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!
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.
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