I’m surprised and glad the day has come, given my own experiences as a young single woman on my own supporting myself in the 70s and 80s. Stuff happened, bad stuff. But let me say here, also, that in my own long history, I encountered so many more good men of kindness and character. And the men I said “No” to, for whatever reason, stopped what they were doing, and I was never assaulted. For that I am grateful.
I’ve been pondering this – about sharing some incidents that happened when I was a teen, at my workplace. The first involved my boss, the owner, who asked me to accompany him to a location remote from the main business for some purpose, and so I went along. When we were some distance away, out of sight, he parked and started kissing me – the first time ever kissed by a grown man-- although I didn’t want to. I was so surprised, I let it go for a few minutes before pulling back, doubtfully. He wiped his mouth, started to drive away, and never said a word, then or after. I learned quickly to become “busy” and engaged with customers or a job if he came around.
In another incident, also at the work place, a customer came up from behind, put his arms around me and squeezed my breasts. He had me pretty firmly, but I elbowed him and stepped away, only looking to see who it was and give him a dirty look. I remember thinking, “You old geeser” – although he was probably in his 50’s. I wasn’t so much afraid – I could have gotten away, but I was disgusted and offended. I didn’t say anything then. Who was I going to complain to – the boss? On another occasion, on another job, my new boss asked me out for dinner and drinks ON MY FIRST DAY – saying afterwards he’d like to go out again. I had to say NO – in fear of risking my job – which he accepted, but it made for an awkward situation. Waiting tables at a "fine establishment"? Forget about it; hands everywhere.
From those experiences, I was wary and careful about being alone with men in the workplace, or other situations out of the public eye – including conferences where there was lots of drinking – early to bed, lock my door. I know that other women handled things differently. And, let’s be real, there are women who have used looks, sexuality, etc. as a way of getting what they wanted, when other forms of power were so much harder to get. But if I had a daughter, I wouldn’t want her hampered or limited in opportunities because she was made to feel uncomfortable at work – that’s just another way of keeping someone “in their place”-- because it’s part of the power structure that has existed and been reinforced by silence.
It NEVER occurred to me to complain or ask for help. And I thought I was a feminist! I thought it was normal to dodge guys who did or said something inappropriate. What’s weird is I remember reading a passage from a book – Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, (I think) – that compared a young, unmarried woman on her own, between the safety of father and husband, as “hare” on the run from hunters in pursuit. And I thought we were so far removed from that day!
How did we reach the tipping point after so many years and so many incidents, so much silence, and so much disbelieving? I can only conclude that enough younger women, emboldened by the gains of women in terms of power and economics, are just not willing to take the inappropriate behavior – to go along. The actors and celebrities who started the protest against Harvey Weinstein had reached a social, emotional and psychological place where they decided it was worth this risk to speak out. Then the #metoo movement gained traction from women and some men of all ages, adding their stories. I know this hasn’t been everyone’s experience – men or women – but I know enough people, certainly women of my age group, who went through this. And kept silent.
I’m glad these people spoke up. I never reached that point of speaking publicly – until now – when those men are long past accounting for. But I have told these things to my husband and my sons – and told them, too, I will be silent no more.