Last Saturday, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, "Suggested by a friend: If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem." As Vice pointed out, via Ebony, “It was since revealed by Ebony that a campaign with the same name and aims, though without the social media virality, was initiated by a black woman named Tarana Burke ten years ago.”
This has been building forever and magnitude doesn’t even begin to describe the situation. As one friend’s Facebook status asked: “So, every woman I know has been sexually harassed? Horrified.”
You’ve seen a lot of it the last two days. Felt a lot of it in your gut. Maybe it's bringing up feelings you've avoided dealing with. Maybe you have "not me" too guilt, as one CEO texted me yesterday. Maybe you're wondering "does this count?" There’s no way to Bento Box this convo into neat little compartments. And the conversation around our office has been all over the damn place. We're going through the five stages of grief, surely, but we're also talking and sharing our stories. We happen to be a little intubated by C&C because we work with so many women. (We are, quite literally, a staff of 9 women.) Some of us (raises hand) have chosen to work with women because of such horrible work experiences with men. Is that the answer? Maybe not.
But because we work in a safe space that doesn't mean we haven't experienced harassment both in and out of the workplace.
#metoo. We're sharing.
“Sorry I can’t help myself sometimes.”
When I was 21 I took a job at a marketing agency with two male co-founders and a mostly male staff, I was the only female employee. I was young and eager to please, this was my first job and I was just getting my work wheels in motion. I remember the first time it happened. I was leaving a meeting walking down 5th Ave. and my male colleagues were commenting on the client's breasts and how they couldn’t take their eyes of them and “mmmm” (grunt noise followed by an equally barf-y motion). I kinda just kept walking, put my head down and pretended not to hear but it kept happening. I would be in meetings and my boss would come stand behind me and press up right against my back and rub my shoulders, only to tell me he couldn’t stay for the meeting because he had a “hard out at 3.” The words, the motions, still make me want to vomit. I would mutter okay and keep looking at my notepad.
All of these micro-aggressions led me to develop a defense mechanism, a “I'm one of the guys and I can handle this mentality,” that was equally sad and difficult to accept. It wasn’t until my next job, one where my boss, mentor and someone I admired took everything too far, did I do something different. It was my first big work trip, I was staying in a hotel room, in a different state, pitching a big company-- it was all so exciting! I remember going out for a steak dinner with my boss and clients (first work trip!) and having a glass of wine (on the client!) it was a new experience for me and then then clients sort of left. My boss and I stayed and the conversation turned to love lives. He kept telling me my boyfriend wasn’t good enough for me and I deserved better, all of this while his wedding ring was glistening in the steak house lights. I remember responding with a “yeah, cool. Totally. Im tired!” As we made our way back to the hotel room, we were both on the same floor (damnit), I walked toward my room and he slipped in front of me, “One more drink?” he asked. "Ummm I’m okay," I said. “ I have a suite,” he persisted. I said, "No, I'm tired," quickly swiping my hotel key and taking refuge in my room. He me texted afterward: “Sorry I can’t help myself sometimes,” or something to the equally gross and not OK effect. This continued on and off for three months. After so much dodging and coming up with excuses to not meet, I had to find a new job.
"I still remember his red sports car."
At the time I was proud of my title...
"Mr. so-and-so's favorite"
It was 5th grade and although it felt completely harmless at the time, when I think back on it now I cringe for the other girls who must have been made to feel like they were his favorite student (now knowing that such a title comes with a price).
The special treatment ranged from solo "field trips" to the zoo, 1:1 lunch outings (during the school day) and even after school hangouts at his house where he lived as a recent divorcee. (His daughter's presence, who was many years younger than me, must have given my mom the piece of mind she needed to allow this.)
I still remember his red sports car. I remember driving with him alone. I remember feeling prettier than the other girls in my class. I remember feeling smarter and more like-able. So much so that even during those few times where I felt nervous or anxious around him I told myself not to complain. Not to ruin it.
Even years later, when a girl from my school publicly accused him of molesting her, I told myself it wasn't true.
Mr "so-and-so" could never do that. I remember thinking she was just be looking for attention. Even at that age, I blamed her. I made it her fault. Conversations about it with other classmates always started with, "Oh, come on" or "She's making it up." And yet they ended in "He wouldn't have, would he?"
I played memories over in my head. Recounted steps. Replayed our times spent alone. I wondered if I blocked things out. I still wonder if I did. I just wanted to be liked. I craved attention and in the process I turned my cheek (my very young, poreless cheek) to an older man who took advantage of his power and his influence.
Male privilege, rape culture, victim blaming... It is engrained in our culture, even in the minds of 10 year old girls. I wish I could go back in time. I wish I could choose to say no to being "the favorite" I wish I hadn't believed it was special or that I was special because of it. Most of all I wish I could have hugged her. The girl who stood up for herself. I wish I would have told her it was not HER fault.
"Stay true to myself, hold my own."
I’ve been fortunate to join multiple teams where the majority of the staff is female. From the Keep A Breast Foundation to now C&C, they are led by empowering women who, over the years have taught me how to unapologetically stay true to myself, hold my own, and craft my voice in a way for it to be heard and respected.
I’m also thankful for the experiences I’ve had with the men I’ve worked with, because they too valued my opinions and work, and never failed to see me as their equal. As we have seen from basically the beginning of mankind, I’ve been lucky. My time in the music industry, which is majorly known as a “boys club,” was also positive. But I have countless of female friends with shocking and heartbreaking stories. While I can’t say “Me Too” in the workplace, I am disgusted and angry and will always say, “I believe you. I am here for you.”
“Ahhh yeah, I like the way you walk.”
Cars. I have a fear of them. I’ve had so many experiences minding my own business walking on a sidewalk or in a parking lot where a man or a group of men, usually twice my size and age, have pulled up next to me, hollering for me to come closer.
“DAMN GIRL, YOU LOOKIN FINE."
“Ahhh yeah, I like the way you walk.”
“You look so exotic, let me get your number.”
etc, etc. It’s terrifying. Not flattering. But I put a polite smile on my face to not offend or anger them, as if I’M in the wrong. And I quicken my step hoping they don’t follow me. It’s exhausting to always have a guard up day and night.
"If I was wearing a cheerleading uniform."
When I was interning in NYC for a sports management company (super illegally - 0 payment or credit) the CEO use to make me attend “mandatory” Sunday work meetings where I had to travel over an hour to watch sports games with him and his friends at bars. Does that seem innocuous? Maybe to some, but looking back, was it beyond inappropriate. Definitely.
More specifically, I cheered professionally throughout college. And I mean… If I was wearing a cheerleading uniform (which I wore for 15 years of my life) it was like I had a sign on my back that said men can feel free to touch me wherever you want. Professors, student athletes, co-ed teammates, strangers at games, guests at the president of the university’s house, coaches... I was fair game after the game to them. It's insane now when I look back at it. But it paid for college so it was something I put up with. Equally as crazy.
"Will never work with men again."
I used to work for major telecommunications company in the mid-west. It was all white men. Khaki men. They knew nothing about entertainment or lifestyle marketing, which is what I was brought in to do.
I ended up getting laid off, replaced by a 55-year-old white man. And I swore when that happened I would never work for white men again. They were never sexually inappropriate, but they talked down to women all the time. I heard the phrase, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” constantly. In large meetings and in small meetings. After that experience I knew I wanted to work for a female-owned company or a company where the senior leadership team was comprised mainly of women.