Statistics show that 1 in 4 women experience sexual harassment at some point in their lifetime. I think that this statistic is wrong. I think it is MUCH higher. I think that many women are too afraid to speak up or admit that it is happening. In the United States, we are seeing a wave of powerful men being outed for their reprehensible behavior, with two very different outcomes. It seems like about every ten years, sexual harassment comes back into the forefront of our conversations, and then slowly falls back into the shadows. I would like to share some experiences of mine with you today. Though I do not like to talk about it, I know that it is of monumental importance to call the monsters out and not take responsibility for their choices.
Towards the end of the election season in 2016, Donald Trump was accused of harassment by multiple women, and was caught on video talking about how it is ok that he sexually assault women because he is famous. Courageous women came forward and shared their stories, which basically showed a pattern of predatory behavior. The response? He threatened to sue them, they were all liars, and it was a conspiracy against him to harm his chances in the general election. The fact that he was elected demonstrates how people tend to not believe victims, or even blame victims for the predator’s actions. “But look at how slutty she dresses, though.” “She’s asking for it with that red lipstick.” “Well, she should be flattered that he likes her!” “Boys will be boys, you know…”. Somehow, even after all of it, this monster was elected as our president. Some may say, “…but…Bill Clinton!” And to that, I am not disagreeing. SAME! He doesn’t get a pass from me. I don’t care what your political leanings are. If you are a predator, you are trash, and you may want to take a look at yourself and make some major life changes.
Flash forward to Fall 2017. A powerful Hollywood producer is accused of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. The reaction somehow was different this time. He was fired, and he was ousted from the industry. His wife has announced that she is leaving. Men in the industry have denounced the behavior. Perhaps the tides are turning. Perhaps we are starting to not accept that boys will be boys. Perhaps men in power are starting to understand that this behavior is unacceptable. I would love to believe that this is true. However, the ‘casting couch’ has been part of Hollywood lore as long as I can remember. These men have been at this for YEARS. The behavior is well known by the people in their employ, and the circles that they are part of. So why are we so outraged only when women come forward with their stories, detailing the assault? Though I find the support of others to the actresses (and some actors (I see your Terry Crews and James VanDerBeek)) who came out against Weinstein to be applauded, why were you silent for so long?
I am just a regular woman. I am average height, average build, average hair color. There is nothing aesthetically overwhelming about me. For much of my life, and at different employers, I have been sexually harassed. The harassment comes in the form of lewd comments, ogling me, staring at various body parts, unwarranted offers of sex, and inappropriate touching. I want to remind my readers that I have never stated my places of employment, nor will I comment on my employer’s handling of the situations, other than relaying factual pieces of conversation. Each story I share with you is my story. I do not know, nor do I wish to know the intent of the other parties. I will not name names, not in order to protect these people, but rather, my current employer has a clause in the handbook that ill words may not be shared on social media about the company. If you violate the policy, expect to be fired. I want to be clear, I am not posting judgment, nor do I blame my employer for any of these situations. I do blame the predators, and our culture of acceptance at large.
I have a high pressure job, and there are times that I like to take a break, go outside, get some fresh air and perspective, and unwind. I used to walk through the employee parking lot, up one row, then down the next, listening to music and blowing off some steam. As I was walking, a familiar car pulled up next to me, and rolled down the passenger window. It was a man that I have worked with in another department that I generally say hello to and smile when we pass in the halls. I took out my ear bud, and said hello. He leaned over, looked me in the eye, and said, “Hey, I have $20…”, role playing as if I was a hooker and he was a John. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. Whenever it happens, I feel like I am knocked back on my heels and in a daze. Since this incident happened fairly recently, I had at least enough wits to tell him to “F*@k off”. And kept walking. I took myself straight back into he building, held back my tears, sat at my desk, and went back to work. I thought about my outfit, and all of the other exchanges I had with him in the past that might have led him to believe that this would be a good idea, or I would think it was funny. You know, it seems like more often than not, they say, “It was just a joke. Where is your sense of humor?”
A few weeks after that, a different person from the same department, was out walking at the same time I was. He stopped me to talk about a shared project and check in on my progress. I folded my arms across my chest, as I often do, and spoke of the project. Out of nowhere, he reached up and grabbed my watch. The watch on my wrist. On the arm that was folded across my chest. Directly next to my breast. “What’s this?” He asked. I yanked my hand back, and replied, “It’s a watch.” “Oh”, he said. “My wife has one just like this.” One of this man’s subordinates was also present for this, and said nothing. NOTHING. I again, walked back to my desk, reviewed my interactions with this man, and blamed myself. This time, I decided that I’ve had enough. From the years of, “You are so hot”, and “If you ever want to cheat on your husband, give me a call!”, and “I will take you out in the parking lot right now and f*@k your brains out!” I was done laughing it off. I was done accepting this.
I had mentioned a few of my experiences to someone I thought I could trust, and unfortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case. Though I was resigned to head that way anyway, I was summoned to Human Resources, where the interrogation began. I don’t mean for that to sound like a prison camp. It wasn’t. It was humiliating. It was raw. It was awful for me to crawl back through every experience I could remember and lay it all out, bare on the desk, asking for help. I was asked what I would like for the outcome to be of the investigation. I remember saying, “All I really want is to do my job, and not be afraid to go to my car, or have to deal with this anymore. I think it is fair to ask for an environment free from intimidation.” The investigation proceeded. I knew that executives that I have to work with directly had been briefed (and knew my identity), and I know that women from all over the company were being called to HR to discuss possible harassment. Women who were not aware that it was me who caused the investigation would come to my desk and talk about the investigation with nothing but disdain for the woman who reported this. “What an attention seeker!” “I’m sure it’s one of these ugly fat chicks who no one would even look at in the first place!” “Ugh! This is just where we work! Why can’t women just accept that and stop being such prudes!” “Whoever this is, I bet she’s a real bitch!” Most of the time, I just smiled and said, “I don’t know, maybe we should be honest about what our experiences are and not judge someone we don’t know. It must have been pretty bad if they were brave enough to go to HR about it.” My heart was broken. The women I saw as allies and friends were turning their backs on me without even knowing.
You often hear of people reporting acts of sexual crimes years after the occurance and many people start to question why. Is this valid? Is there an axe to grind? Why did they wait so long. I can tell you why. I had everything to lose, and nothing to gain. The sexual predators are still employed. Every one of them. In fact, the fellow in the watch grabbing incident came to my desk a few months later, and was looking down my pants as I sat. I saw him with my own eyes. I reported it to HR. I was asked how I was dressed, if that was a possible provocation for his actions. When he was confronted, he reported that he did not do that, and he thought I was a ‘genuinely nice person’, and was shocked that I was offended by his actions in any way. The fellow who offered me $20 in the parking lot? I was asked if I thought he meant it as a joke, and maybe because I was friendly with him, I should just address it with him directly. Women do not report predatory behaviors because they are often either not believed, or told that the men were probably just joking. Experiencing this clear violation of human dignity once is awful. To recount it again, and be faced with the possibility of having to hash things out with the predator, when often no real actions or consequences are taken seems, at large, not to be worth it. Every time one of these stories comes on the news, it is like PTSD. You are put right back into that place of fear and shame. A fleeting moment of power for the predator results in a lifetime of consequence for the victim. Even after all of these years and all of these experiences, I still cry, I still try to alienate myself from others, and I still attempt to protect myself from every man I come in contact with, even if I know and trust him.
These are the stories of just one of my employers, and they are by far not representative of all of the incidents I’ve experienced. It is also not to say that EVERY WOMAN will experience anything like this, or EVERY MAN is a predator. That is just simply not true. Predators are highly skilled at choosing victims. They choose women who are more likely to blame themselves than to report them. They will choose women who they think a have lower self esteem. They will choose women who they see as weak. Interestingly enough, women don’t always stand by other women in these incidents, as I found out first hand. It was the women who were more accusatory towards me than the men that found out about the investigation. Another piece that I found intriguing in my experiences is that men KNOW other men are being predatory. Men HEAR other men talking about the women they work with in a crude and inappropriate fashion, but are afraid to stand up and tell them to stop. They are afraid of being called a p*ssy, or made fun of, or being emasculated by the same predators. Somehow, these people just keep getting away with it. They keep bullying those who would stand up, and when called out, deny and act contrite, or profess that it was just a joke.
For myself, as hard as it is to keep reporting it, and as difficult as it is to find the courage to stand up to these predators, I have chosen to keep going. I will darken the doorways of HR until they are sick of seeing me. I will continue to tell men that it is not appropriate to call me ‘sweetie’, or ‘honey’, or ‘dear’. I will call their supervisors and inform them of the behavior and tell them I expect that it cease immediately. I am not employed to star in their sexual fantasies. I am not there for entertainment. I am a human being, and as such, I have a right to dignity. If I stay silent, they will continue to find those voiceless others who are afraid and internalize and fear them. My courage will spread to others. My encouragement can change the perspective. My voice, though it is alone, will be joined by another. And then another. And then another. Until our voices are too loud to ignore.
If you are experiencing harassment, please, be brave, share your story, stand up and say no. It is not your fault. You did nothing to provoke or ask for this. I would also like to point out that it doesn’t matter what you wore that day. Men who are trash will act like trash if you are wearing burlap sack. Do not let ANYONE victim shame you. Do not worry about protecting the predators. Even if you just want to share with a spouse, or a close friend, or a sister, do it. Cleanse yourself of their bad behavior. Don’t sit silent as their eyes wander all over your body. Even if you don’t believe me, I believe you. I believe your story. I believe that you have a right to have your dignity restored. Come, join my single voice when you are ready. Let us be a force for change.
“Back down the bully to the back of the bus, ‘cause it’s time for them to be scared of us!” – Third Eye Blind, Wounded
Oh yeah, of course, you are probably NOT crazy!