Sexual harassment is nothing new. It’s been the dirty little secret that we’ve swept under the rug for a long, long time; something we have tolerated for decades as a sort of rite of passage for women in and out of the workplace.
Thanks to some very, very brave women, the tide of sexual harassment being a dirty little secret is no more. They’ve come out in vast numbers, which to me speaks more about our skewed acceptance of the “practice”. For years we’ve tolerated this behavior; or simply been too afraid to admit we’ve suffered through it.
For the record, I cannot recall ever being sexually harassed in the workplace. I do recall a job interview when I was twenty, and the interviewer specifically asking me if I was married or involved with anyone. I responded with no, and he smiled. He stated he was happy to hear that; that relationships deter from the job he was hiring me for. I took the job, and remained there for five years, too naïve to understand that the bad behavior I brushed off in the interview would continue until the day I handed in my resignation.
While I have no idea how these brave women feel by telling their truth, I do know what it’s like to be harassed by someone you care about; someone who supposedly cares for you too. My first boyfriend was a master manipulator. He sweet talked me about everything (how pretty I was, how important I was to him). Once I was successfully hooked, the tables turned. He excelled in passive aggressiveness, making off-the-cuff statements like, “I really don’t like it when women wear makeup or paint their nails.” The makeup and nail painting girl I was back then – the constant pleaser - hurried to strip myself of any and all attempts to beautify. During our “relationship” he talked me out of money, isolated me from my friends, and when he had me right where he wanted me….he dumped me.
In retrospect I realize how abusive he really was. It was only when I was stupid enough to take him back a year later that he actually got physical and tried to hit me. Thank God I’d wised up in that year we’d been apart and I walked away with my head held high.
Being a woman is powerful. We can bring children into the world. We are natural caregivers. But we’re also very good at accepting less than we deserve. I certainly don’t speak for all women. I do believe that this notion we’ve been raised with – to love and obey (which I despise, by the way) – has lead us down a slippery slope of thinking we have to tolerate bad behavior of any kind. Sexual harassment is NOT okay. Passive aggressive abuse is NOT okay. Treating any woman as an object – sexual or otherwise – is NEVER okay.
I believe that I went through those few years of putting up with my ex’s crap so that I could learn from it. After the heartbreak faded, the courage took hold. After the fog of new loved drifted away, I learned how easily it was to be manipulated. I made a promise to myself to never allow it to happen again. I certainly learned to take what I’d been through and educate my daughter. Although she’s not yet very experienced with men or relationships, she is very, very wise. She’s not going to allow someone to sweet talk her, make her empty promises, or try to woo her into bed. Sure, she will have her share of heartbreak. We all do. My hope is that even while her heart my take some hits, she will still rise above and be the tough woman we raised her to be.
I do worry that the more women who come forward, our culture will become desensitized to it as we have too many other things. I would hate to see our society respond with… “oh yeah, it’s just another news story”; moving on. It’s NOT just another news story. It’s a human story. A story that requires our culture to change in many ways. We have spent too many years (probably stemming from early years when women were to be seen and not heard, barefoot and pregnant, and to never hold jobs) where our culture has continued to perpetuate harassment. And both sexes have accepted it; women silently hurting and men easily casting it aside. Men laugh it off when they comment on the size of a woman’s breasts or butt, and women slough it off as “men just being men”. The tide must change. And thanks to all of these brave women, it is.
Sadly, we live in a society where middle-aged white men rule. The good ol’ boys way of doing things and behaving badly needs to end. This turning of the tide is good start.
I’d also like to give credit where credit is due: to the sweet, loving, decent men out there. Not all men are bad. Not all men believe it is acceptable to treat women in bad ways that will affect them for years to come. I know many good men; men like my husband, my father, my son, who understand that just because we’ve been silent all these years, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. Men who truly believe that women should be cared for, well loved, and above all respected. These good men should not be lumped in with the men who feel it is okay to marginalize or sexualize women.
Thank you….to all of the brave, empowered women who came forth and told their truth. Stepping out from behind these men and saying NO MORE will go a long way in ensuring we women are treated well and the respect we deserve. It takes guts to do what these women have done, and though they may not realize it yet, I believe they’ve helped the generations of women that will follow us in ways we may never know. So for myself, my daughter, my mother, my niece….I thank you.