Yes, I too have experienced sexual harassment on the job.
I can sense the collective sighs and eye rolling now – a desensitized response that seems to be increasing in popularity.
It happened many years ago and at the time, I’d been only one among several victims at the same place of employment. Our harassment included outright grabbing (this went far beyond the simple cheek of an ass – not that any form of it is acceptable), disgusting sexual comments and indirect threats of firing. Did I confront the perpetrator? Eventually, yes, but it took me some time, and when I finally did, he stopped – with me, anyway – for a while. He had just begun making advances again when the lid blew off the situation, and he lost his job.
Why am I telling this story? I’ll get to that, but I think it’s important to note that I hesitated writing this post for fear of judgment. Then came the realization that fear of judgment is often why victims don’t say anything in the first place, so piss on it.
Okay, here’s why I’m telling it:
Hypothetically, had this individual not lost his job, and he’d gone on to a far more important position of power and influence – say in politics or the entertainment industry (which he didn’t, to be clear) – and say that a young woman or two had stepped forward in present day to say they were being victimized by him, only to be discredited by a subsequent media frenzy – would I step forward after 30 years to say, “Hey, he did the same thing to me?” You’re damned right I would. I would stand up and defend them in the way that I should have defended us all back then.
And why didn’t I defend us at the time or confront him sooner? Why did it take someone else to bring an end to the whole sordid mess?
It irks me to no end that people have to defend their behavior in these situations, and that’s why I’m writing on this topic. It’s not to tell my story; it’s to illustrate a point.
I feel like I’m continuously bombarded by posts, comments and videos containing both men and women saying things like, “Why are they coming out of the woodwork now?” “Where were all the complaints when it was happening?” And my personal favorite (insert sarcasm here), “Why didn’t they stop it from happening. I did.”
For all of the women out there who suffered sexual harassment and took efforts to stop it, I applaud you, and I mean that with all sincerity. I’m proud of you, and I respect the courage it took for you to take a stand. For those of you who didn’t take efforts to stop it, I empathize with you, I feel your anguish, and I wish I could take you in my arms right now and say, “Don’t let them judge you. You did what you were capable of at the time, and none of this was your fault.”
When did the world become obsessed with this, “You should have,” attitude? Do we not all come from different backgrounds? Don’t we all have unique histories that shaped who we are as individuals? Aren’t there some among us who are just naturally stronger and more capable of standing up to bullying and blatant manipulations of power? Can’t we support each other instead of judging who should have done what and when?
I’m of the opinion that we need to drop the, “They had two legs and a voice. They should have walked away,” mentality and harmonize more on “I’m really sorry that you were violated in this way at all, and I empathize with how the experience – and your reaction to it – were unique to you.”
Harassers are masters of control and sly manipulation, not to mention retaliation. The harassed often learn only to master survival. What that survival looks like for that individual is none of society’s business. Stopping this bullshit and protecting our women from the outset is where we need to focus our attention.
Would I put up with any level of sexual harassment now? Hell no – not for one second, and I’m proud of the strong, independent and self-protective woman I’ve become. I am also, however, tolerant and loving toward the young woman I once was – the one draped in vulnerability and fear trying to find her way in an often very harsh world.
When it comes to sexual harassment, I’m all for judging the action. How about we lighten up on judging the reaction?