Let's Talk About Sex(ual Harassment): Just Because You Don't See It Doesn't Mean It's Not Happening

Today I feel like I’ve finally reached the top of a sand dune and can curl myself up into a ball and roll down for a little while before I have to climb the next one. I feel like my skin is a momentary oasis instead of a battlefield. I feel as indignant as a late summer sun.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Disappointed, but not surprised.

That’s how I felt this week when I found out my husband’s former boss was accused of sexual harassment. With all the stories coming out about Harvey Weinstein, more women in media felt safe to address their experiences, and I celebrate them for their courage and mourn for their trauma at the same time.

Several women have come forward about this man, and the DM’s and emails they share are nauseating. He doesn’t even try to hide what he wants, and he diffuses each and every sexually inappropriate comment with an “lol”.

I can see that it’s been on my husband’s mind, and I'm sad that it had to happen to his friends for him to truly realize the tragic nature of it all. I think it's a surprise for so many men.

Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

So many women feel like they have to put up with unwanted sexual advances or comments because their job, their livelihood, is at stake. In this particular case, women had gone to HR and nothing was done about it. They then had to decide whether to leave or stay on their own accord.

It happened to some employees girlfriends - and they were threatened with the loss of their partner’s jobs over it.

Women are expected to bend to fit the needs of men in power, because truly - who has more to lose? A man who is going to continue to profit and succeed despite his disgusting comments, or a woman who is just getting on her feet financially and professionally? (And not to mention that women have to work way harder to get the same career opportunities as men).

To The Men Of The Internet:

Ask a woman that you know (if you know any) if she’s ever been made to feel unsafe because of her gender identity. Then get really, really quiet and fucking listen. Because maybe you’ll hear echoes of things that you’ve done or said, and maybe you can learn a few things about how different our experience is than yours.

Maybe you're like, golden, and you don't feel like you have to change anything. In that case, listen more closely. Don't just shrug off these issues because you think you're the exception.

If you don’t have a woman in your life, you can listen to me.

I consider myself fortunate to not have had such extreme interactions, although this week has brought up some memories that I had genuinely forgotten. These are my stories, and I’m sure you or the women in your life have some version of these stories that they’ve worked to forget as well:

I remember being a preteen walking to and from the neighborhood pool, and on more than one occasion being followed slowly by men in cars. They would circle the block and come around again, to the point where my friends and I would run the rest of the way home.

I remember being on the beach during spring break and college-age men inviting me (18 years old) and my cousin (15 years old) to party with them. I said no, and they tried to coerce us into hanging out with them. We finally just walked on, to their frustration, and when they called our attention back to them, one of them had his naked butt hanging out of his swim trunks.

Cool, you showed us.

That same cousin and I were jet skiing a year earlier while visiting my grandparent’s lake and we kept doing donuts until we fell off the jet ski. Because that’s what you do in Indiana. A couple young men jet skied over and leapt into the water to “save” us. I don’t remember the details, but they definitely got creepy enough around my cousin for me to yell “DUDE SHE’S 14.” They jetted away so fast that they left their true intentions lingering in the waves around us.

I was in an office situation in college where a male colleague of mine would come into my office, lock the door behind him, and sit and chat with me. He would try on my sweaters, ask me inappropriate questions, make himself at home. I remember trying to play it cool but I was still shaking, not sure if I was going to have to make a run for it or yell for help at any moment. It went on for a long time because I knew that I still had to work with this person, until I finally spoke to the (male) leader of the group about it. I was grateful when the locking-me-in-my-office moments stopped, but I still faced questions like “why have we never dated?”

During a Mad Men-themed day at the office, I had a male colleague look at my 60’s-inspired workwear and tell me “I feel like I should have you take notes for me or something.” Oh, what a laugh we had. It’s small, but it was a very clear expression of dominance that makes me cringe to this day.

Still not convinced?

One of my dearest friends would get called into a male colleagues office, where he’d show her pictures of young women he claimed he’d had sex with. As it got worse (and more personal), she felt cornered: tell HR about him and be a “tattle tale” or let it continue and just wait until she had enough experience to move to another company. I continue to admire her courage for choosing to tell HR. Ultimately, that man was terminated. But guess what? She felt guilty.

WOMEN SHOULD NOT HAVE TO FEEL GUILTY FOR THE PUNISHMENT OF THEIR PREDATORS.

Women who tell the world about their experiences are not “bitching and moaning” about things they should just get over. They do not have thin skin, and it's not that they "can't take a joke". They are not intentionally trying to ruin a “promising” man’s life. They are protecting their own lives.

If you have never seen a sexual harassment video (which were all produced in the 90's, I'm sure of it), or somehow the rules don't make sense to you, let me help.

Here’s a quick guide on how to not sexually harass someone:

  • Can it be construed, at all, as creepy? Are you about to say something just because the person you are speaking to is a woman? Don't. Say. It.

  • Do not make a comment about someone’s physical appearance that you wouldn’t make to your sibling. You probably would not tell your sister about how you like to stare at her butt, unless you are Jaime Lannister. Even if you are Jaime Lannister, please do not do that.

  • Do not say anything on the internet that you would not say to that person’s face. Better yet, imagine that your mom is in the room (or the DM's) and is hearing what you say. Make your mom proud.

  • Do not talk about your penis to women who are not an existing consenting sexual partner, or unless she is a doctor and you are at an appointment to discuss said penis.

Some men believe that women should be grateful for the objectification. It. Is. Not. A. Privilege. Or. A. Compliment. To. Be. Objectified.

I am sad and tired for women. Every new piece of legislation seems actively against us, and willfully ignorant of our needs. Every piece of news that comes out is unsurprising, and I’m sad that it’s taken someone directly in our lives for me and my husband to have in-depth conversations about it. I’ve been more open with him this week about what it means to be a woman than I ever have been - and I am sad it’s taken this disgusting series of events to bring it up.

Ladies, tell your partner about your experiences. Tell your children - sons and daughters - and teach them how to treat each other. Ask them in no unclear terms to listen to this important message. And maybe we can work our way towards a less shitty future.

It’s also not lost on me that my experience this week echoes those experiences of people of color in this country - that no one listens until it happens to someone they know and love. Or no one listens or pays attention until the victim is white. Or the perpetrator was "promising" or "a totally normal guy".

My heart breaks for people that I haven’t truly been able to understand because of my white privilege. And I will say to you what I have told my husband to say to his female colleagues:

I am listening. I support you. I believe you. I am sorry. I will try harder.

So much love and strength to you all tonight.