You’ve probably heard about “#MeToo.” In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal, millions of women have spoken up on social media about the sexual harassment and assault they’ve endured.
Of course I’ve been sexually harassed. What woman hasn’t?
To be clear: What I’ve experienced is not in the same category as sexual assault. I can’t tell any harrowing tales of rape. My experiences have been the ordinary, everyday impropriety and misconduct. Nothing devastating. But impropriety should be exposed, too, to show how prevalent it is.
So, here goes my litany of culprits.
The 30ish priest, adviser to a high school club, who tried to make a pseudo-girlfriend of 16-year-old me.
The older photographer who cornered young women in the darkroom to kiss us.
The composing room guy who patted our rears and said of course we knew he didn’t mean anything by it.
The art director with whom you couldn’t talk without hearing sexual jokes.
The male supervisor who asked whether I wore a bra.
The sportswriter who compared women’s bodies. He once sent the female managing editor a misdirected email about what a nice ass she had. The male reporters thought the incident very funny.
The married men on my jobs who came on to me. I was in my 20s, and they both had power over me.
What did I do about any of it, to whom did I complain? No one in power. It never occurred to me that there was anyone who would listen and do anything about it. In truth, it probably never occurred to me to even try. I likely thought, boys will be boys, these things aren’t unusual. I didn’t shun any of these men and even spent free time with some. I used to jog with the sportswriter. He was a nice guy if you could get him away from the sexual innuendos.
So, what’s the point here? That sexual harassment is not just the isolated behavior of monsters like Harvey Weinstein. Ordinary “nice guys” are guilty of it, too. Seemingly small offenses like jokes and unwelcome attention and standing too close can make the person on the receiving end feel uncomfortable and diminished.
As I look back now, I realize that these long-ago, supposedly small incidents must have affected me more than I admitted if I can still call up details.
I’d like to think that things have gotten better because the environment was different in the Northwestern University office from which I retired in 2015 after 25 years. I didn’t experience or notice any overt harassment there. Maybe it’s because I had three female bosses. Or because I was older and less innocent. Or because Northwestern employees are too sophisticated to blatantly harass. Or because the Northwestern years were more recent, and society has progressed.
Let’s hope things have gotten better. With all the “me too” stories coming out, it might be naive to think that. I saw evidence that harassment/impropriety/misconduct — call it what you will — still happens, and not only to young women: In an RSVP to a Meetup event for people over 60, a man called us women “hot chicks.” Perhaps he thought it was a compliment.
The purpose of #MeToo, in the words of actress Alyssa Milano, who started the callout with a tweet, is to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem." Awareness shouldn’t be the end of it. Changed behavior should.