I was six weeks into my first job out of college when a coworker grabbed my arm at a company party, told me, “Don’t let me kiss you,” and then immediately did just that. I wish I could say I jumped back two feet and told him to fuck off, but instead, I stood there as he planted his mouth on mine, in front of clients and colleagues, the taste of stale beer on his lips. He kissed me, and I did let him — partly because, after a few glasses of wine, my mind was on a two-second delay. But mostly because he was my boss, and he was the one in control.
When my mind finally caught up with my mouth, I pulled back — and so did he. In a blur, I told him I had to leave and ran out of the Manhattan nightclub. The music from inside dropped to a muffled, pulsing boom as I stepped into the cold air. Shots of panic ran through me. I dialed one of the few women I knew at the company, who had left the party an hour or so before. “Are they going to fire me?” I said, hating myself for not handling the situation better. What the fuck is wrong with me? How did this happen? “Oh my God,” she said. “Okay, this is what you’re going to do: You’re going to hail a cab, get some sleep, and then, in the morning, pretend like nothing happened. It will blow over.”
Except it didn’t. I was one of just a handful of women under the age of 25 working for this old-school media company with a staff of more than 200 people. I’d estimate just 15% of the employees were women — and there were none in top management roles. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised by the reaction to the kiss. I walked onto the floor the next day to find three of my four bosses — all men, all in their 30s — whispering about the incident in one of their offices. I sat at my cubicle, red in the face and shaky from nerves, as I heard my name surface from the murmurs. I stared straight ahead when they emerged several minutes later, the first saying "hello" to me loudly to alert the others that I had been sitting there the whole time (right outside the door, at my desk, which is exactly where I was supposed to be). “Good morning,” I said, barely looking up from my computer screen. Sirens were going off in my head, but I didn’t know how to respond to them.