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Sexual Harassment

I’ve thought long and hard about whether to write this post, but after listening to pundits and people on the right describe it as “no big deal”, and “why can’t these women just take it as a compliment?” I felt I had to.  So, here goes.

I went to law school in the first big wave of women entering the profession.  A number of our male classmates actually thought the woman would type their briefs for them (our vehement refusals, and out Dean put a stop to that notion).  I remember my first day on the job at a corporate law firm when I was researching in the library, and I hear a  babble of male voices yelling, “Charlie’s hired himself a _girl_!  Where’s the _girl_?”  The all rushed into the library, and stared at me, and I proceeded to scratch my side and make monkey noises to their shock and then embarrassment.  Another time the senior partner’s son-in-law and I were researching in the library and he declared.  “I’d like a cup of coffee.”  Again I responded by saying, “Why thank you.  I take mine with a lot of cream.”  Problem solved, he never asked me to get coffee for him again.

I bring up these incidents as examples of cluelessness on the part of a certain generation of men, and situations where it’s not necessary to go to def con 3.  There are times when as a woman we just have to hold our own, and I have been known to say to women who I thought were being far to precious about things to “butch up, ladies.”  Men jape and shove at each other verbally, and if we’re going to work and compete in the world we have to learn how to give as good as we get.

But this is all very different from sexual harassment.  Just as rape is about violent assault and not about sex, so too is harassment about abuse of power and not about sex.

I have endured sexual harassment in the workplace and it is ugly, and stressful, and leaves you in constant fear because you know your job is on the line.  At one of my jobs my boss would insist that I come to his office for consultations at 9:00 o’clock at night.  Everyone, secretaries, gophers, etc. had gone home, but there I was taking notes while he alternated between giving me notes and telling me how the best f**k he ever had was with a woman from N.M.  My response was to keep looking down at the page and say, “well, you better go look her up.  She might still be available.”

At a meeting in front of some 23 other people he insisted I sit next to him at the table, and he proceeded to grab my leg, and run his hand up under my skirt, and under the guise of whispering something to me, put his tongue in my ear.  

Those of you who know me personally know that my inclination was to deck him on the spot, but he had picked his moment well.  We’re in a meeting.  I didn’t want to make a scene.  It would have been humiliating for me and embarrassing for the other people, and if I had slugged him I would have been fired, and I needed this job and I wanted this job.

So, I endured it in silence, and left the job when another was offered.

I decide to write this not because of Herman Cain.  It’s pretty clear that public performance art project of a campaign is over, but because of the reaction from the talking heads, and the fact the press soft pedals this calling it “inappropriate behavior.”  It’s not inappropriate anything, it’s an abuse of power and authority pure and simple.  And it isn’t something only women endure though that is the more common event.  Men can be sexually harassed in a job too.  Bottom line — it’s serious.  It makes for a toxic work environment, and it’s not a compliment.  Trust me on this.  

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