Harassment

It was a perfect summer evening for a gathering – warm but with enough of a breeze to make it comfortable.  Holding onto my companion’s hand, I lead him through the throngs of people to find my fellow co-workers.  Micheal and I had dated casually, but it wasn’t going anywhere.  He still loved his ex, and I was too fresh out of my marriage to even think about commitment, but I hadn’t wanted to arrive single, so here we were.

There were only three women in my department – Gayle, slightly older than me, a short-haired, no nonsense type; Laurie, our office clerk, a tiny, soft spoken woman; and myself, a twenty-one year-old working her way up in corporate banking.  While making introductions, a voice, visibly slurred, broke through the crowd:

“There you are!  I’ve been waiting all night.  Thought maybe you and I could play Volcano – I’ll lie down, you sit on me, and I’ll erupt.”

It was my boss.  The same boss, who in a recent performance review told me he was scoring me low because I wouldn’t put out.  (He kept a cot in his office just in case.)

Behind him, red-faced, was his lovely wife.  Not knowing how to react, I introduced my date and greeted the wife.  Then we moved on.

It happened frequently – comments like this.  Every morning the men would parade in a line pass my desk.

“What are they doing?”  I finally asked a male co-worker, exasperated.  My desk was in a quad, next to a window – it wasn’t like I was in the normal flow of foot traffic.

1c8c15590d106bebf3a495cead1006d1--street-harassment-public-spaces“They’re looking for high beams.”

“What?”  I was so innocent back then, so oblivious to all this sexual innuendo.

He shrugged, “If you don’t like it, stop wearing those tight sweaters.”

I looked down at my sweater – a plain, nondescript turtleneck.

“So did you get your plumbing fixed last night,” another co-worker asked sliding into the cubicle beside me.

I worked in a predominately male environment.  I didn’t answer.

Every night, I went home and cried myself to sleep.

“Why do put up with it?” Michael asked once.

I shrugged.  “I need the job.”  Truth is I thought I’d brought it on myself.

When this job posted, I was a data entry clerk.  My co-worker and I decided to both apply.  We were the same age, but she was infinitely more beautiful than I, as well as smart, well-educated, and more experienced.  Both of us were certain she would be hired over me.  As a lark, we decided that I would go to the interview in a provocative outfit (a slit skirt), while she would opt for a more conservative look.

Obviously, sex won out over credentials.

It was a decision I would regret for the eighteen months I held the post, until I was able to apply outside of the department.

A year later, the woman who filled my position filed charges of sexual harassment against the boss.  I cheered her moxie and inwardly chastised myself for not having done the same.

The year was 1979.  Not many of us spoke up.

We are now, though.

“Dear Charlotte Perkins Gilman” Performed

Yours truly ventured out to an open mic, with the support of two of dear friends.   Despite how unwell I was feeling, my companions arranged for me to read my poems before I could retreat.  This was only my second visit to an open mic poetry session, and I decided to read a personal favourite:  Dear Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  (Click on the link for the original poem and background.)

(Video compliments of Martha McIntosh.

Featured image from:  bestcommunionideas.com)

Mom Said Marry Well

I keep dreaming about young men:  confidant, seductive, virile young men.  In my dreams, they cozy up to me, offer promises of love, and always, I remember who I am – a dried up old woman condemned to disability – and wake up…reluctantly.

Thing is, men have always been a mystery to me, like a hidden treasure for which I’ve searched, lacking the coveted map. th-1

Mother never understood the need for a woman to be educated:  “Learn secretarial skills, get a job and land an executive husband,” was her philosophy.   We weren’t raised to aspire beyond domestic proficiency.

Trouble is, all Mom’s theory landed her was abuse from my CEO father, who used her lack of education as a whip, constantly flouting her “stupidity”.

My oldest sister, who “put the cart before the horse” married at nineteen and was divorced two years later.

“It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is a poor one,”  she warned me.  “Go for the money.”

She had a wild life as a career mistress, never finding that one true love.

“Girls have it easy,” one of my brothers told me once.  “All you have to do is snag a man and sit back and relax.”

His comment infuriated me, although weighted against other advice, I couldn’t quite pinpoint why.  Besides, he married women who worked.

thIf men held the key to life’s happiness, then what sort of male would I attract, I often wondered.  I lacked the physical beauty of my sisters, was big-boned, quick-tempered, and “obnoxious” according to early suitors.  Grace and finesse were lost on me, who felt personal grooming was a waste of precious outdoor time, and I’d rather swing my fist in righteous anger than learn the finer art of submission.

Mom told me I’d be hard to love.  She conceded that maybe an education would be the preferred route for me, as if intelligence and romance were diametrically opposed elements.

My mind craved knowledge, my spirit would soar at the possibilities of higher education, and   my heart kept dragging me back to relationship.

I became a ‘grateful for’.

Grateful for attention, affection, grasping at any scrap that came my way, repeating the cycle of abuse and disrespect that had plagued the women in my family for generations.

“How could someone so smart, be so stupid?” I’d berate myself in the aftermath.

And still I dream of the prized male – the classic Prince Charming – sweeping me off my feet, carrying me to eternal bliss.

Maybe this has been my problem all along: searching for a perfection that does not exist.

Imagine if I’d been taught something different?  How might my life, my relationships turned out if Mother had only said:

“Follow your dreams, girl, and love will find you.”

Or sister had advised:

“Respect yourself above others and you will find a partnership that will support mutual growth.”

Or my brother had suggested:

“You have so much to offer, make sure the man you choose can appreciate and honour you.”

What if I knew, right from the beginning, that fairy tale endings don’t exist and that fulfillment comes from within, and that, no matter what messages the outside world presents, following one’s own instincts is the best path to success?

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Stop Blaming The Woman

Must have been the dimness of the lights, or maybe the thick haze of cigarette smoke that masked the truth of my age, because the doorman didn’t flinch as my sister led me into the crowded bar.  Rows of long plywood tables lined either side of the room, each one overflowing with bodies, more men than women, I noted.  th

The raucous was so loud I could barely hear my sister’s directions, so I hung onto the waistband of her jeans hoping to we wouldn’t be separated in the throng.  We squeezed between patrons until we found the rest of our party, then wriggled into the closely packed chairs that had been saved for us.

I must have accidentally elbowed the person behind me, because he jumped up and hollered at me.  Before I could respond, a large hand grabbed him by the collar and shoved him back into his seat.

“You’ll not be messing with this little lady,” a gruff voice said.

I looked up to see a mountain of a man, with thick curly hair tumbling over his shoulders, and an excessive growth of facial hair.  Deep set eyes twinkled down at me, and I found myself both terrified and intrigued.

“They call me Mother,” he said offering me a meaty hand to shake.  “This here is my turf, and if anyone gives you trouble, you let me know.  Mother’s got your back.”

“Thanks,” I said, trying to act much more mature than my twelve years of age.th-1

My sister’s boyfriend pushed a glass of beer at me and made a ‘cheers’ gesture with his own drink.  I lifted the glass, reciprocated, and took a sip.  Despite the coolness of the liquid it burned with the slightly sweet edge.  I set the glass back down and glanced around, feeling out-of-place in this very adult environment.  I’d been exposed to alcohol lots of times before – Dad taught me how to bartend a few years back – but this was my first foray into an actual bar.

It wouldn’t be my last.

Prowling night clubs with my much older sisters would become the norm for me, a side that I kept hidden from my peers who were still stealing liquor from their parents stashes and drinking out in the woods.  Being accepted into this world made me feel powerfully wild.  I thought I was invincible.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before real trouble found me.  It happened in Mother’s bar, where I guess I was becoming too comfortable.  The man who joined our table that evening was a stranger, and not unattractive.  When he offered a group of us a ride home if we stayed to last call, we jumped on the opportunity.  images-1

Except, he didn’t take me home.

I would not return home until the next day, any semblance of innocence that I had left stripped away from me.

The police said it was my fault.

They said no court of law would convict a man for picking up an underaged girl in a bar, especially a girl dressed as I was.  They said a judge would say I was asking for it.

They said I was lucky to be alive.

It didn’t stop me from going into bars – I just drank harder to numb the shame – and stayed mum about what happened.  Later, I started to cut myself to counter the numbness.  images

 

After fourteen years, the memories of that night flooded back, and I finally sought out the help I needed, and there are times when I think I am healed, and then I hear about another victim who is blamed for the crime that was perpetrated against her, or men excusing lewd sexual behaviour as boys being boys, and the rage rushes back to me.

In any other form of assault, the victim’s behaviour is not brought into account.  No one says:  “He’s a jerk; he deserved to be stabbed.”  It’s a non-issue.  So why, when a woman falls prey to unwanted sexual advances, are her motivations questioned?

What happened to me in the early 1970’s should be archaic, but in light of recent incidents, it is clear that inequality still exists.  Women’s rights remain an issue.

We need to continue to raise our voices until it is safe for women to explore their wild sides, take risks in life, and make a few mistakes; without being blamed for the criminal acts of others.
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