The recent “me too” campaign provided the opportunity to reflect on my own experiences with sexual harassment. Initially, my memory went to the many times in my career when I was harassed. From the blatant comments about my “long legs” by a Senior Senator on Capitol Hill to the seemingly benign expectation I would bring the birthday cake and clean up after the party because I was a woman.
And then, I remembered my first real sexual assault. It was the beginning of my freshman year in high school. One afternoon a teacher, who was also a basketball coach, handed me a note in the hallway. The note was folded into a small square much like a note you would pass in grade school. As he handed the note to me, he said something like, “here’s a note from a friend.”
I opened the piece of notebook paper to find a handwritten note that was not addressed to me nor was it signed. The note proceeded to say things about how pretty and smart I was and whoever wrote it wanted to spend time alone with me. Fortunately, I had the sense to show this note to my sister Jeanne and brother-in-law Randy. I would not let Jeanne and Randy go to the principal of the school for fear of being made fun of and ostracized. Even at this young age I must have been aware that, as the girl, I would be seen as having caused the interest rather than as the victim. I was afraid for my reputation in our small school. Instead, Randy made a trip to the teacher’s home and told him to never talk to or look at me again. From that point forward, the teacher would turn tail when he saw me.
This note came at an interesting time in my young life. I had recently moved in with Jeanne and Randy as it became abundantly clear my dad could not take care of me or himself. It dawns on me now, this teacher/coach likely saw me as an easy target because my life was “upside-down” so to speak.
I fortunately was able to ask for help. What I realize today is having someone I knew would help me was crucial.
What if we create a space for women to help women? What if we create a community where we can talk about what’s going on with our bosses, peers, and partners in our lives? What if we can share stories and ideas? What if we can support each other when others turn away? What if we create a cacophony by combining our voices?
If you are interested in making some collective noise, join me on my new Facebook Page – Women Helping Women (@striveandthrivewomen). Let’s start by sharing stories and lessons learned. Perhaps talk about what you’d do differently.
Bottom line: If we are going to create change and limit the predators in our midst, we need to be in action, daylighting reality, and holding all accountable for their actions.