- uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (such as an employee or student)
The day of reckoning for sexual harassment perpetrators is clearly here. Starting with Bill Cosby, then Fox TV's Roger Ailes, then Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, Al Franken, George H.W. Bush (who actually hugged me at the Hotel Fort Des Moines in 1980, after he spotted my 'Bush for President' badge,) men who harassed are finally losing what was most important to them: power. Hearing all the #MeToo stories made me think of my own, through the decades.
The first time I remember a man trying to take advantage of me, I was all of 11 years old.
I was at the Kane County Fair with my best friend and sister, trying to win a stuffed animal. For some reason, I just couldn't hit the mark.
"Don't worry, I can give you a stuffed animal," said the carnival worker. He was about 40, I thought. Looked like he'd done some hard living in his time. He was grizzled, with teeth missing. "That is so nice of you!" I said. After all, I'd spent all my money trying to win a stupid stuffed animal.
"So, what'll you do to show your appreciation?" the carnival worker smiled, a gap-toothed, leering smile.
I was completely unaware at the time that his conduct was called sexual harassment. Absolutely unaware.
His question stopped me in my tracks. For a minute, I thought of what I could do...hug him? Kiss him on the cheek? Hey, I wanted that teddy bear! No big deal, right?
"Al, come on, what's the big deal?" my sister said. "I want my turn!"
But then, I thought again. For a teddy bear, I'd kiss a man my father's age?
HAH! My kiss or hug had to be worth more than a teddy bear, I thought.
Every emotion must have shown on my face as I thought it over. The disgust, the compromise. Was I willing to do this for the sake of a teddy bear? Was I?
The man must have sensed my conflict. He backed off. I left without a teddy bear. But I felt I'd still scored a victory for myself.
I told my parents. They were shocked at his behavior. What he did, they said, constituted sexual harassment. They were proud of me for resisting.
Refusing that man was the first of many decisions I've had to make in my life.
Back then, 'nice girls', as my mom kept telling me I was, just didn't 'give it up.' Not before maturity. Not before it was a mutual decision to love each other forever (and get married).
And as the eldest, I had to 'set an example' for my sister and brother. I'm sure they never thought they needed an 'example.' If anything, my sister wanted to be my opposite.
I guess I was lucky that way in high school. All the guys I dated back then also had limits. Mostly, they didn't want me to get pregnant.
As a result, I was still a virgin at the time I entered college.
When I was in college, sexual harassment came in the form of boyfriends wanting more than I willing to give. I think I was lucky again, given the stories I've heard of college professors having flings with their students. None of that happened to me.
But I did have a very serious boyfriend my first semester of college. We thought we were going to get married, eventually. I spent lots of time with him...and as my relationship with my female roommate got worse, he was a refuge in time of trouble. But heck, I was 18, he was 19, and we started spending nights together. Not 'doing it,' just holding each other.
An episode of 'That 70's Show' brought it all back to me:
Eric (Topher Grace) and Donna (Laura Prepon) were considering having sex. Like me, Donna wanted the hugging, the kissing, the caressing, the closeness. Just not the sexual contact. Yet. They agreed to spend the night together. Eric got undressed, got into bed, and was waiting for Donna. "Eric, I'm just not ready for this," said Donna. "I want all the stuff that leads up to this."
The episode, 'Prom Night,' is described by the website 'Episodes Reader:
Prom Night (Season 1, Episode #19)
Eric rents a hotel room intending to have sex with Donna (which doesn’t happen). Midge wants to start her own business, but Bob opposes the idea. At the end of the episode, Kelso and Jackie get back together at the prom and Hyde takes Pam. The episode features Gloria Gaynor as the music teacher performing the hit I Will Survive.
The script called for Eric to be a nice guy. To wait for his beloved Donna. He didn't have to wait long.
That wasn't the case with my boyfriend. One night, he'd just had...enough of the waiting. He'd warned me that this would happen. And he took me down by force.
It's now called 'date rape.'
To this day, I still blame myself. Why? I regret I lacked the courage to just break up with him.
As I moved into the working world, I think I was luckier than most again, but I still had issues.
It was in the second year of my internship in radio. As an intern, I spent much time with the sports director of the station, a man I considered my boss, and he'd come to the conclusion that we should have a relationship.
After all, we traveled together to cover games. Why not...use this as an opportunity for a relationship?
The problem was, I wasn't attracted at all to him. I told him so. Many, many, many times. "That just gives me more impetus to pursue you," he told me. "I'll just work harder."
For six months, he made my life hell. Inappropriate touching. Berating me at sporting events...loudly. Threatening me with ruining my reputation.
I prayed for an out. Thank God, I was offered another job in sports media and could leave.
After these experiences, I listened to the voice inside of me. I won't, and haven't ever compromised my values for the sake of a job or a toy. And as for a boyfriend, never again did anyone try to use their sexual power to get an advantage over me. I wouldn't stand for it. And I will stand with other women against abusers everywhere.