Thursday, November 30, 2017

Business as Usual

A person whose opinion I respect recently told me point blank, "All men suck."

Although I don't entirely believe it, the irony that it was a man telling me this wasn't lost on me. I saw Mac Tuesday night and by the time we got together less than 24 hours later, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor and NPR's chief news editor David Sweeney had been added to the male rubble heap of harassers.

And yet, based on just the women I know, the height of that Mt. Trashmore is only going to climb as more and more women are finally emboldened to speak up.

In all the conversations I've had with women about this issue - and I admit, I bring it up with everyone - only one woman has said that she had never once been sexually harassed. What's notable about this is that she's 84 years old. She also happens to be my mother, so I'm not going to doubt her word, but I'm inclined to see her as the exception that proves the rule.

Every other woman with whom I've discussed this topic has stories, most of us lots and lots of stories. Unwanted kisses and touching. Inappropriate comments and gifts. Suggestions of actions generally reserved for partners.

Last night at dinner before we went to Virginia Repertory to see, of all things, "Mary Poppins," Mac and I were lamenting the women who don't side with the women making the accusations. Why are some women saying that decades-old incidents should not be brought up now? And what woman can't understand why a woman working for a powerful man would be afraid to go to her superiors (not that that usually got results) and risk her position?

Men, especially white men, hold all the power and women have long known this.

When I was sixteen, I interviewed for my first real job. I'd been babysitting for years and, in fact, that's when a man had first acted inappropriately to me. Sitting in my parents' friends' basement watching TV, I heard the door open upstairs hours before the couple and their friends had said they'd be home. The husband of the other couple came down the steps, walked over to the couch where I was sitting and laid down on it, placing his head in my lap.

I was equal parts terrified and at a complete loss what to do. He reached up and began stroking my face with his hand and talking, slurring actually, and I felt powerless to do anything. What pre-teen is prepared for something like that? When I didn't respond, he kept on doing it.

The only reason it didn't end worse was because the other three adults came through the upstairs door and he jumped up with the energy of a non-drunk, giving me a warning look as he did. Did I go home and tell my parents? Nope. I felt guilty somehow, so I kept my mouth shut.

Babysitting eventually lost its allure and not just because of that incident. I was ready for the big time: a pay check.

The job was as a Fotomate at a Fotomat booth, those yellow kiosks in strip center parking lots where people got their film developed and photos printed. The uniform was everything you'd expect of a job called Fotomate: a yellow and blue polyester mini-dress.

During the interview, the regional manager asking the questions was pleasant and polite, asking about my school life, family life and other innocuous subjects. When he'd heard enough, he told me I had the job. "We only hire pretty girls," he told me. "Welcome to the Fotomat family."

So the straight A report card wasn't a factor, the recommendations from teachers and people I'd babysat for were meaningless, the ease with which I answered his what-if scenarios had no merit. He liked my looks, perhaps thought I'd look good in the uniform and I was hired for $1.65 an hour.

As I got up to leave, he thanked me for coming and patted me on the ass. "Congratulations!" he said as we parted ways. Did I share that with anyone? Sure didn't.

When I took a job with a radio station in the '90s, it was only the second day of work when a DJ came in, slapped me on the ass and said, "Nice ass!" When he asked if I was wearing a girdle, I reflexively said no and he responded, "Great ass!" The station manager regularly called me in to his office because a) he "needed" a hug or b) he wanted to do a tequila shot and didn't want to do it alone. This is the man who'd hired me, so I said nothing.

The fact is, I've got plenty more stories like those. Don't talk to me about why women didn't come forward when they were touched, groped, propositioned, flashed or whatever.

Up until very recently, we knew better.


  1. Yep, all men probably are guilty. We like to touch...and it's not always easy to guess what's going on in a woman's mind. They, like men have been known to play games. Now I'm not speaking of rape or physical abuse or job discrimination, etc. Maybe for example, Garrison Keillor did more than he claimed. If his version is true he's being screwed. He made a woman feel uncomfortable...I doubt she suffered from Post-traumatic Stress. To remove "The Writer's Almanac" from the air & white-wash Prairie Home Companion is ridiculous. Picasso was generally a pig to many women. The VMFA is not removing any of his work. Do some white male bosses push some women around? You bet! ..and some White Male, Black Male, White & Black Female & Asian bosses push folks...male & female around if they can & that's their nature. It's the Power of the position...not going to change. Why can't men & women live, marry, be in relationships that last? Look in the mirror Blogger & look around you & life. That's how it is... no one's perfect, equal opportunities are usually never always across the board or equal. Unfortunately America usually overacts on many things....take your pick, look at history. The landscape is littered the way things should be or could have been.

    Look at the top --- TRUMP!

    need I say more...


  2. Truth! How the top man can keep his job after, what, 15 women have come forward? It's the most egregious example of all, cw.

  3. I was hired for a waitressing job (one of many) for the exact reason as well. "You're pretty and you dress really cute." None of my accomplishments were considered by this overweight, middle-management, leering, loathsome, white man. Do they really think it's a compliment to disregard our intelligence even at the age of eighteen? It sets a standard that we've swept under the rug for centuries. Thirty three years later I still remember those words and the awkward feeling at the end of the interview. How about it men? How would you like to field stress from strangers like that way every day of your life?