Eight years ago, I was a marketing associate for an American medical device company, in charge of all of the marketing in Canada. A large part of that meant supporting the sales team. There was always an expectation that the salespeople would socialize with prospective clients. These clients were either at hospitals or were paramedics, a field that is heavily dominated by white males. The most important part of my job, even though I’m very educated and I have a lot of experience, was satisfying the male gaze.
The saleswomen and the marketing women were pretty much used as entertainment for the prospective clients. The expectation was that after the conferences, we would socialize with clients—dinners and drinks, typically. I definitely understood that my role in coming to those conferences, aside from setting up the booths and doing all the logistical marketing work, was to massage the egos of these men, the prospective clients.
There was an incident at one of these conferences. It’s maybe nine or 10 o’clock at night. People had been drinking and we were all just sitting around the table, shooting the shit. A client was sitting next to me. We had a good relationship, especially because his son worked for our company. He was drinking or taking shots. I said, “Oh, God, are you drinking ouzo? That smells awful.” He responded with a small laugh, then said, “Yeah, come closer and smell.” I leaned in to smell the drink and he kissed me on my lips in front of everybody, in front of my boss and everything.
Everyone laughed like it was funny. I was humiliated because I was in a committed relationship with my now husband. Then I became really sad that no one said a thing—not a single person, not a single one of my colleagues, not even my boss, who always told us that he was there to make sure we were safe and protected. When I looked to him for some sort of help, he had this expression that essentially conveyed shut up and take it because this is a $40 million deal. I was so upset that I cut my night short. The client kept insisting on walking me to my room. I had to run away with one of my female sales reps.
I never agreed to socialize after that. I didn’t tell my husband until six years later. My boss and I were really close before then, but after that incident, I didn’t trust him. I felt I had nowhere to go, there was no one I could talk to about this situation. He wasn’t an employee of our organization, so if I had gone to human resources, there’s nothing they could do.
The female sales representatives that I worked with were skinny, white, and blond whereas I’m curvy. A lot of people, when they look at me, aren’t 100% sure what my ethnicity is, so they exotify me. All the women knew that we were the objects of desire. In fact, it got so bad that I started doing it to the sales representatives, putting them in positions where I knew that it would please the male clients. That’s something that I very much regret. I was young, I was naive, I didn’t understand the reality of what we were doing.
I’m more mature now, but this was the first real job of my career. I was scared of losing it. I was scared of being the one who says something and then is kind of blacklisted by everybody, so I kept quiet. I spent a lot of time blaming myself for that moment of humiliation. For a long time, it made me feel very little, very small. I felt guilty about not defending myself. It was very clearly a play on power dynamics. I don’t feel the same way now.