The first time I felt harassed was as a teenager. It was an anonymous phone call I received from a man who claimed he liked watching me at our neighborhood pool. He made lewd comments about how I looked in a bathing suit and when I demanded to know who he was, he hung up. Luckily I never received another call but for the rest of that day I was nervous and angry. I only told my best friend and I avoided the pool for a long time.
My story is similar to other women who recently shared their past sexual harassment and assault experiences after the “Access Hollywood” tapes in which Donald Trump boasted about grabbing and kissing women. The stories I read ranged from what Michelle Obama described as, “that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares just a little too long,” to far worse. The deluge of testimonials was hard to ignore and highlighted the prevalence of these occurrences.
The Trump tape is part of many attacks against women by Trump and his surrogates this election season. For example, Newt Gingrich’s irate response to Megan Kelly just for questioning him about the allegations against Trump. It’s another reminder that sexism has been and is still an insidious part of our culture. This issue transcends political party with Democrats, Republicans, Independents and those not politically affiliated as equal opportunity offenders.
Sexism, overt and subtle, throughout a woman’s lifetime, is like a death by a thousand cuts. The cumulative effect over time has had an impact. These experiences have altered all of our lives (men and women) and transformed how women act in the workplace and social settings. This environment has made women tougher while at the same time the objectification devalued us.
There is a common feeling of, “there’s nothing we (or I) could do about it (assault, harassment, etc.).” And when I have talked with friends about unwanted sexual advances we share this sentiment and it’s echoed in high profile stories about harassment and rape. Moira Smith, Alaska lawyer and former Truman Foundation scholar, who alleged she was groped in 1999 by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, she was quoted in The Washington Post, “When Justice Thomas touched me inappropriately and without my consent, I was 23 years old — and felt there was nothing I could do.” This reminded me of when a friend was raped by an acquaintance and we both realized that reporting the incident to police would be far worse than her trying to move past it. The sad truth is we felt there was nothing we could do.
There’s a reason women have this perceived helplessness. Allegations of sexual harassment and violence are hard to prove and the backlash can be overwhelming and harm a woman’s career and personal life if they choose to fight back. Just look at Donald Trump’s discrediting crusade against the women who came forward about the allegations against him. They are all brave simply because they knew by speaking out there would be repercussions. And we saw it play out as they were accused of creating a smear campaign to gain notoriety and maligned for their looks. This is ridiculous on too many levels to mention.
In one case, jessica drake, an adult star and the latest to share details about Trump’s alleged inappropriate behavior, was blamed when Trump implied because of her profession, “she should expect to be grabbed.” By the way, Donald, no one should expect to be grabbed, harassed, raped or sexually assaulted because of their profession.
The most cringe worthy part of the leaked Access Hollywood tapes is hearing people dismiss what Trump said as “locker room talk,” and implying sexual assault is “boy behavior.” A meme had even circulated the Internet shortly after the Trump tapes went public lamenting about how could women like Fifty Shade of Grey while at the same time be outraged about Trump’s genital grabbing comments. Let’s be clear folks, CONSENT is a big deal. No one should EVER confuse a woman who expresses her own sexual desires OR who are sex workers or adult performers, as wanting or deserving the demeaning sexual advances or assaultive behavior by a predator. This feeds an ongoing myth and falsehood that women “are asking for it.” JUST STOP IT.
It’s heavily debated as to what’s acceptable behavior and a fuzzy line has been created about what’s prosecutable too. To pinpoint when behavior crosses the line from compliment to boorish makes the nature of sexism even harder to address. But what’s clear, despite feeling like “there’s nothing we can do about it,” women do take action. They ignore or negotiate around these behaviors, in part, because we know it will always be our word against his. Just look what happened to Anita Hill and the Bill Cosby accusers.
Women figuring out a way through a situation is a learned survival skill. I recall leaving a job because I often bore the brunt of my boss’ bullying behavior and his notorious sexist reputation was troubling. I was asked about this boss by another organization supervisor. “Did he ever touch you physically?” I was asked which was a bizarre and humiliating experience. Luckily the answer was no.
I resigned just a few months later and shortly thereafter learned my boss cornered a colleague in her office and made unwanted sexual advances. I told supervisors that one of the reasons for my departure was because I did not think they would do anything about my supervisor’s behavior. I was assured this wasn’t true, but given my conclusions, this was an indication of the workplace culture.
Complacency is an issue too. My friend was assaulted by her boyfriend and I witnessed the immediate aftermath. The police were called and she was left with a black eye and too scared to press charges. The boyfriend’s friends turned a blind eye and refused to confront him when told what happened. Their inaction was sickening.
I think back and wish I was braver to stand up to the bullies, the sexists, and my friend’s attackers. Maybe this post is to make-up for that in some way. I would be remiss not to mention the decent men I have known and worked with over the years who are friends and mentors. I hate that today’s conversation doesn’t talk enough about these good men. But recent events of this election do remind me of how much work is left to be done to stamp out misogyny and other violence against women.
My experience is just a small example but illustrates what every woman has gone through or witnessed in their lives. Looking back it explains why I always dressed so plainly to avoid stares and has a desire to blend into the background. I think this was simply to normalize my environment. Women shouldn’t have to dress down, be quiet or tolerate this behavior.
Although many of you reading this might think everything is blamed on sexism these days, just think again, because I am not the only one who has stories. Every single woman in America does. But there is something we can do about this. We can speak out, tell our stories and not let people get away with this behavior anymore.