It’s not just Hollywood. It’s big business. It’s small business. It’s walking down the street. It’s all over America. It’s the President of the United States.
I’m a woman of a ‘certain age’ so I remember when sexual harassment and discrimination were not only legal, but expected. Decades ago the laws changed allowing for women to make a legal stand when they were victimized, but they didn’t. Did the abuse stop? No. The bad boys lawyered up and new ways were found to keep women in their place.
I was once an actress and singer and I can attest to the fact that the casting couch was a very real thing. I also worked in the business world for most of my life and can tell you that the abuse was just as unbridled there.
I am sure that most women have experienced some form of harassment or discrimination, we just don’t know exactly what to do about it. We whisper in hallways, hinting at wrongdoings and guiding those women coming up after us. Some men stand silent and some join in. My story is not unusual and I won’t bore you with every detail. Here are just a few personal examples:
- At 19 a professor suggested I should share his room on a college acting tour.
- At 21 I was asked to show my “tits” at one of my first professional auditions.
- At 23 I was force fed alcohol by two partners of a reputable law firm in the reception area for all to see. One held my head back and the other poured the brandy down my throat. They thought it might change my mind about drinking with them in a private office.
- At 25 I quit a job because of unwanted advances from the business owner. My options were unemployment or sex with him in a dark office above the Ed Sullivan Theatre. I chose unemployment.
- At 28 I was groped by a work superior in a taxi ride home from a holiday party.
- At 30 an older man that I barely knew put his paw on my thigh and offered me a Manhattan apartment and a generous salary to live there. He didn’t name specific duties, but they were clear. I never saw him again.
- At 35 I was denied a promotion because my “tits” were distracting.
- At 40 I got a much-deserved promotion, but had to report to a man who made twice my salary because people would better accept a man in a technology role.
- At 45 I lost my job to another man because men were better-suited to technology, even though I had been the innovator at that company and in the field.
- At 45 I sought the help of counsel. The lawyer looked at me and said, “You were there a long time and you’re an attractive woman. You must have had a few affairs there, what dirt do you have?” I asked him if he had daughters and walked out the door.
- At 50 I was too old to get a job even though men who were my peers seemed to be able to get a job. I was asked out on a few dates.
- At 55 I was co-host to an educational seminar where foreign heads of state were present. I was the only woman. While I was ‘permitted’ to be at the table, when I spoke, the foreign dignitary actually waved his hand as if swatting a fly away. When I responded, it was as though I wasn’t there. None of the other men said anything either.
- At 60 (actually a week before my birthday) I was ‘laid off’ and my job was given to a man that had no experience in my field at a significantly higher salary. Two points of interest here: 1) within a few months the man was fired for not being able to do his job; and 2) the small business owner had on several occasions shared sexually explicit stories with me and would tell me I was sexy, saying he’d hit ‘that’, referring to me, with other colleagues present.
An avalanche of women are posting #MeToo, flooding social media sites in an effort to remove their shame. And yet, there are still those that blame the women. They were dressed too provocatively. They didn’t speak out loudly enough or soon enough, or with enough conviction. The blame is misplaced. It is the men who are the perpetrators that are to blame. It is the men (and some women) who are silent when they see and hear inappropriate behavior.
There must be both criminal and financial consequences for the perpetrators and for those who stand with them in silence or there will never be parity. Victims cannot be made to account for the transgressions of their perpetrators. All of us, the countless #MeToo’s, must not be afraid. I fear that those who go first will lose a lot. They will lose all the things that made them not speak out. They will lose their livelihoods, their credibility, and their professional standing.
I wish it wasn’t true, but I am sure that it is. I am a strong and respected woman who has been a victim time and time again, and yet, in spite of the current climate and the distance of more than a year, I feel that making a stand against my last perpetrator would have no impact on him or his business and only harm me both emotionally and financially.
It is hard to imagine that I am alone.