Me too: a tale from 1981 – Part 1

August 8, 2019
Young girl looking out the window of a city office building

Young girl looking out the window of a city office building

This is Part 1 of a three part series.  Links to Part 2 and Part 3 are at the end of this post.

The uncovering of paperwork from a ‘difficult time’ back in 1981

On Saturday I finally decided to set aside some time to unpack and find a home for (or throw out) the contents of the last big box packed up during the period when our kitchen was renovated and soon after that, when we had painters in.  It could have contained anything from the kitchen, dining room, or my study/office area.  Yes I still had one last pesky box to deal with. It has been sitting in a corner of the house for probably close to a year now making me feel like such a lazy thing because so many months had passed and I’ve just been too busy to deal with it.  Anyway – it’s been dealt with now!  Hooray!

There was a lot of paperwork in this box, including stuff from my corporate life.  Instead of just ‘shoving’ it somewhere, I decided it was time to do a proper job and meticulously go through it all.  It was while I was doing this that I discovered a large envelope filled with some papers from a time when I was a 17 year old girl working in my very first full time ¹’proper’ job. 

When I joined the #MeToo movement … but didn’t know it at the time

In my very first ‘proper’ job I became a member of the ²#metoo movement though I didn’t know it at the time.  I wasn’t sexually assaulted but I was sexually harassed.  Reading through all these documents as a women in her 50’s made me feel rage.  I am enraged at what happened to that innocent 17 year old girl and how poorly she was treated when she decided to speak up and seek help.  Man, they are lucky this didn’t happen to me today, and they were not dealing with my adult self.  Hell hath no fury like …. anyway … you get the picture!

I’m well aware though that holding rage in ones body is not good for us, so I’ve decided to write about this to help defuse my rage and besides – it’s time!  I want to show the subtleties and variety of acts that can make up sexual harassment.  I want to show how heinous it is to take advantage (in this case) of a young naive girl just wanting to do a good job.  I don’t want this conveniently swept under the carpet anymore.  I want it out there in the universe in all its ugly truth!  I believe you will be shocked and horrified at what I reveal.  I will however tell the tale without revealing the name of the person responsible, or my exact workplace at the time, to protect myself and also his family/descendants.  As ‘he’ was a man in his 50’s in 1981, he could very well be deceased by now, or he would be a man in his late 80’s or early to mid 90’s.

I’m usually one to avoid anything political or controversial here on the blog.  I’m a highly sensitive person and do not have a thick skin, but on this occasion, the discovery of these papers felt like a sign that it was time to speak up for my younger self and show support for all those girls and women still suffering this crap (Is there a better word? I think not!).  It is time!

Life after high school

Before I tell the tale though, let me set the scene.  I was 17 years of age.  I had left school half way through Year 12 (in May from memory).  Yes I know that seems so silly now doesn’t it?!  I was nearly there!  But you see, I was restless, I was in a hurry to get out into the real world.  I wanted independence and I wanted to start earning money.  At that stage of my life I had no interest much in the subjects they were teaching us (maths, science, accounting etc), except for Secretarial Studies – I was very good at that and topped the class in both shorthand and typing.  I could touch type at a very fast speed and shorthand was effortless to me and I was fast at that also.  It was all easy for me.  If I’d stayed to complete Year 12, I don’t think my TE score (which is what it was called then ‘Tertiary Entrance’) would have been very good and besides I never really needed one as it turned out. 

For younger readers:  In those days girls were encouraged to be either teachers, nurses or secretaries and that was about it!  I didn’t want to be a teacher and continue on in the school environment.  I didn’t want to be a nurse and have to deal with sickness, sadness and death.  The obvious choice was to be a secretary, because I was good at that stuff!  By the way, there was one girl in my class who went on to do science and become a scientist. We were all in absolute awe of her!  How times have changed since then. 

As a side note I have to tell a little story about that girl.  Many years later when I was working as a Policy Officer in Government we found ourselves in the same meeting.  I was working in Sustainable Agriculture and so was she.  Same Department, different roles.  Me – policy.  She – science.  Isn’t that an amazing turn of events?!

1980's Typist on a manual typewriter

So, my parents agreed for me to leave school and I then went on to a commercial college and completed a Legal Secretarial course, receiving Distinctions in every subject.  When I graduated, my Shorthand speed was 120 wpm and my typing speed was 70wpm (that was on a manual typewriter!).  I absolutely loved doing this course.  The College was in the city and I finally felt a part of the real world, and I was doing what I was good at and surrounded with like-minded people.  I was feeling more me than I’d ever felt at school, and so much happier.

Taking Shorthand

After I graduated from the Legal Secretarial course, I had been attending classes at the law courts with the intention to become a Court Reporter (recording court proceedings in shorthand).  The courts were very keen to have me on board because I was very fast and efficient (my speeds were now quite a bit higher than when I graduated from the college).  However, you had to be 18 and I was still 17, so I applied to the Queensland State Government (the Public Service) for a job (at least until I was 18 I thought) because I needed to be earning some money.  My parents had told me I needed to get a good stable job and the Public Service is where you found that (back then anyway).

It was so much easier back then to get a job in the Public Service.  From memory, I filled in some forms putting a list of preferences for what Departments I’d like to work at.  I sat a couple of tests – typing, shorthand, and maybe another (I can’t quite remember).  I was applying to be a Stenographer.  I don’t recall all the Departments I listed but I remember that top of the list was ‘Tourism’ as I thought I might be lucky enough to score some travel with that one!

My first ‘proper’ job

So the day came where I received a letter in the mail which basically said that I’d passed all tests with flying colours and had been accepted as an employee of the Queensland State Government.  I was instructed to report to the Public Service Board on a certain date, at a certain time, to find out where I would be working and then I would be commencing in my new position on that day.

As it turned out, I didn’t get any of the Departments I had listed.  Without giving away exactly which Department I had been assigned to, let’s just say it was an important one.  As a Stenographer, I was to report as Personal Secretary to a Senior Officer in the very same building in which I stood.  I was nervous but very excited!

I recall participating in my first ever Melbourne Cup sweep (and winning mind you!) soon after starting in this job, so I’m thinking it might have been late October or early November 1981 when I started.

I was 17.  I was naive and innocent, and I was super excited to be starting my new job!

Come back next week to read how things went from here.

Ciao for now,

¹  ‘Proper job’ means my first full-time adult job. Previous jobs had been casual part-time teen roles, eg. checkout chick at Coles.

²  The #MeToo movement, with a large variety of local and international alternative names, is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault.

POSTSCRIPT:  Here’s where you can read PART 2 and PART 3 of this story.

 

 

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21 Comments

  • Reply Joanne Tracey August 8, 2019 at 7:53 am

    I’ll be tuning back in next week for the rest of the story. I was the first in my family to go to uni – of course, thanks to Gough, it was free back then. I did an economics degree with a political science major but I think, actually know, my parents assumed I’d be a teacher and get married. Because that’s what you did, right?

    • Reply Min August 8, 2019 at 1:44 pm

      Well done to you for your Uni degree Jo! I think you’re a bit younger than me? Out of the five kids/siblings in my family, I have a brother and sister who both got uni degrees (younger than me of course) and yes it was all free then! In hindsight I wish I had got myself a uni degree for that reason. I didn’t think I was smart enough for uni but I know I was and am – but now it all costs too much money. My interest in academic pursuits came later in life for me. At 17/18 I wanted to have fun – parties, dancing – and I was in a hurry to live in an adult world and gain my independence. Knowing what I know down I’d love to tell my younger self – slow down, there is no need to hurry!!

  • Reply Lydia C. Lee August 8, 2019 at 7:59 am

    I get very uncomfortable with these stories. So many of us put up with so much shit. And worse, for some. I am glad young women are strong enough to speak out.

    • Reply Min August 8, 2019 at 1:45 pm

      They’re not pleasant but they need to be told so that it is known what girls and women have had to put up with and that it has to stop! Young women of today are so much more informed and confident and courageous and I’m so glad.

  • Reply Natalie August 8, 2019 at 8:00 am

    Hi Min – Sorry to hear that you had experienced sexual harassment at a young age. I hope with the #MeToo movement and better health & safety training for new workers, less young people will be subject to harassment at work. By blogging about it, you may help others to be vigilant and know what to do if it happens to them. #lovin’lifelinky

    • Reply Min August 8, 2019 at 1:50 pm

      It was a long time ago Natalie and not something I dwell on but reading the papers again just recently it I did stir it all up again and as a mother now and being much older, I felt the need to write about this to show/educate on what sexual harassment is – though there are many different experiences and variations of what may take place. I just hope that by telling my story, it is of some use and helpful to others.

  • Reply Vanessa August 8, 2019 at 9:37 am

    The one thing I have learned from my own experiences in this matter is screw the internal policies, go to the police. Internal is meaningless. I know there are issues with prosecuting any of this and it’s by no means easy, but I feel it has more significance and meaning than some internal chat where it gets swept under the rug. Sad though that I think of this in the context of when it happens again, not if.
    The public service sounds so different from today; but when I worked in it, I did have colleagues tell me about these types of entry exams. I’m not sure the current application processes are an improvement – they made little sense to me when I worked in the public service and have changed since and make zero sense to me now.

    • Reply Min August 8, 2019 at 1:56 pm

      I did go external to report this problem and seek help – you’ll see in upcoming posts (I think I may need 3 parts to cover this). I hope that these kind of incidents are handled with more equality and fairness these days. I worked in the public service off and on during my corporate career – last being there in 2012 – so yes I did see a big change in how things operated from back in 1981 (chalk and cheese really) but did not experience sexual harassment in those more recent years there so can’t comment on whether the process to handle it has improved (but I would hope so)!

  • Reply suzanne vosbikian August 8, 2019 at 10:10 am

    Hi Min, god, we were so naive. I’m happy that young women today have the vocabulary and the nerve to confront these issues. I’ll be back to read volume 2.

    • Reply Min August 8, 2019 at 1:58 pm

      Hi Suzanne, yes very naive indeed. I see the whole thing with much more clarity now from the age of 55 and it sickens me. I’m happy young women today are much more informed and confident to confront these issues too and I hope that they get the proper support and fair treatment that they deserve also!

  • Reply Erica/Erika August 8, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    Hi Min, You brought up many memories in this post. Without going into details on my end, a number of #MeToo incidences, especially in my Teens and 20’s. Likely every woman can relate. I also relate to the typewriter and the shorthand skills. An important post, Min. Thank you for sharing. You have come out the other end as an amazing woman:)

    • Reply Min August 8, 2019 at 2:01 pm

      Hi Erica/Erika, I’m sorry to bring up old memories for you! I had a number of #metoo incidences throughout my life too but this one is the most prominent and upsetting one that I recall. Thanks so much for your lovely words at the end of your comment! 🙂

  • Reply Amanda August 8, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    Oh my gosh. I can relate to a lot of what you wrote. I have never suffered assault but harassment was very common. I am sorry that you weren’t listened to and it is very cathartic to write about your experiences. Well done!
    I also worked in public service for a few years. I wanted to leave school and become a secretary and my parents wouldn’t let me. I always felt disadvantaged because I never learnt shorthand or typing. (of course I taught myself touch typing anyways). Shorthand is a dying art, and I always admired it, as it seeemed like another language. Nice to meet you here. I will follow on along with your stories.
    Amanda

    • Reply Min August 8, 2019 at 3:50 pm

      Hi Amanda! Yes it was very common back then (and still now it seems!). I’m sorry that you can relate to what I wrote because it means you obviously experienced harassment as well. My parents finally relented and let me leave school mid way through my final year because I probably drove them crazy with my pleads! Also, because I was quite obviously talented in the secretarial field and not interested in the academic side of things (back then anyway) so it really was a waste of time trying to keep me there at school. I still remember some shorthand but my speed would be terrible now! lol I think I could pick it up again though because I really did find it easy for some reason. Hopefully I’ll see you back here next week for Part 2. Lovely to meet you! 🙂

  • Reply Christine August 8, 2019 at 8:18 pm

    Many years ago I also did shorthand, but as part of a three year (much broader) degree! Unlike you, I didn’t love it and was pleased to leave it behind. Getting into the public service is certainly pretty different these days , isn’t it? There used to be a Public Service exam , at least there was in Canberra for Commonwealth roles. Still a stable job once you manage to crack a full time position. I’ll check back to find out what happens next.

    • Reply Min August 9, 2019 at 9:29 am

      It certainly isn’t as easy these days to get into the public service – a completely different process altogether and dependent on what level you’re wanting to enter at and in what type of position and if you’ve worked in the public service before and so on. I think I may have done a general public service exam as well as the shorthand and typing exam back in 1981. See you next week for Part 2!

  • Reply Deborah August 9, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    Isn’t it weird to think how much things have changed even in our lifetimes Min?!

    • Reply Min August 13, 2019 at 11:01 am

      Yes it is! It’s incredible how much things have changed and progressed even from when I was a teen. Makes me wonder how much things will change in my children’s lifetime!

  • Reply Janet August 9, 2019 at 6:27 pm

    I want to know what happened! Sadly I had a bad experience not long before I got married so around 1989. My (male) workmates thought it was hilarious that we didn’t live together and left porno magazines open in my desk drawers to “educate” me, had pictures of topless women hanging above their desks. Another (old) fellow used any excuse to touch me if he was passing. Ick. When I complained I was basically told to build a bridge and get over it. Like you, I was too young naive and shy so left that job as soon as I could.

    • Reply Min August 13, 2019 at 11:02 am

      Not long now and Part 2 will publish. I’m sorry you had a bad experience too. Ugh! I think that there would be very few females that have not had some kind of harassment of this type during their lifetime, which is a sad thing.

  • Reply Alicia OBrien August 20, 2019 at 10:12 am

    Oh I remember those manual typewriter of high school. I distinctly remember my typing teacher, and her voice as we did dictation.

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