Should You Be Flattered or Outraged by Unwanted Advances?

Should You Be Flattered or Outraged by Unwanted Advances?

The tape of Donald Trump and Billy Bush talking about groping women unlocked a flood of memories for me. Memories I had stashed into a dustheap of unwelcome thoughts. But this past weekend, they started rising up.

These are stories from the time I was a college freshman and through the following decades. Here are just a few that come to mind.

Unwanted Sexual Advances Take a Toll

There was the college student at Princeton who invited me to visit for the football game and then neglected to get me to the “Dinky” (that’s the little choo-choo that goes from Princeton to the train) before it shut down for the night.

Or how about the business colleague who mentioned my breasts just about every time we met and who loved most to mention them in public.

Then there was the client who tried to turn his conference room sofa into a casting couch.

Also the friend of my boss who pressured me to go away with him.

Not to mention the head of a large business who got angry when I wouldn’t fly to Paris with him for the weekend.

All of these are unpleasant memories. None of them wound up in rape or forceable assault.  But all of them took a toll.

Why did they take a toll?

Because until the last time, I didn’t have the courage or will to be outraged.  I charmed my way out of these troubling situations. Always smiling and thanking the men for their invitations. Always acting as though I appreciated their advances and felt them to be compliments. Always taking care to turn them down gently so I wouldn’t hurt their feelings and they wouldn’t turn against me.

And the most damaging aspect of it all was that a part of me believed that being attractive was, perhaps, my most important attribute!

The Consequences of Speaking Out

The incident I remember most distinctly was when I finally spoke out about how I really felt. Because that had negative consequences too.

Here’s what happened…

I was part of a small professional organization of approximately 15 colleagues in the fundraising business. We met three times a year as a sort of a “mastermind” group.  One of the participants — Chuck — was a man 15 years my senior who was often inappropriate. He kissed women suggestively on the lips in greeting. His hands often wandered where they shouldn’t. And he made comments about women’s bodies, both in private and in public.

At the concluding dinner of our professional group’s meeting, everyone was assembled around one long table, making a toast.  And Chuck, who was sitting across from me, used it as an opportunity to call attention to the size of my breasts with a comment, I’m sure, he thought was flattering to me.

For some reason, that time, I finally got angry. Years of comments and inappropriate behavior that had piled up finally emerged in a flash flood of anger. In public and in front of my colleagues, he had demeaned me. And in a voice loud enough to be heard by the entire table, I said something like this.  “Chuck, do you really think women enjoy it when you make comments about their breasts? We don’t! And I wish you would stop.”

The table became entirely silent.  Chuck pushed back his chair and left the table.  Another man from the group followed him out. No one — neither the women nor the  men — said anything to me.  I had done something taboo. Gradually, chitchat at the table started up again as though nothing had happened.

Later that evening, one of the men came up to me and said, “Andrea, how could you have embarrassed Chuck like that!”

And so it goes. Women are put in embarrassing and sometimes intolerable positions again and again by men who make unwanted, inappropriate advances. And when they don’t just quietly deflect and escape, they are called out for being inappropriate.

What do I remember most?

I recall with astonishing clarity the anger that finally erupted, pushing me to call a man out for his behavior publicly. And I remember the sense of shame that followed when the table fell silent.

I hope that the airing of the video of Donald Trump’s lewd behavior has opened the floodgates for women everywhere and that it will give them the courage to speak out.

I never saw Chuck again. But perhaps after that night, he started to think twice before he said inappropriate things about other women. Because in that one case at least, there were consequences for his behavior!

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Share Your Story of Sexual Inappropriateness

Think back to times when people have said or done sexually inappropriate things to you. Remember how you handled them. Did you remain silent? Did you speak out? What do you think you should have done? What are the consequences of staying quiet? What are the consequences of speaking out?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. Or, head on over to Facebook and share your story there.

Photo credit: kennethm118 / 123RF Stock Photo

  • jswagner

    It’s emotional for me, and I’m sure many others, to hear these things. I wish other women our age didn’t have those stories, but I know they do. The hardest part is to think of someone as independent and strong as you being cowed into going along, so that the only person who learned anything was you, and you learned a tragic lesson. The best of us have been asked to accommodate the worst in us, and either didn’t have a choice in the matter, or weren’t able to find a way to one.

    Maybe a bright spot in this is to unearth this belated and sometimes latent anger, so that Trump’s behavior can be called out not just by women, but also by men. We can teach ourselves what it means to be responsible human beings– to be real men. Maybe our granddaughters won’t have to endure this cruelty, and the twisting of the notions of beauty, masculinity, and power. It will do our country a great deal of good to send Mr. Trump back to his gilded cage; defeat and embarrassment are the only lessons some can take in, while the young will be inspired to new expectations.

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Thanks for your comment, Joanne. Yes, I too am hopeful that this big national conversation will finally air an important conversation that needs to happen and that our grandchildren will grow up with different expectations. Frankly, I’ve been shocked by the level of anger I feel about it all. It’s as though Trump has uncorked something that was bottled up for way too long!

  • Ryan McConnell

    Inappropriate conduct is outrageous and should be called out.

    It’s sad, though, to see that you mentioned and linked to Donald Trump’s outrageous conduct not once, but twice in this post… while failing to also call out Hillary Clinton, who repeatedly defended her husband from charges far worse (groping, assault, fondling a 23 year old girl who worked for him in his office, etc .) by lambasting the women who accused him of it. If women tear down other women for doing what you did (calling people out on their outrageous behavior) there will never be any kind of change.

    Shame on Trump, shame on Hillary, and kudos to YOU for standing up to this gross man.

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Thanks for your comment, Ryan. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why people blame Hillary Clinton for her husband’s behavior. I’m very sure she called him out on it privately and that she made a decision not to leave him. But really, her not divorcing him for his behavior is a decision of quite a different kind than Trump’s public sense of entitlement to debase women. Even now, rather than acknowledging his behavior as inappropriate, he again and again implies that the women he claims he doesn’t fondle simply aren’t attractive enough. That truly gets me angry! I certainly don’t condone Bill Clinton’s behavior, but I also don’t blame it on Hillary Clinton and I have respect for the personal decisions she made around it. Would I have made the same decisions? I’m not sure. But we women certainly are conditioned to be overly tolerant.

      • Well said, Andrea.

      • Ryan McConnell

        Andrea,

        In my mind, the problem isn’t that she stayed with him – that’s the honorable decision, in my mind, to not break up the family. The problem was her aggressive attacks and dismissive attitude against those who accused him of far worse than just talk… they accused him of outright crimes, and he himself admitted conduct that was, at best, inappropriate.

        Doesn’t the fact that she attacked these women and called them dishonest mean that FEWER women who are molested will come forward? If she had stayed quiet, that would be one thing (wrong, maybe, but far different from what she did). By going on the offensive against them, Hillary hurt all women who are afraid to come forward after being molested. I can’t for the life of me figure out why we still consider her a champion for women. I’m sure THOSE women don’t consider her one…

  • it starts with the “accidental” touches when we are little more than children. For me it started when I was 14 and my aunt’s boyfriend slid his hand up my leg. Moving on to the constant sexual harassment when I spent several years working for the state house and senate in Michigan. It didn’t really stop until I went to work in a mostly female office in my 30’s. It was crap, but the beautiful thing is that it’s out in the open now.

    I’m hurt for you that no one at that table stood up for you. But kudos for YOU for refusing to take it anymore.

    These are crazy times. Who would have ever imagined that a racist, misogynistic, lying, pathologically narcissistic, bombastic reality show carnival barker psychopath would be the Presidential candidate of the Republican Party?

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Thanks Pam for your comment. Amazing what stories all of this has brought out for so many people. While women are being more outspoken about their experiences, I suspect that it’s making a mark on how men think about it too and perhaps their behavior. I certainly hope so.