Let’s Talk About It.

Let’s Talk About It

In the wake of the many #metoo posts it is obviously time we started to talk about it. While I am not at all surprised at how many women have experienced sexual harassment, I am a bit surprised at their reluctance to talk about it. (Go ahead, take a moment and wonder what is wrong with me and how I can be so stupid or naïve. I’m ready for it.) Certainly I understand that in the moment, at the time, many women were unprepared and unable to verbalize what happened. But later, much later, without naming names, many women never told their sons or daughters about some their personal experiences at least as a word of warning. That surprised me. I don’t have kids. I talk a lot.

The more I thought about it the more I remembered small incidents when I was much younger. When I was sixteen and working as a waitress a customer moved beyond rude and annoying into sexual harassment. “Hold that thought” I said with my well practiced waitress smile. I came back with a full pot of coffee and held it over his lap. “Now, what was that you were saying?” That may sound sort of gutsy now. But I worked with great people. It was just a summer job, not a career, and I knew I wouldn’t be back next year. I was fearless, because I had little at risk. I don’t remember what the guy had said that angered me. I don’t remember what he looked like. I only remember that he mumbled “nothing” and I replied with a smug “that’s what I thought”. I remember that he left without tipping me. While we chatted a bit about it that day at work, I don’t think I shared that story with friends. I know I never shared it with my nieces or nephews as they went off to their first jobs.

Why didn’t I share that story widely, back when I remembered all the details? For me, speaking up and fighting back was always my instinct. Sure it was exhausting and annoying, but just something women faced. Early on, I assumed everyone dealt with things the same way I did. I talked about the big things, but I dealt with the little things on my own and kept them to myself. Of course there are women who can’t risk being fired from a job, held back in a career, given a lower grade, being ostracized from a community. But there are women in my position as well, who could take smaller risks, or who, years after the fact, could speak without any risk.

Why don’t they talk about it? Sadly, their reasons are a lot different from mine. Shame – as if somehow someone else’s actions bring shame upon them. Guilt – as if they did something to deserve or attract this behavior. Fear – that they wouldn’t be believed. Really? Really. Still? Still.

So please consider this. If a woman told you that she went to a job interview and a man kicked her in the shins, what would you say to her? If a woman told you that her boss routinely slapped her across the face when they crossed paths in the hallway, what would think? If a woman told you her teacher called her stupid every time she stayed behind in class to ask a question, what would you do?

Take a moment. Think about it. Those scenarios are exactly the same as sexual harassment and assault. But because those examples didn’t have any sexual overtone we don’t have any discomfort or uncertainty. We didn’t need to ask the woman what she was wearing to the interview. We didn’t ask the woman what she did to warrant being slapped. We didn’t ask the woman if she was flirting with the teacher.

We need to talk about this. Nothing will change until we do. But if we expect women to talk, we have to be prepared to listen.

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