For every social media claim of sexual misconduct made in the world of celebrity, I see three more from everyday women telling their stories; stories of degrading comments, of desperate efforts to deflect unwanted advances from men determined to have their way, and of painful assault.
But there are also stories of change, both positive and negative, the way the incidents changed the individual and their approach to the world around them, and their sense of self. These stories will not make headlines, they will not lead a charge, or be used as a battle cry. Still, they are just as worthy of our attention and focus, and I wanted to feature a few.
These women are strong, powerful and determined. I am honored that they agreed to share their experiences with our readers.
Sexual harassment and assault occurrences do not discriminate by age, gender, or occupation. Many were even faced by women during their school years by teachers, coaches, and other men they thought they could trust.
Mr. B was my 8th grade science teacher. He was what the kids called a ‘hands-on’ teacher. We sat in rows of work tables where we conducted simple experiments and wrote up our lab work. Mr. B used to walk the rows as he taught. It was his habit to stop and massage the shoulders of any girl who gave a correct answer or asked an ‘intriguing’ question. He would get angry, yelling at the class if no one would speak up. Most of the girls would pretend they didn’t know the answers because often Mr. B’s massage was not limited to the shoulders, and if you were wearing a shirt that allowed it, his sausage fingers would slip into the collar of your shirt. Once, he called me into his office during class. I had answered correctly on a test something I said I didn’t know the day before. He made me sit at his desk and write him an apology, saying I would always answer in class. I could see my classmates from where I was seated, while Mr. B massaged my shoulders and the tops of my breasts as I wrote. He chattered on about how he knew all the science teachers in the high school and if he said I was a bad student, they would fail me. I never told anyone. When I was home from college, my mom said the big news in town was that Mr. B had been fired. Someone braver than I came forward. – D ; healthcare
There are unfortunately incidents that young people face such as the above, and they never come forward to tell their story out of fear or stigmatization. What is even more frustrating, is when they do come forward, some are reprimanded for it. It should never matter who a man is, what position he holds, or the influence he may have. If he assaults a woman he should be held accountable. This next story shows just one of the deterrents some women face when coming forward.
My friend’s daughter is 16 years old, and she was working at a bakery, and she was slapped on the bottom by a wealthy, older man. But it wasn’t just a slap. He cupped his hand along the curve between her legs, groping her. Her immediate reaction, unaware who had just grabbed her, was to turn around and slap the individual. Moments later, her boss came up to her and said ‘Do you know who you just hit?’ She said ‘I don’t care who I hit. He just smacked my bum and groped me!’ The woman said ‘Well, that’s the owner of *omitted* and he could get us in a lot of trouble for you doing that.’ – L ; administration on behalf of a 16 year old girl
Due to the fear of retribution within the workplace, girls just don’t step forward.
‘When I worked at the movie theater where I live, one of the other workers used to grab my butt. I finally told him off, and I wish I had said something to my female boss. So…I do regret not speaking up’. – K ; undisclosed
These incidents leave a mark on us years later, and irrevocably change how we interact with the world. We are never the same regardless of the degree of force or situation. We find ourselves questioning if it was our fault, how to avoid it happening again, changing the way we approach everything we do, and how we interact with everyone around us. The event was not our choice, but in the end, it changes us.
When I was 16, I was raped by a person I trusted and loved. It took me many, many years of brushing it off and pushing it aside to acknowledge that it happened and that it’s a permanent part of my life. It took me many more years to realize that it’s affected my life in more ways than I can count. The problem is that not only are most of these symptoms of anxiety and PTSD seen as weaknesses, but they’re not recognized as instinctual fear responses and accepted for what they are. I’m terrified of confrontation. I fear saying “no” because I have anxiety and flashes of the horrible reactions that can happen to me because of that word. I’m conditioned to be non-confrontational and polite because I fear people disliking me…because I’m horrified of them treating me badly should they dislike me. It happened, but I’m not afraid of saying it anymore. I am, however, afraid of telling people and the emotional reactions they constantly have. I’m afraid of being seen as “damaged goods” because I’m a girl and not a guy. I’m afraid of constantly recognizing myself as broken. I’m afraid of people running away from me because of smaller social issues due to an inability for one person to recognize my body language and the word “no.” I shouldn’t be horrified of the thought that my past defines more of my future than I ever can and will let on. I know I’m stronger than this, but I’m not sure society will ever be strong enough to accept me. – K ; publishing
The way a man approaches or treats a woman in turn changes the way we interact with them. This next story demonstrates the extent to which some men will use an imbalance of power to their advantage, and how one woman decided to stand her ground.
I had one prosecutor refuse to look at me during negotiations. I mean, at all. If a man walked into the room – regardless of whether it was the janitor or a cop or a dude just looking for the bathroom – he’d address his answers to him. The men tended to be confused when he did that. When I left the room, he turned to my boss and asked, “So, they let those in law school now, huh?” And made it clear he wouldn’t negotiate with a woman. So I beat him. Because fuck him. But imagine what that means for the women in his courtroom, be it opposing counsel or defendants. – J ; lawyer
Some career paths tend to bring with it an expectation or ‘understanding’ that men rule the world. Or, at least, that is the façade they want to put forward. Corporate America is ruled by men who feel their power also affords them the right to say, do, and act any way they wish. They care more for female employees to build up their ego than be productive in their position, and no story details this more than our next contribution.
My first real job was as a corporate receptionist for a *omitted*. Anyone who’s worked [this] field will tell you straight up: it’s a boy’s club.
A fact I discovered the day before my third month evaluation. My boss came to my desk, a powerhouse of a Greek woman built like a linebacker, with flashy nails, dripping in gold jewelry and incredible red hair. She was fierce, hard working and I wanted nothing more than to soak up knowledge from her like a sponge.
“We need to talk,” she told me, leaning across the high top of my white marble reception desk. “As you know, your three month evaluation is coming up, and everyone here loves you—there’s just one small problem.”
Cold sweat broke across my skin, my palms prickled with uncertainty as I wracked my brain for anything I could’ve possibly done wrong. In my almost 3 months, I’d gone out of my way to demonstrate I was more than a team player – I was willing to take on responsibilities well above my pay grade and title. So I was horrified to think somewhere along the line I might’ve dropped a major ball.
“No, no,” Bev said, flashing her multicolored nails. “It’s not work related. You see,” she said, rolling her eyes like she couldn’t believe she had to have this conversation with me in the first place, “the guys think you’re not social enough.”
I’m sure my expression was akin to dumb disbelief. “Social enough?” The hell does that even mean?
“Uh-huh.” An indignant spark flashed in her blue eyes. “You see, they don’t think you bat your eyelashes enough. Or stop what you’re doing to twirl your hair and ask how they’re doing when they walk by.”
My mouth fell open. “What?”
“I know. I know.”
This? This was the problem she was told to talk to me about? Seriously?
The thought must’ve been etched on my face because she leaned in closer, like a thief plotting a heist, and said, “Just for giggles, let’s give the boys what they want. One day—just one. Come in, play the Barbie they’re looking for, and let’s see what happens.”
I went home, and thought about it, and eventually decided fine. Let’s do this. I put on my tightest ivory skirt, the one that made my butt look like I was related to J-Lo, did my hair and makeup, put on the
highest heels I owned and pranced into work a whole half hour late – because this shit takes time and I wasn’t waking up early for this mess.
I sat down at my desk, crossed my legs and did nothing. Absolutely nothing for the next half hour except smile as the doors whisked open and chatted to the guys as they rolled in. One after another – but gave an extra hair flip for the top two out of the three amigos who ran the company.
Within thirty minutes my phone line rang, which I’d gritted my teeth and ignored all morning, but happened to take a peek and recognized the number belonged to the CEO. Not even as a Barbie was I going to drop his call, so I picked up it, thinking he’d wanted to be transferred to the CFO or the Sr. VP of Business Development.
No, no. He wanted to speak to me. Personally. Me. The new receptionist he’d never acknowledged beyond a nod or a grumbled ‘hello’ if it was a good day.
And for the next ten minutes I listened – dazed — as the CEO raved about how important I was to the company.
He ended the call with, “and if there’s anything you ever need, “ my door is always open.
I hung up. Bewildered. Confused.
Someone had called him to tell him about my outfit and ‘personality change’. And what was worse, they liked it. I was doing a horrible job, and yet, I had the CEO singing my praises. I couldn’t understand what the hell was happening.
But the next day, I came into work dressed as business as usual. Me. Smart and professional and punctual. – F ; corporate/author
Because of behavior such as this, women have had to make concessions to their actions, their appearance and their words to ward off unwanted advances. Recent media stories of sexual assault and the ‘she was dressed provocatively’ excuse makes every woman’s eyes roll, but in turn, seems to only increase men’s misguided belief that they can pursue them with more unacceptable behavior.
Of course, when called out for these actions, the excuses of ‘they’re drunk’ or ‘that’s just how they are’ are thrown around. But let’s call bullshit – there is never an excuse for inappropriate behavior regardless of situation, employment or connection between individuals. Wearing a tight dress, a short skirt, or dressing in a way that makes a woman feel beautiful is not an invitation for a man to have his way.
Here is a bit of advice for any men reading this article and feeling a bit confused: Women dress sexy more for themselves than for the pleasure or interest of a man. Shocker, I know, but it is the truth. When we wear that skirt, or put on those heels, we don’t do it to get your attention. We do it to satisfy our inner voice, our own self esteem, and to make ourselves feel confident. Sorry guys, but it isn’t about you.
Unfortunately, some men don’t know this distinction. They see clothing or behavior as an invitation for unwanted touching, comments or worse. So here is another little bit of free advice, lads: If one party feels uncomfortable, it is immediately a red zone.
The only time I ever made an allowance for my appearance was if it was a party, because I was young…it was a night out [and] I wanted to feel like myself. Young, sexy and full of life.
I learned at my first corporate party with this company what a mistake that was when I rolled in wearing a short, sleek, off the shoulder black dress.
“You’re so sexy,” the CFO whispered into my ear while at the crowded dinner table.
Or when the new VP of something, hired only a few days ago, took a picture with me and stuck his finger through the zip of his pants, mimicking an erection.
Or when the Sr. VP attempted to stick his hand up my dress later in the night—in front of EVERYONE—a hand I caught by the wrist and reminded him, “Stop. You’re married.” But everyone laughed it off because it’s *Carl and Carl is drunk (and one of the three head honchos).
Or the fact that any time an out of town executives came into [town] they entered into an office bet: Who can get the hot receptionist into bed? (I had no idea of its existence for almost four years, and took considerable pride that in my tenure with this company, each and every single one of them failed). – F ; corporate/author
As most voices coming forward recently tend to be female, I wanted to make sure I allowed both sides to speak their opinions on the issue. When asked about their approach to women before the recent surge of allegations and reports, men admitted that the interactions between themselves and their female counterparts have always had to have a tone of censorship.
‘Most of us know we can’t talk to women the way we do our guy friends and that there is a different approach. We do think about what we say and how it might be taken, and know there are boundaries. But at the same time some guys are just morons and don’t care.’ – C ; emergency services
When asked if the recent events and #MeToo movement has changed the way they interact with women, both new and familiar, it was a resounding answer.
‘Definitely. Not because we mean them harm and now are scared of it, but because it all seems so out of control.’ – C; emergency services
Despite the fact some may call foul and believe that if no harm is meant, there should be no chance at misinterpretation, others think that the recent fanfare that has followed the movement has turned what was meant to be an eye opening effort into a band wagon for attention or financial gain. And yes, sadly, many of those individuals who feel this way are women.
‘My thoughts on the #MeToo movement are not the popular opinion. I’m taking claims with a grain of salt. The fact that men are being essentially convicted by a court of public opinion with NO proof (sometimes YEARS after the alleged assault too place) is problematic to me. What if my husband pissed off a woman years ago? They had a one night stand, she wanted more but he said no. She could very easily destroy him with a false accusation of rape, that most would blindly believe due to the current climate of sympathy. She could come forward with zero evidence but the current rallying cry of ‘believe ALL victims’ would make the lack of evidence irrelevant. It’s turned in to a bit of a witch hunt’. – N ; school administration
But the contributor is not against the movement itself, she says.
‘It’s great that its raised awareness and given victims the courage to come forward! The problem is in the unintended consequences, as well as the bandwagon effect fueled by a mob mentality happening on social media. The doors it opens for those who lack integrity. Its promoting a very black and white way of thinking and women who dare to question the movement or an accusation are treated like traitors or pariahs.’ – N ; school administration
To her, and to people like her, we just have this to say: This is the time to listen, the time for empathy, and not to time to make judgments on who you think is lying or not. We’ve had abusers backs for far too long, even without meaning to. Now it’s time to fully support victims.
And to those who have, are, or soon may face unwanted advances, sexual assault, or harassment of any kind, please know this. You don’t have to be famous, a celebrity, or household name to have a voice. We hear you. We stand by you.
You are not alone.