Before we get started, I just want to say that some of what I’ve written below may be triggering for some people.
There has been a lot of talk of late about sexual assault and harassment of women in the news and on social media, presaged by the outing of Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual predator. The fact that such men exist in the world is no surprise to anyone. However, it does seem we have reached a tipping point, both in what we are willing to accept as hazards of the workplace, and more importantly, how silent we are willing to be.
I haven’t had much experience with sexual harasment at work, except for one drunk boss at a Christmas party, but I am familiar with the stranger type of assault.
I was in my early twenties and my best friend and I decided to cook dinner for our guys since her parents were out of town. She cleaned the house while I went to the store for the vittles.
As he passed me, the only thought in my mind was, “there goes trouble.” But he didn’t go. He grabbed me from behind, with one hand clasped over my mouth and the other hand groping around my body. It was the most stunning and terrifying thing that had ever happened to me, but my natural inclination was to fight. To make it worse, I heard a woman screaming in the distance. I figured if I could just get this asshole off of me, then maybe I could go and help her.
It didn’t occur to me until much, much later, that it had been my own screaming that I’d been hearing, but I did manage to get him to let me go–and then I wailed on him until he ran into traffic to get away.
What did I do? I kept going to the store. It didn’t occur to me to report it to anyone but my friend. You see, I’d taken a shortcut through a sketchy area. I wasn’t wearing a bra. I had (fill in a hundred other reasons why this was my fault). Then there was the guilt of surviving the attack relatively unscathed, when many other women in my situation ended up much, much worse.
I gave up beating myself up over this a long time ago, but to this day if you come up behind me you are likely to get a punch in the head. I have released the energy of this event, except from the most primitive part of my brain that still wants to fight.
I share this story, because the time for silence, for fear, for hiding, for shame, for leaving ill-treatment unchallenged, for not believing each other, for feeling isolated is over. It’s time for us to recognize our power to intervene, to speak out, to transform the system. In other words, to fight.
I’m in it with you, and if I can do anything to help you, I’m here. Even if it’s just to listen.