It was roughly a decade ago, when Yasmine Syed was working at an advertising and public relations firm, that her boss asked her what she had dressed up as for Halloween. After telling him she went as a sailor, he proceeded to ask for a picture of her in costume.
“I did recognize that was inappropriate behavior for a boss to address their subordinate in that way,” Syed said.
But she never filed a complaint, in part because she wasn’t sure it rose to the level of sexual harassment back then and because she knew saying anything meant it would change her workplace environment.
“At that point, like so many other women, unfortunately you’re in a position where you have to weigh the fact that you like your job, you like the people you work with, you like the work that you’re doing and what the consequences of speaking out will be,” she said.
Syed said that if the same thing happened today, she would speak out about it because there is more support for women who do come forward, including the #MeToo campaign.
Syed, the Niskayuna town supervisor, said she hasn’t been sexually harassed by any of her fellow Town Board members, but the objectification of women in politics is profound.
“Certainly, members of the general public have made wildly inappropriate comments,” she said.
She said the experience has been eye-opening.
“I never thought it would rise to the level that it rose to,” she said. “I’ve been followed, photographed, questioned about where I live and who I live with, which I know my male counterparts have not been asked those questions. People have pontificated on whether my shoes are designer and who bought them for me, making a crass insinuation. I’ve even had people ask whether I have cosmetic fillers in my face.”
Syed said dealing with all the comments has been hard and she’s had to have thick skin.
“I’ve reached the point where I recognize it for what it is and I can compartmentalize it. I think it’s used as a tactic to delegitimize and diminish a person,” she said.
But Syed said she fears that sexual harassment in politics will cause other women looking to run for office to back out, and that’s unfortunate because there need to be more women in politics.
“I really think that’s the only way there’s going to be meaningful change in people’s attitudes,” she said. “I think men in politics or the political sphere need to do a better job speaking up or speaking out, not tolerating their co-workers’ bad behavior. It needs to be a collaborative effort, not just by women but by men too. When powerful men act badly, and worse, get away with it, it signals that this behavior is OK, and that has profound implications for women in the workplace.”
Syed said she believes Andrew Cuomo should step down and that it’s time for a woman to be governor. She also said there needs to be more training on what sexual harassment is.
She said for any woman coming forward, they should know there is support for them. For those who aren’t comfortable speaking out, she said, they should reach out to someone.
“I hope that they would reach out to other women — other women that are their friends, other women in other sectors to really get advice, get help and get support,” she said.
Today’s stories – All too familiar:
- All too familiar: Local women share their stories of sexual harassment
- Yasmine Syed, Niskayuna: ‘It’s … a tactic to delegitimize and diminish a person’
- Nikita Hardy, Schenectady County: ‘People roll their eyes’
- Ali Schaeffing, Albany: ‘I know I didn’t invite that’
- Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, Schenectady: ‘We need to make sure that people are speaking up’
- Madelyn Thorne, Schenectady County: ‘This should have stopped a long time ago’
- Carmel Patrick, Schenectady: ‘It seemed so universal’
- Elizabeth Canavan, Niskayuna: ‘I had no idea what to say or how to respond’
- Amanda Gonzalez-Barone, Glenville: ‘It gets patronizing very quickly’
- What to do if you think you’re being sexually harassed at the office