The sexual harassment accounts against Harvey Weinstein and all the ones following it saturate our news cycle. Each day, more information comes out, and not in the typical drip – drip fashion. Instead, it’s a tidal wave of one bombshell story rolling in after the next. First person accounts from women bravely coming forward with stories of his lecherous and predatory behavior. The interactions often began as a ruse for business meetings then devolved into Weinstein in a bathrobe or naked, inappropriately touching, cajoling, threatening or even masturbating.
Now that you’ve held back the vomit at the thought of Weinstein lumbering around a suite at the Peninsula, exposing himself, a conversation is born. Many people ask, why didn’t these women speak up sooner? I want to ask, if it happened to you, would you speak up?
My answer is yes, but many years later. Speaking from personal experience, sexual harassment has happened to me twice. One time I spoke up, and the other time I did not. The first time, I was in college working at a temp agency for the summer. My assignment was at a local company where I was typing (yes on a typewriter) for one day. An executive came up behind me and looked at the document over my shoulder. He started talking, then he began rubbing my shoulders. I froze for a moment then kept typing and prayed his hands didn’t go anywhere else. Thankfully they did not. As a 19-year-old, I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t tell anyone, but knew it was wrong.
Five years later, at my first job out of college, I was speaking with a local supporter of the organization. Upon answering the phone, I was greeted by the voice on the other end saying, “Hello, this is your lover.” I wanted to respond “gross, you’re my Dad’s age!” Instead I said, “Hello Mr. X, let’s discuss the information…” I moved the call along as quickly and professionally as possible.
This time I told someone, a male colleague, who was also a friend and older. I relayed what happened and saw the shock on his face. He said Mr. X drank at lunch and seeing that the call was at 1:30 p.m. was probably fueled by booze. Regardless, my friend was appalled and said he would handle it. True to his word, my friend called Mr. X the following morning, and told him to knock it off with ALL women at our organization, or there would be consequences. I found out years later Mr. X entered rehab for a drinking problem. Is that an excuse for bad behavior? Absolutely not. Once he was warned and as far as I know he behaved.
Did I fear retaliation, like women do when they report sexual harassment by someone in a position of influence in their world? Sure, I was nervous. I lived in a small town and wanted to avoid drama at all cost. However, I’m glad I told someone the second time it happened. If I was in the same situation today, would I confront Mr. X or the executive? Absolutely. With age comes wisdom, confidence and a low tolerance for bad behavior. With each explosive, salacious Weinstein like story, another conversation begins. Another woman gains the courage to report a situation, seek help liked I did, or say directly without fear of retaliation, “Stop, you’re making me uncomfortable,” or worse, “Get off me a*#$%!”
The outing of Weinstein and the many other powerful male executives for sexual harassment that have since been reported, speaks to many things: a culture that gave consent through its silence, open secrets aren’t really secrets, and overbearing, blowhard creeps sometimes are more than jackasses – they are sexual predators. Weinstein made or destroyed careers with one phone call. But through one interaction with him, numerous women have carried shame for decades. Shame that it happened, shame that they didn’t turn him in and prevent it from happening to someone else. But by speaking up now, collectively, they have kicked, no, batter rammed the door to this conversation wide open.
I didn’t carry shame for my two incidents. I am Catholic, believe me I have plenty of shame for other things. And, my experience was mild compared to Weinstein’s victims. So why now?
For my niece and the young college women I am in grad school with weekly. I want them to know they never have to stay silent. They can be like my friend and stand up for another woman, and tell some perv to knock it off or report them.
The Harvey Weinstein’s of the world are out there, but so are men like my friend who call out the bad behavior. Silence, gives tacit consent. So, speak up, tell someone, anyone. Whether it’s today, tomorrow or 20 years later – be brave. You will feel better, and hopefully keep the door wide open.