I was 15 the first time I experienced sexual harassment at work. I was wearing a sweater with an applique of Mickey Mouse on it. Mickey is standing with one hand on his hip and one hand upraised in a wave. That upraised hand landed almost directly over my left breast and the custodian at the library asked me, with a wink, if he could shake Mickey’s hand. It was gross and creepy. And I told . . . no one.
I wish I could say that was the only time a man said something inappropriate to me at work but it was just the start. There was the probation officer who invited me to a Super Bowl Party at his house and when I got there it was only him and one other man in attendance. They were both married, by the way. There was the summer I worked in the Mayor’s Office and, when asked what I did there, the Mayor replied that my job was to make the office look pretty. There was the time I got a summer job as a secretary at an armory and I was told not to dress cute for work since it might distract the soldiers. I’ve had my ass grabbed and my head patted. There has been an incident at just about every job I’ve ever had, including my current one where, several years ago, another department head told me I was fat but he’d still “f**k me.”
I have never reported any of those things. Some were so subtle that I didn’t even realize they were harassment until later. Others were blatant but I didn’t want to risk disapproval from my colleagues by getting someone in trouble. All of them made me feel ashamed.
I’m not sharing this now for sympathy or attention, nor do I think my stories are unique. I’m sharing it because sexual harassment is once again in the headlines and it’s disturbing. I’m sharing it because I’m very certain that every woman has stories like mine. We need to give women the support they need to come forward. We need to empower women to stand up and speak out and tell their truth even if it damages someone’s reputation.
This needs to stop.