As published on LinkedIn Influencers on October 17th, 2017.
“Do you find me attractive? If we were not working together would you date me?” This was supposed to be a work dinner, one I had tried to avoid for months. I tried to avoid it because I was warned by other women not to go, but I felt I had to. Correction, he made it clear to me that I had to go if I wanted to continue to have a future at Goldman Sachs. What did I know as a twenty-something in the 1990s that could prepare me for a master manipulator who had decades of experience on how to mess with young women’s heads? Nothing. Even knowing what I know now, nothing prepares you for that. Even as I type this now I feel like I am going to vomit. I don’t feel empowered, I feel sick. I feel scared. I feel ashamed. And yes, I feel angry.
I did not want to post this. Ask my friends who keep texting, messaging, and emailing me, asking me if I am going to share my #MeToo. I didn’t want to go there, again, as I have so many times before. But the bravery of countless women won’t let me be silent, and particularly the one whose story my daughter read to me yesterday in the car ride home. This young girl wrote a long post about her sexual assault, about feeling broken, about searching for wholeness, and I woke up at 4am crying. My life’s work has become about women’s empowerment, inclusion, and advancement, and in my gut I know that anything even close to gender equity will never happen in a culture wrought with silence and shame, victim blaming and bystanderism. Never.
“Tell me about your boyfriends,” it continued. Immediately, I flashed back to an earlier conversation we had had at a work group outing a while earlier. He had pulled me into a chair beside me and asked me to go out with him, alone, to talk about my career. I deflected, and said that perhaps a group outing would make better use of his precious time. He responded with, “What is your problem? Do you think I am attracted to you? Not only am I not attracted to you, but I don’t understand why any man would be attracted to you.” I remember it like it was yesterday.
Back at the work dinner, I ate as fast as I could. I deflected, tried to get the conversation back to being about work. When it did, it became about how much he could help me and mentor me, about how people at the firm did not think I was very smart, but he could help. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. He drank the wine and I barely touched my glass despite the insistence to “drink up”.
When we left the restaurant and walked outside I moved quickly to hail a taxi. His car was waiting for him and he all but pushed me into the backseat. I immediately announced my address to the driver, but we did not head downtown. When we pulled up in from of his place, he insisted we have a drink inside to talk more about my career. I said no, firmly, again and again. He was now outside the car trying to pull me out, and I was hanging onto the door handle on the other side. No. No. No. Finally, the driver intervened and said, “I am happy to drive the young lady home.” The door slammed in my face.
As we drove away I was shaking so violently and crying so hard the driver did not know what to do. The driver remembered my address, pulled up to the door, and said, “I’m sorry.” All night I sat up thinking about how I could possibly to go to work the next day. I wanted to call my mom, but she lived thousands of miles away and she would feel powerless as well. Was my career really over before it even really got started? At the time I thought the answer was yes.
I did go back to work. I did go on to have a successful career. I never had anything that scary happen to me again, but I was a different person after that night. Did I report him? No. Did I later learn he went on to do something similar, and worse, to other young women? Yes. Will I ever forgive myself for not reporting him? No.
There are people out there who will tell you that sexual harassment isn’t a problem. They will tell you that the issue was pretty much fixed in 1991 with the Anita Hill hearings, and since then we’ve been living in a paradise utopia where everyone is respected as a person above all else, and no one is ever the recipient of unwanted sexual advances. They will tell you that the idea of sexual harassment as a present day issue is all just a conspiracy brewed up by the liberal media and feminazis, and anyone who says otherwise is just looking for attention and/or money. However, the majority of Americans know this isn’t true. They know this, because the majority of Americans have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetimes. If the past 48 hours tells us anything, it is that this is an issue that is prevalent, widespread, and can affect anyone.
According to the statistics, 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Nearly 30% of all complaints received by the EEOC every year are for sexual harassment, and 17% of these are filed by men. 65% of women and 25% of men have experienced street harassment in their lifetime. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the US will be raped in their lifetime. 1 in 5 female students and 1 in 16 male students at US colleges will be raped in their lifetime. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18 in the United States. 13% of American youth, both male and female, have been exposed to unwanted sexual solicitation online. Are those statistics scary enough? Shocking? Rage-inducing? No? How about this one. Experts estimate that only 30% of all sexual assaults, abuse, and harassment that occur in the United States every year are ever reported, meaning that some of the above numbers are likely much much higher. Is your blood boiling yet?
Maybe not. Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who have managed to skate through life without ever seeing or experiencing any form of unwanted sexual advances, which is amazing. But make no mistake. You are the exception. Not the rule. The statistics show us that sexual harassment happens to everyone; women, men, boys, and girls, and the impact of these crimes is devastating, not just on the victim, but to their friends, family, co-workers, and greater community at large. This is an issue that effects us all.
The issue of sexual harassment has dominated the headlines this past week, and not just because of the revelations about Harvey Weinstein. More and more the headlines are about the epidemic that is sexual harassment and assault in general, and how Harvey Weinstein is just one man in a system designed to allow this to happen. And people are sick of this system. Literally sick. It is time to break it down once and for all, and we may just be at the point where this is possible. More and more victims, both women and men, are coming forward to tell their stories. A simple search online for #MeToo is proof enough of the pervasiveness of this issue. And this is so, so important. You see, as much as the statistics above should horrify you, the truth is that a stat is easily forgotten, but a story lasts forever. If you don’t believe the statistics start asking people you know. Ask them if they have been a victim of unwanted advances, harassment, and/or assault. This behavior has to stop and the first step to creating this positive change is to fully acknowledge that it is happening.
I can’t claim to be an expert on anyone else’s story except my own, so I’m sharing mine at last. I was the victim of sexual harassment. Me too…
For more information about sexual harassment, abuse, and assault, please check out the following websites and studies.
For definitions – See Catalyst.org
For EEOC statistics – click here.
For information on street harassment – click here.
For US Department of Justice Statistics – click here.
National Sexual Violence Resource Center – click here.
Report of the Co-Chairs of the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 2016. https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/upload/report.pdf
Not Alone: The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2014. http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1149920/white-house-report-on-campus-sex-assault.pdf
Sexual Coercion Practices Among Undergraduate Male Recreational Athletes, Intercollegiate Athletes, and Non-Athletes. Sage Journals. 2016.