So, while I do believe that a woman shouldn’t feel obligated to report something that she chooses to handle in her own personal way, that decision should NOT be out of fear but rather her own personal value system. Again, I know others here have said otherwise, but quite frankly, all I’ve seen is companies ready to pounce on any man accused of harrassment while the woman’s reputation has remained intact.

  11. Alyssa
    Alyssa says:

    oh. my. goodness.
    My jaw actually dropped. Please tell me you don’t seriously believe all that claptrap about just putting up with it. Everything the sufferagists ever fought for, you just totally destroyed. If we DON’T set the examples in the workplace, just as they set examples when they petitioned for the right to vote, our own daughters will suffer. Yes, stand up for yourself verbally, tolerate only what you personally can tolerate, but don’t ever dare to presume that this is the best way for women to behave in corporate situations. I can’t believe this was actually written, in THIS day and age, by a woman. I am ashamed. If ANY man, boss or otherwise, patted me on the bottom, and I didn’t initiate it, they would be in for the fight of their lives.
    On the other side, what if this were a matriarical society? Would it be “ok” for US to pat them on their bottoms, call them sweetie, etc? NO. It’s crap either way, and I hope that eventually you figure this out.

  12. Terri
    Terri says:

    I definitely have to agree with the person who wrote that your plan is a “very transparent excuse for your cowardly behavior.” Social change comes at a personal cost. If it weren’t for people standing up for themselves, we’d still be living under Jim Crow. You wouldn’t be able to have had the educational opportunities and job opportunities that followed if it weren’t for women who made personal sacrifices. It’s time that you stopped thinking about just yourself and started thinking about the women who will follow you. I work in a field were men outnumber women 10:1, it’s hard, but I have to set the example so younger women won’t feel intimidated and will know that it’s something that they can do. I’m not trying to be self righteous, but everyone has to do their part for change to happen.

    * * * * *

    This is a all true, in theory. In practice, women are working to support themselves and their families. They cannot afford to lose their jobs due to retaliation and then spend a year fighting in court. How will they eat during that time? And the likelihood of their particular case being able to create a more effective law is very slim. Substantive change in the system requires a very particular case, not just any old case.

    Be careful when you call for all women to be personally responsible for social change. Sometimes the biggest social change they can make is to stay employed and keep their kids and/or themselves in a financially stable environment. That’s important for women, too.


  13. Keven
    Keven says:

    I have to admit, I was thoroughly shocked that this sort of thing still persists today. As a law school graduate, I can completely sympathize with the idea that the courts simply don’t accomplish much. It’s very true, the law is extroardinarily impractical…it can’t and it won’t solve the problem. As a seminary student my only advice is for workers to stick together as closely as possible. Women rising into power, while preferable, is not the answer to this problem either. People, men and women, who suffer the most needlessly from abuses of power are the most likely to become hardened and bitter, and therefore the most likely to continue those abuses (though perhaps differently).

    I realize that the men who perpetrate these acts are not likely to show up in any church setting, so it is incredibly important to offer support to your coworkers in the workplace. As for you men, don’t tolerate this behavior. Remember these are other people’s daughters, wives, and mothers…if you would not tolerate this being done to your own daughter, wife or mother, then don’t tolerate it in your workplace either. Stand up and confront the people who do this, make sure other people witness the behavior and are willing to go the distance with you. If it comes down to it, be willing to go to HR and demand something be done about the problem individual. The sexual harassment victim will be less likely to be considered a troublemaker if the whole floor goes to the HR office with her to be a witness.

    The only other piece of advice I have to offer is this: remember to think how the company thinks. Everything is bottom line in this very evil corporate culture we live in. If only one person complains, the company is forced to make a decision between one employee and one officer of the company; the employee will be axed and made an example of every time (and some say the Dark Ages have come and gone). HOWEVER, if the employees are organized and make it clear to HR that its 30 or 40 employees that threaten to walk plus a civil suit versus one financial officer; there is no way that individual is going to be staying where he is. In the end, it just wouldn’t be good for business.

    * * * * *

    This is a great list of very good and useful observations. Thank you. I like that you are addressing the legal issue. That is the point here. The law is weak and individual women are not in a position to fix it by going to HR. We can make our difference in the world in other ways — like keeping our job and getting enough power from within the system to make systemic change.

  14. BIllie
    BIllie says:

    If this story were about racial harassment of black or latino people in the workplace, there would be a huge rally to fight for justice. If a manager called a black person the “N” word, or a latino a derogatory comment, that would not be tolerated. But smacking a woman on the butt and saying “big testicals” in her face is “something to work around.” The real problem here is that socially, women’s rights has always been viewed as a less serious problem than racial minority rights, and too many people, like Penelope, treat them accordingly. To anyone reading this post, the next time you or someone you know is sexually harassed, ask yourself: if this were a racial situation; if this were a black person being called the “N” word by her boss, how would this be handeled, and handle the sexual harassment in the same manner. I also suggest you see the movie “North Country” starring Charlize Theron. I once tolerated harassment because to complain would brand you, and I never felt worse about myself. I also, at a different job, stood up for non-sexual harassment, and lost my job, and I never felt better. I got another job. People are more progressive than Penelope claims. To end, here is a quote from Frederick A Douglass: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are those who want crops without plowing the ground, they want rain without the thunder and lightning, they want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waves. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. POWER CONCEDES NOTHING WITHOUT A DEMAND. IT NEVER DID, AND IT NEVER WILL.” The entire foundation of this country is based on those who stood up and took a chance, not those who tolerated abuse and appeasingly smiled their way around it.

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      One of my favorite quotes by one of my favorite civil rights heroes– but sexual harassment doesn’t equate to racial discrimination.

      The dynamics of the former are completely different. Penelope acting well-within her own value system and simultaneously rose through the ranks in her company.

      That’s why they call her a Brazen Careerist– a title well-earned. And that’s why I’m trying to learn from her.

      I admire her courage, fortitude, and prudence under these very trying circumstances.

  15. mazzi
    mazzi says:

    Penelope.. i think you're a Real genius. There’s Nothing bad at all about Penelope’s thoughts. Remember ..it could be argued to the bitter end that there is really NOTHING WRONG with BYPASSING SOMETHING BAD, such as sexual harassment itself. Bypassing something bad has MANY GOOD benefits. It is a GRACEFUL approach, and it possibly also demonstrates INNOVATIVE WISDOM and TACIT INSIGHT . it is like applying a quite and silent Master Plan that works in the background like MAGIC with No loud bells and whistles. If we accuse Penelope of COWARDICE, we must cite CLEAR benefits for being a RUTHLESS and foolish BRAVERY TOUTER. If you get NOTHING for being brave, your bravery is in VAIN and is flawed in some way or another .. if you’re some kind of hero who is OUT TO CHANGE the whole world, but your bravery fails to benefit YOU, then you’ve failed yourself..cuz you've Lost, you're a DEAD HERO. Don’t try to MAKE the world a better place for a Million people if you CANT make it a good place for YOURSELF ..becuz something is NOT right in that way of reasoning.. you CANT preach success by exhibiting SELF-FAILURE ..that’s what we could call REAL MADNESS!! At the end of the day you must exhibit PERSONAL SUCCESS in the ideas and thoughts you engage in .. as a Wiseman once said it, The difference between genius and insanity is only measured by success.

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      Well, I’m not sure about the last statement, but in general I agree with you. She very deftly bypassed something that most of would agree is highly undesirable.

  16. Ashanta
    Ashanta says:

    Wow. Normally, I like your column. You seem to have very innovative ideas while realizing that your practices will not work for everyone. I usually try not to look at the comments submitted by others because they often seem to unfairly attack you directly, almost as if there are a few people out there who would like to see you fail.
    But this time, I think you may have missed the mark slightly. I agree with some others here that each woman should handle sexual harassment as she sees fit. For me, I usually try on a case by case, however, working in male dominated jobs over the last 7 years has somewhat dulled me to sexual harassment. In fact, I was once counseled by my boss that some of the newer women felt that I was not an ally in dealing with the juvenile males that we worked with or the juvenile-acting male staff. I will admit that I sometimes judged these women as being overly sensitive to issues that could have easily been stopped with verbal redirection of kids and coworkers. Behavior that I worked on changing, but still refused to handle the situations for these women unless it required my intervention as a supervisor. They were themselves in a position of authority and should have taken appropriate action as counseled.
    I have been discriminated against due to both race and gender and not reported it for fear of repercussions (I watched as a coworker suffered through a suit against the company we worked for and should have stood with her), but no one has ever touched my body. In fact, I think a man would have to be out of his mind to try and that must come across in my body language.
    I have reported sexual harassment in writing. It came in response to the supervisor that did it filing a written complaint against me for calling him unprofessional. My actions were not in retaliation, but in response to the HR Director’s request for a mediation between us. After I submitted my statement, the request for mediation went away. As far as I know, that supervisor is no longer working with that company (not because of my actions, but I’m sure because of his own). I think your advice was a little over the top. Each woman should decide if she is married enough to her ambitions to put up with the nonsense that you have had to (which you may be) or if she is willing to look elsewhere if she should decide to blow the whistle. This should be an individual choice, and she should know that there is sisterhood out there for her.
    I think your comments this time, were a little irresponsible.

    * * * * *

    Thank you for the comment, Ashanta. I think what you wrote could actually apply to most of the posts on this blog. It’s a career advice blog, so I’m constantly giving advice to people about what they should do at work. But every work situation is a little different, and there is an exception to every rule. So when you read advice from anywhere, about anything, you need to stop and ask yourself if it applies to you, in your situation.

    That said, I think we make a better decisions for ourselves if we understand what is true for most people.

  17. BIllie
    BIllie says:

    I response to mazzi above, the only failure is a person who doesn’t try at all. That is true failure. There is nothing vain about bravery if you lose in the end. For many years individual women lost rape cases becaue society was not evolved enough to understand the seriousness of the crime. Their bravery was not in vain. They personally lost, but they helped pave the way for others. Putting up with harrassment to achieve commercial success is a tactic, and it may be a tactic that works for you, but I wouldn’t call it innovative or graceful. I think it is harmful to tell women on a blaknet level that under no circumstances should you complain about sexual harassment if you want to keep your job. If Penelope were more responsible, then her article should state “things to consider if you’re thinking about complaining about sexual harassment.” Not, “if you want success in your career, then you better shut up, tolerate, and find a way around it!” In my opinion, that is failure

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      I think this is quite a straw man argument, since Penelope never said (or even implied, in my view) what you claimed that she said.

      I agree with you very strongly, on the other hand, that bravery on behalf of a just cause is never truly in vain. It may very well help pave the way for the future.
      This truth does not negate Penelope’s advise.

  18. BIllie
    BIllie says:

    I am a white person, so I admit that I may be completely off mark, but I think one of the reasons why you would never see an article like this being written about racial minorities is because racial prejudice involves men [even if the particular instance is directed towards a minority woman] Socially, it is not expected of men to be appeasing and tolerate harassment. It is ok for men to get mad and seek justice, but women are whiners and bitches if they do so. Men are rightfully fighting for justice, women need to understand their place if they want to succeed. Here’s a hypothetical for you: what if a straight or gay man was being sexually harassed by other men? Never would you see an article telling that man to tolerate the sexual harassment if he want’s to make it in the world. He would probably be called a wimp for doing so. It is still socially ingrained for women to have more “pleasing” personalities, and they will be punished if they’re not. This article is a sad statement of sexist affairs that expect women to tolerate things society would never expect men to tolerate.

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      We agree that racial issues and sexual harassment issues have completely different dynamics. However, I suspect that some of what we women view as “sexual harassment” might be viewed as “innocent flirting” among a group of gay male employees and managers. If it edged closer to a more coercive situation, I see no reason to believe why his gay companions would not proffer the same advice as did Penelope.

  19. mazzi
    mazzi says:

    my response to Ashanti. Guys..Penelope’s point is about the RISK of LOSING a job or being out of a job and having a bad reputation in the job market as a result ! .. Penelope’s point is NOT about the RISK of your self-esteem being lowered or the personal pride of women being diminished or righteousness in the world, morals, etc in fact, that’s what she’s advising us to REFRAIN FROM ..becuz we are dealing here with the risk of losing one’s professional reputation and ultimately one’s job. I’ve noticed that too many people who comment here are actually commenting WAY OUT OF CONTEXT. Please read the original posting of Penelope and comment on what IT SAYS.. not on other million possible SIDELINE topics!!

    “the only failure is a person who doesn't try at all” …what kind of statement is this exactly??

    So are we saying that if i Don’t TRY to make any sexual advances to a woman i am a TOTAL FAILURE becuz the only failure is a person who doesNT try at all??

    NO, NO, NO.. that CANT be true, right!! Perhaps the reason i DONT try is that i am just NOT interested in participating in that activity.. To NOT try is NOT the same thing as FAILING. In fact, you stand a chance of FAILURE ONLY IF YOU TRY, Not the other way round, Ok. You stand NO chance of failure if you choose Not to TRY in the first place. Please guys ..Let’s NOT confuse each other by uttering things that sound plain weird and crazy.

  20. BIllie
    BIllie says:

    No one’s out of context mazzi, you just clearly view this differently from the rest of us. In fact, I think you’re the one out of context equating an old adage such as failure lies in not trying with hitting on someone at work. Under your philosophy, let’s just do nothing at all. Let’s not try anything, and none of us will be failures, correct? Don’t bother going to college, and guess what? You wont’ fail college! Congratulations, you’re not a failure – you never failed college! Don’t run that race, and guess what? You won’t lose! Good for you! You also won’t ever win either. It sounds crazy to you, because you clearly don’t understand the true meaning of it. If you truly believe that only people who try fail, and people who do nothing don’t fail, then you’re the one who misunderstands. Yes, you’re right – Penelope says nothing about self esteem and personal pride, and that’s why the rest of us are angry with her blog. There is a deep history of women and racial minorities being treated unfairly at work and are too scared to do anything about it because they’re afraid of losing their job or reputation. I don’t think many of use view Penelope’s blog as helpful in that arena.

  21. BIllie
    BIllie says:

    And mazzi, if you’re not trying because you’re not interested in the activity of standing up to a harasser – good for you! But many women want to try, and shouldn’t be discouraged with the fear of losing their job or reputaiton! That is unjust and sexist.

  22. mazzi
    mazzi says:

    “I think you're the one out of context equating an old adage such as failure lies in not trying with hitting on someone at work”

    ….what exactly does this statement mean?? you guys certainly seem like you’ve been trained to write UNclear statements. This statement seems like it is over-generalizing my earlier point and encompass EVERYTHING under the sun within one simple sentence!

    this is what i said, you can read it again if you did Not (slowly):

    if i Don't TRY to make sexual advances to a woman, are we saying i am a TOTAL FAILURE becuz the only failure is a person who doesNT try at all?

    i need your comments precisely on this statement above, it is a statement about TRYING ..Trying to make sexual advances to a woman.

    the reason i believe many people in here are commenting out of context is that they did NOT seem to read what Penelope SAID (what she actually wrote down!). they seem to over-generalize or over-simplify her actual STATEMENTS, and that is probably the root of all the controversy.

    Everytime when you over-simplify someone’s statement you are potentially causing it to APPLY to MANY *other* situations, are you with me?? ..or are we going to COWARDLY dismiss my point by taking the “agree to disagree standpoint”

    ..in fact, (BTW this is on the sideline) everytime u hear some1 saying Lets-agree2disagree you can bet he/she CANT stand for the statements that he/she ACTUALLY made ..and 4those who love to diminish everything as Cowardice ..that’s what i’d consider pure COWARDICE.

    i will NOT comment on ur “let’s do Nothing” statements just yet, as it might inadvertently reveal all my cards to you prematurely.

  23. Dafe Charles
    Dafe Charles says:

    Thanks for sharing your comments. Most people would not agree with your comments. Why? Because you are a realist! A lot of people can not handle reality, no fault of theirs becuase reality bites!

    But the earlier people get to grips with reality, the better we’ll all be. Sweeping it under the carpet doesn’t cut it, but looking for subtler ways of dealing with it (like you did) sure helps.

    Especially in places like Lagos Nigeria (where I am) where the legal system hardly works and at best is hopelessly slow.

    I’m sorry women out there, bitter as penelpoe’s views are, please try to imbibe some of them. It might not work exactly the same way, but i’m sure the results will be better.

  24. Terri
    Terri says:

    To me, it all seems that this all boils down to one of two things:
    1.) Don’t report the harassment and keep quiet for the sake of personal gain.
    2.)Report the harassment and suffer the personal consequences for the sake of change.

    * * * * *

    Yes. Well put. But recognize that the problem is with the law, not with one individual company. So the time you should risk your job in the name of reporting sexual harassment is when you have a case that’s good enough to establish new precedents with the law. There are not many cases like that. Most of us would be better off sticking with our jobs, gaining influence in the business world and creating new workplaces that are in sync with our values.

  25. Terri
    Terri says:

    Why do you see the law as the only source of change? The law doesn’t stop people from using the N-word. If you use that word in most settings, however, you’re going to be ostracized or worse. It’s social repercussions (and moral consciouses) that keep people from using that word. The recent Don Imus incident is a similar example. What he said wasn’t illegal, but the public outrage resulted in the cancellation of his show.

    There’s also the issue of personal dignity. How would you react if someone slapped your butt outside of the workplace? If I had to guess, you’d do something about. When that happens in the workplace and there is money at stake, you choose to be quite about it. What if someone slapped your butt outside of the workplace and then offered you a large sum of money? If you accepted the money, you’d be a few steps away from being a prostitute. Accepting harassment and molestation in order to advance one’s career brings new irony to the phrase “working girl.”

    * * * * *


    There is a lot of space between putting up with harassment and going to human resources. For one thing, you can can tell the harrasser that what they did was not nice. The Association of University Women found that most men who harass on campus had no idea they were doing it. I find that the people who are the most adamant about reporting sexual harassment to authorities are not women who have families relying on them for money. Losing a job in that circumstance is a big deal.


    • Tina
      Tina says:

      I’m impressed with Penelope that she doesn’t react when to insulting insinuations which only underscore the very “Catch-22” nature of the situation in which she was placed.

      Isn’t what you’re saying very much in line with accusations that when women are raped and don’t “fight back,” this means they really wanted the sex, and that therefore no real rape actually occurred?

    • Kristen
      Kristen says:

      I’d just like to say, (to Penelope’s response on the comment) That the “they do not know any better” attitude towards someone who is quite bluntly sexually harassing people is the very reason why society today ACCEPTS such harassment on women. You are victimizing the assailant. Which quite frankly, makes you look disgusting to many others. Regardless if you believe you are helping women ADVANCE in their careers, or put food on the table. There is always another job for someone. If you are looking to put food on the table, find somewhere else to provide that for you. Do not look in the comforts of staying at the same job, just because you can advance by patting those disgusting assailants on the back saying “it’s okay, you don’t know any better”.

      You disgust me.

  26. Terri
    Terri says:

    You can’t presume that just because someone doesn’t have a family doesn’t mean that they are less dependent on the money. I’m single without kids but have health issues that are more expensive than several children put together. Loosing a job would be a very serious problem for me.

    As far as telling a harasser that what they did wasn’t nice, don’t you think the guy who slapped you on the butt or grabbed his testicles knew that what he did wasn’t nice? You wrote in your column that one of your bosses said “I want to hug you, but it would be illegal” (to your defense you did say something to him). Clearly, he knows his behavior is wrong. As you mentioned in your article, these men do these things when there is no one around or no one is looking. So, what I’m talking is standing up for yourself and bringing the behavior of such men into the light where everyone can see just what nasty bastards they are. For example, when someone puts their hands on a woman in an unwanted fashion, she could say something to the effect “[Insert harasser’s name here], take your hands off of me. You will not put your hands on me again.” If there are people nearby, she could say it loudly. Then she could let the other women in the office know to beware of the harasser. If other women who are being harassed know that they are not alone, they will be empowered.

  27. mazzi
    mazzi says:

    Indeed the cost of losing your job for reporting harassment can have a very negative effect on you *personally*. Just think about it, after you report the harassment and (as an assumption in line with this topic) let’s say you get fired or you quit ..Now you’re out of a job. Now let me ask a serious question..

    What do OTHER women out there do for you ??

    They will all sing glory and praises for your bravery. They will all agree with each other that you did the RIGHT THING. Ok, well, all said and done, you’ve shown all due bravery and you’ve accomplished a good deed for women in general. Now let’s ask ALL those women to each DONATE 10% (or maybe just 7%) of their monthly income to support you since you’ve DONE a very GOOD DEED for women in general and you’ve shown BRAVERY and DETERMINATION and you’ve even sacrificed your job for THEM too (you didNT just do it for yourself becuz you’re NOT a selfish gold digger, right?)

    What do you think they’re gonna do?
    They will probably ALL LOOK AT EACH OTHER and LAUGH TO DEATH!! They’ll think you MUST be really paranoid! So do you see the bottom-line of it guys? Do you see the bottom line??

    You see guys it is ONE THING to talk about doing SOMETHING RIGHT, but it is totally ANOTHER THING to DO IT! In this case above, the RIGHT THING that the other women should do is to jump to your rescue right away and donate to cover your salary IN FULL since they can clearly see that you’re out of a job for an UNDOUBTEDLY GOOD CAUSE in their favour, but as to whether they’ll actually DO THAT RIGHT thing or NOT, we can only WONDER!

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      I’m glad someone finally made this point. It is a fine thing to preach high ideals, yet quite another matter to act upon them.

      Having paid the price for having acted on principle, I wish I had had someone like Penelope to guide.

      However, I AM proud that I had the courage of my convictions, and I reaped that internal reward as well.

      Live and learn.

  28. Terri
    Terri says:

    My experience, in general, has been that other women have been incredibly helpful and supportive of me. Perhaps this is because we are such a minority in our field and we feel the need to stick together or perhaps I’m young and a little naive.

    If everyone has the attitude that they are only going to look out for themselves and their own family, nothing will ever be accomplished in this world. I challenge you to look at various instances of social change. Look at the Abolitionist Movement, Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Rights Movement, and the Feminist Movement. Each of these movements are marked with individuals who each did things that collectively helped bring about change. What these people did came at a great personal cost, which was often much more than just loosing a job. People had families to support no doubt. Every single one of us enjoys the fruits of their labors. Think about the Montgomery Bus Boycott, for 381 days working class people refused to use the bus.

    I’m not suggesting that we have to be martyrs, but we can’t be parasites. We can’t just sit around and enjoy the benefits of the world we live in without giving back. Speaking of families, what kind of message do we send our daughters if we work so hard to earn money to provide for their needs and send them to college only to have them enter a workforce where they have to put up with this kind of indignity to get ahead? Imagine for a minute that your child has to go through what you did.

  29. Terri
    Terri says:

    One more thing, I should hope that all the women who are reading this would confident enough in their own abilities and resourcefulness not to be afraid of what would happen to them if they should loose their job unjustly. Women have come this far under worse circumstances, surely we can go further given what we have today.

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      I was plenty confident, acted on my principles, and lived to find out that finding my place in the world was nowhere as easy as I thought it would be.

      Perhaps it’s not as simple as you say.

  30. mazzi
    mazzi says:

    well, as for the daughters.. we DONT “send any messages” .. we WALK THE TALK. In fact, for the daughters it will actually be “plain sailing” for them ..you know why? they would be Learning from the Masters :-) ..if women Listen carefully to what Penelope is saying and apply it as adviced, there will be NO reason for the daughters to have a hard time since the daughters will feed from their mothers, who will have MASTERED this art of NAVIGATING through the harassment, ..what Penelope is teaching is an art, it’s a skill people. It’s Not a cowboy trick to be dismissed as “selfish financial gain bla bla”. It’s a skill like any other skill in the workplace such as those subtle skills used by Marketing and Sales gurus.

  31. BIllie
    BIllie says:

    I’ve thought about this a little more and realized something based on the corporate culture of my first business job. Please don’t accuse this comment as snotty, but it was a company where most workers didn’t go beyond highschool and it was lower end office work. They didn’t have the education to move up or the company wasn’t big enough to make a latteral move. They can tell the harasser that what they did was not nice, but their requests fall on deaf ears. After all, you can’t force someone to take you seriously. These are the people I feel for the most because I feel they are the most stuck. They probably will lose their job if they complain, yet they stand a lesser chance of being able to manuever around, get a new job, or work up the ladder and create change once there. I have no solution to this scenario. I only state that some people can’t manuever as easily as others, and are caught between having to put up with harassment or losing their job. For most people, sexual harassment is putting up with poorly tasted comments, but for some, I assume, it can be more serious and intimidating. I don’t like the idea of having to choose between your job and feeling intimidated at work to pay the bills. I feel for those people the most, and I hope they have a window out. It is up to each person to decide what’s best for them. There is no catch-all solution.

  32. BIllie
    BIllie says:

    I feel I have to apologize for my last entry because it sounds patronizing. I dont’ mean it to be. I say it from personal experience at a particular company.

  33. male victim
    male victim says:

    I am the victim of female harrassment — in other words I was UNJUSTLY ACCUSSED by a disgruntled female. Based on the current laws —- I was simply — screwed. I feel bad for those women who are harrassed — but the law is simply in favor of women to the extreme. To me Penelope has an obligation to say — NO — to do otherwise undermines these laws. But as for men like me —- the system will screw you — period. Pray you don’t piss off a female with no morals or scruples. It happens – but no one gives a damn.

    * * * * *

    The law is all about helping the company protect itself. If it’s done in  a way that doesn’t break the law, the company’s best interest is often to fire both parties. Both people are often seen as risk factors to the company.


    • Tina
      Tina says:

      Thanks for letting us know, Penelope!

      But I guess you weren’t seen as risk factor to the company because you were willing to be moved without lodging a complaint?

      I would really like to know the answer to this question.

      I am learning so much from you about the work world and how it really works.

      Thank you.

  34. Greg
    Greg says:

    Do you still run into situations where you are sexually harassed and is your advice still the same?

    * * * * * * *


  35. Greg
    Greg says:

    I just can’t comprehend that some guy at work thinks it’s ok to touch a woman’s butt. Seriously, what goes through his head? “Hey, she’s cute and married … perfect, I’ll pat her on the ass.” I’ve never seen any overt sexual harassment at work (I’m a software engineer and the ratio here is about 928374512:1 or something like that).

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      I would suggest that the answer is that they believe that they can get away with it, they feel entitled, the feel desperate for physical contact with a woman whom they find attractive, and they enjoy having power over women.

      In all seriousness, I believe it is likely that you are far more mature than the men engaging in the behavior.

  36. Blake Nixon
    Blake Nixon says:


    I don’t know whether your children are girls or not, but… if your daughter got sexually harassed in high school, would you tell her to leverage it for an “A” in the class? Isn’t that just whoring herself out for completely selfish reasons?? It’s abhorrent to me that someone would advocate trading in dignity and basic human rights for a career boost.

    You might as well get your boss drunk, go a little too far, and tell him that he harassed you last night, but you’ll protect his little secret. $$$ Cha-ching! $$$

    The ” :( ” emoticon describes my general reaction to this article.

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      I think your argument is a bit of a slippery slope regarding the getting-the-boss-drunk fantasy.

      Children and teachers are an entirely different matter, with entirely different legal consequences. You are discussing a very serious felony. Sexual harassment is a civil matter; it is not a crime.

  37. mazzi
    mazzi says:

    >>>if your daughter got sexually harassed in high school, would you tell her to leverage it for an "A" in the class? Isn't that just whoring herself out for completely selfish reasons?? It's abhorrent to me that someone would advocate trading in dignity and basic human rights for a career boost.

  38. mazzi
    mazzi says:

    ….. if your daughter got sexually harassed in high school, would you tell her to leverage it for an "A" in the class? Isn't that just whoring herself out for completely selfish reasons?? It's abhorrent to me that someone would advocate trading in dignity and basic human rights for a career boost……

    well, Penelope’s original topic has more to do with “navigating” than a “hand twist”. When you “navigate”, you *gracefully* find a way *around* the obstruction. You do Not necessarily look it in the eye and confront it… in fact if you do that then you’re doing the exact opposite of what Penelope advises! Just read again Penelope’s very first post at the top and you’ll agree with me that it is “Navigating around” the obstruction and Not trying to engage in some “hard negotiation” or some BARGAINING sessions with the obstruction! The obstruction in this case is the harasser. So basically you Don’t BARGAIN with the harasser… you Navigate around the harasser …you find a way to gracefully avoid him. That’s what takes you to the Top …and beyond the harasser :-)

    Now to comment sharply on your actual words as quoted/written above, how about if we said this below in contrast…??

    If your daughter is being harassed at school, would you tell her to run court cases and miss her classes, stay absent from school and compromise a Full year of study for the sake of some pathetic harasser?? … if you do that, remember that she will probably Not score good marks in her exams or she may have to Repeat that whole year of study as a result of being absent from school (yes for a good cause 4sure) but she may have to explain/justify this gap later on in her career (job interviews, etc). Did you send your daughter to school “to study” or did you send her to become a Heroin & Messiah who carries the world’s wicked problems and the school’s Never ending flow of hooligans year after year upon her shoulders ???

  39. Snusket
    Snusket says:

    Sounds to me as if the author has nothing to complain about? She got the job she wanted by letting guys play their game with her. By behaving that way she probably made a few of them believe that their advances might get them somewhere eventually. Hence the favorable reviews- maybe?

    PS Did you know that a recent survey in Sweden showed that as many men have been harassed sexually as women? I would not be surprised if that was similar in most countries….

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      “By behaving that way she probably made a few of them believe that their advances might get them somewhere eventually.”

      Based on the article that I read, quite the contrary.

  40. CausticStorm
    CausticStorm says:

    Ethics or not, I see what you meant to do. Interesting angle, but I for one am not a person who would take it. Promotion or not, he would have either been fired or had his teeth knocked out.

  41. Beth
    Beth says:

    I totally agree with you, Penelope. While a law student, I took numerous (every one my school offered) employment law classes and read countless cases, and I have seen how much complaining can backfire on someone (think co-worker and supervisor calling a racial group monkeys, and the person who complains about this gets fired).

    As a woman who has been hit on and had inappropriate comments made to in the office by a supervisor more than once and in many different situations, I have learned to just ignore it. The best response to an idiot is silence.

  42. Cheryl Ahmed
    Cheryl Ahmed says:

    I think the harassing incidents in this article are very mild, and I would probably ignore them, too. The more serious types of harassment, such as humiliating, degrading, grabbing breasts, spreading vulgar rumors, making employment contingent on sexual favors, destroying someone’s reputation, etc, are worthy of a fight, and the inevitable backlash.

  43. A victim of Sexual Harrastment
    A victim of Sexual Harrastment says:

    Unfortunately, I would have to agree with Penelope. After changing jobs within the company I was with in an effort to move up in my career, I started being sexually harassed by my new Director (within the first 2 months of being in the job). And this was no mild harassment; it was "I want to have a baby with you" type of harassment. I tolerated it for about 6 months before going to HR to ask if I could be considered for other job opportunities, because I was no longer able to work the long hours the job required. I tried my best not to tell the truth about what was really going on, however for some reason HR then called me in to ask if my then boss had made any sexual advances towards me, at which point I was not going to lie. So I told the truth and that was the end of my career in that particular company. They let my Director go, and I was promised a transfer to a different department. Although they assured me that my claim was going to remain confidential, everybody found out I was the reason he was let go and I was never transferred into a different department. Not only was I not transferred to a different department, but I was assigned to report up to my ex-director's good friend (who wanted nothing to do with me, and took it upon himself to inform some of the people I supported about the incident). People who I had a good professional relationship with started to distance themselves from me, and others would ask me point blank if I had something to do with what had happened. The embarrassment and the combined stress I was under with my demanding job, and this situation was so great that for the first time in my life I had to start taking prescription drugs to sleep and to help with my anxiety. After being on medication for 2 months I realized that things were never going to be the same for me anymore, and I was going to go nowhere within that company. I continued to search for jobs within the company and outside of the company with no luck. At that point I realized that I could not take it anymore, and resigned from my job. The best the company could offer me when I resigned was 1 month and 2 weeks of pay and no one took responsibility for the emotional and career damage I've endure. All of this just because I was honest, and utilized the rights I thought I had. I think it is very sad that women still in this time and age have to go through these situations. I also believe that those of us who have had to pay the high price for utilizing our rights need to come together and speak out to the public so that other women won't have to go through this.

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      Although I did stand up for my principles under adverse conditions, I have not been sexual harassed.

      Thank you for sharing your story. The work world can be a terribly sad and unjust place.

  44. Ashanta
    Ashanta says:

    I am amazed that people are still commenting on this article. I first read it and commented on it June 17, 2007. This is a hot topic. It has been more than a year since I have read anything from the Brazen Careerist on Yahoo.com and her articles used to show up at least every few months.
    I guess I am most disappointed that women continue to have to go through such things as Cheryl has, but more than that I wonder why we put up with so much and don’t fight things sooner when we are stronger; before the weight of the problem has stripped us emoitonally, physically, and mentally.
    Trust me, I am fully aware that psychologically these issues are hard to overcome. Your confidentiality was violated, probably not by your HR dept., but by the perpertrator himself. People distance themselves because they see that what is happening to you is wrong and they are afraid that they will be targeted next if they remain close or supportive, not necessarily because they agree with the status quo (although, that is too often true). These are hard situations to deal with, especially alone.
    Discrimination happens on so many different levels, but only ends with being brought to the light. The idea that it is a man’s world needs to change or that it’s a “white” man’s world. There is only one world, and we all have to live in it. When we see abuse happening it is too easy to stay quiet. Maybe someday we will each find the strength to fight it like so many do – and win.
    Now that I am in Human Resources, much of the training I have gotten to do has focused on how employers have lost cases based on retaliation, emotional distress caused by reporting harassment. All of the things you have experienced at your company men and women have fought and won back and front pay.
    It takes a little more strength to keep fighting for your rights, but I hope you find that strength before the statute of limitations runs out. I didn’t, unfortunately, but had my personal life not been falling apart at the same time as my professional life – I would have.

  45. Catherine
    Catherine says:

    This is obviously a topic which people feel strongly about. One angle which hasn’t been explicity addressed is CHOICE. Penelope had the option to pick anc choose her response. Let us not forget that she only has that choice because generations of women before her have fought the hard fight and put the social principle ahead of their own comfort for the benefit of others. That’s not to criticise Penelope, but to point out she would not be in her position if it weren’t for those who came before. She could choose between staying, saying something, changing jobs, requesting a different department or fighting it in court. None of those options were available to 19th century women chaining themselves to railings.
    Equally as important, Penelope is educated, experienced and in a well-paid professional position in a big company.
    There are thousands of women in America and the world who still do not have the choices Penelope, and others like her, take for granted every day.
    I’m not saying Penelope was right or wrong – just that we need to view her position as a privileged one, and that is was no accident she could choose as she did.

  46. Sally
    Sally says:

    I recently came across Penelope’s blog, so I’m making my way through some of the older entries.

    This one is fascinating. I think the point that Penelope makes is that harassment happens ALL THE TIME.

    My worst situation was a manager (not mine) who used to email me descriptions of my body, ‘jokingly’. He asked me out several times and I continued to decline. He started to critique everything I did, the way I said hello to people etc, even though he wasn’t my manager. After walking back into the office after one of our ‘out the back’ discussions, where I again asked him to leave me alone, I muttered something under my breath about him. He heard it. From that point on he made my work life miserable. He humiliated me in meetings, road blocked my work, etc. I never reported it and I have always felt guilty and that I let my sisterhood down. One of the reasons I didn’t is that he was extremely popular. He was very charismatic, outgoing and a hard worker. In such small, tight knit organisation my complaints would have made me extremely unpopular. That job continues to be one of my favourites. I loved the changes we made there and the vast amount of people we influenced and assisted. My manager at that time is still listed as one of my referees. And I refer to the successes I made in that organisation in every interview I go into.

    I am still wracked with guilt for not reporting it. It has been therapeutic to read Penelope’s blog. Absolutes are not always helpful. Each person has to deal with the consequences of their choices. Ignoring the fact that there are consequences doesn't make them go away.

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      I guess you must have violated your own value system in some way or you wouldn’t feel guilty, but I can’t say that I fully share it.

      The law, in my view, was made for individuals, not vice versa.

      Not to say that I don’t care about the community, but I think that your own needs are much more important than that.

      Yes, Penelope’s post certainly is therapeutic, isn’t it?

  47. Sydney
    Sydney says:

    I’m 21 years old, and I just quit my old job this week for the same reason. Sure I could have sued, but it wouldn’t have fixed anytihing. I just spent the last year laughing it off, and 2 months quietly finding a new job. I’ll never approve of my bosses ( yes, as in in more than 1 boss) comenting on my co-workers breast size size. Or asking to kiss me. Or discussing my butt. I am just here to work because I have to make a living too.

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