The debate going on about Donald Trump’s sexually offensive words has me thinking this week about my own experience with sexual harassment. I feel encouraged to share some of this experience, although it feels a little self indulgent to do so. But I feel the need to do so anyway.
I’ll just start by saying that I have never considered myself a “feminist.” No, my daughter is the feminist in the family. She and I have had some debates on the subject, thankfully always in a good spirit, but we tend to be on opposing sides of the issue of feminism a lot of the time. But as I get older and older, as I think more deeply on the subject, as I read the words of others on the topic, I find I am seeing her viewpoint more and more.
I graduated from college in the 80s and worked in a corporate environment for about 10 years. In my experience sexual harassment in the workplace was pretty much an everyday occurrence in that time period. It was during that period that women started speaking up and bringing these things to light, and things began to change in the workplace.
I’m not going to mention any names. Most of the men in these incidents are dead today anyway. I have no desire to malign anyone’s “good” name. And quite frankly, I haven’t overly dwelt on these incidents. I didn’t let them traumatize me or really even bother me that much. Back in that time period most of us women just tolerated this behavior, laughed it off, and tried to make the best of it. I certainly did not have the guts to speak up against it.
That doesn’t make it okay. It’s not. I sure am thankful to all the women who did speak up, who endangered their jobs and positions, and who played a part in making the workplace better for women today, for my daughter today. I certainly didn’t do my part. I tolerated it and swept it under the rug and kept it going.
When I was fresh out of college, I worked at the same place my dad worked. He and I would ride together to work. My dad had worked at this place for many years and knew practically everybody out there in the area where I worked. One day Daddy and I got to work early and walked through my office building, and I said goodbye to him and turned into my office. He kept going out the back door to his office in another building. There was a man who was older than my father who had an office next to mine. He was a man my father respected and sort of catered to a little bit. This man had a prominent management position and was in a position of power. As soon as my dad walked out the back door, this man called me into his office. When I walked in he was waiting for me, and he shut the door behind me and proceeded to bend me backward over his desktop, kissing me. I kind of pushed him away, got up, laughed and tried to make fun of the incident, and opened the door and walked out. I kept it light so this man would not get angry at me. Thankfully he let me go and didn’t try to push the episode any further.
I was 22 or 23 years old. This man was 50 something.
No, I didn’t speak up about the incident. And I stayed on friendly terms with this man. Back in that time period many of us women just played the game and went along. I was wrong to do that. Some of you will blame me for this. I should have spoken up. None of this makes the whole thing okay.
I worked in a medical facility, and our facility performed physical examinations on the employees of the place I worked. I was getting my physical examination one time, and I went to get a chest x-ray. One of the doctors in my department came in while I was disrobed from the waist up, and the technician who was with me left the room. While the technician was out, this man proceeded to lay me down on the gurney and perform a breast examination. He never asked me if he could do this, and breast examination was certainly not part of the occupational physical examination. And even if it was I shouldn’t have been getting an examination in the x-ray room like this. He just did it and acted like it was his right as the doctor to do so.
Again, I was in my early 20s and this man was in his 50s.
No, I didn’t speak up. I let this man get away with that. I was successful in this workplace, and I wanted to stay that way. So I brushed it under the rug. Men will be men, I guess.
Other things happened to me through the years, but those 2 incidents blatantly stand out to me. I still remember the details of those 2 episodes pretty clearly, even though it’s been almost 30 years ago. I didn’t let these things traumatize me. I swept them away and didn’t think about them too much. Like I said, back in that time period this was par for the course in the workplace.
I don’t think Trump has been accused of sexually abusing women in the workplace*, but the whole harassment of women sexually starts with the kind of attitude toward women that he portrayed in that video clip. I’m tired of tolerating this behavior. I’m tired of saying “men will be men” and just excusing it away. I don’t want my sons to grow up talking about women that way and thinking it’s okay to do so. I don’t want my daughter tolerating this kind of behavior, ever.
So 30 years too late, I’m going to speak up and say enough is enough.
ADDENDUM 10/13/16: I was wrong. Trump has been accused of sexually abusing women in the workplace. See the New York Times article here.