Saturday, October 15, 2016

Why Women (Including Me) Don't Always Come Forward

I wasn't going to spend an entire blog post on my personal life-- I mean, who would be interested in that?  I'm not a celebrity (I'm mainly well-known by Rush fans, and a few folks in broadcasting), and besides, I've never used blogging as a way to settle scores or get back at those I believe to have wronged me.

But over the past week, as I watched the ongoing debate about whether Donald Trump did in fact sexually assault women, and as I listened to him, and his supporters, claiming that he was the victim of an orchestrated smear campaign, some memories I hadn't thought about in a while came back-- memories I generally do not discuss, but which now seem worth talking about, even though it's been a long time since they happened.

And that's part of the story. You see, I totally understand why some women don't come forward immediately after they've been sexually assaulted, or fondled, or harassed.  I understand because I lived it.  I saw what happened when I did come forward, and I saw what happened when I kept silent.  In both cases, it was a no-win situation for me, and I am certain other women know what I am saying.

It was in the early 1970s when I first encountered sexual harassment.  I never expected to-- I am well aware that I'm not what the culture would consider "beautiful" nor was I built like the stereotypical Playboy Bunny.  But as I found out, being assaulted is not about how one looks or how one dresses-- it's about powerful men who believe they can do whatever they want, without repercussions.  I was a first year teacher at what would today be called a middle-school, and one afternoon, after classes, I was in the supply closet looking for something for my classroom (I don't recall what), when the principal came in.  I greeted him courteously (he was my boss, after all), but then, I heard the door of the closet close. I still remember the sound of the lock, and I also recall being puzzled... and then feeling afraid.  The principal moved closer to me. He told me something along the lines of he found me attractive, and then he grabbed me and rubbed his body against mine.  I remember that I froze. I did not move. I did not respond. Inside, I was terrified, but I showed him no emotion.  Nothing. And I told him to open the door and let me go.  He did, but he told me not to say anything; he said no-one would believe me anyway.

He was right.  I told my parents (who did believe me, but could do little to help); and then I decided to go to the school committee to ask for a transfer. They held a hearing and during that very humiliating proceeding, I was the one put on trial-- I was asked what I had been wearing, and I was asked why I wanted to try to ruin the reputation of such a fine man and such a well-respected principal.  In the end, it was my union (where the guy in charge also didn't seem to believe me, but he at least defended my right to a transfer) that facilitated my going to another school.  I was advised never to mention it again, and I didn't.  I ended up teaching at a high school where I was treated well, but when I had the chance to leave the Boston Public Schools and go into radio full-time, I did.

Some things never change, however.  My radio journey led me to Cleveland in late 1973, and several years later, to New York.  It was in New York, when I was between jobs, that I heard of an opening at a record company; I had just worked for one, and while radio was my first choice, working in records was fine with me. The executive doing the interview told me he lived on a house-boat, and that's where the interview would  be conducted.  I wasn't particularly shocked by that-- I've been interviewed in hotels, at restaurants, and even once during a hockey game.  Also, as a woman in a predominantly male industry, I didn't want to seem overly suspicious or give the impression that I expected special treatment.

The conversation went well, and I thought I was making a good impression, or at least I hoped I was (I needed the job!).  I don't recall everything that happened during the evening, but I do recall him suddenly moving closer to me and saying something about wanting to know if we were "compatible."  I tried to make a joke, to defuse the situation, but he grabbed my hand and I think you can guess where he placed it. I tried to pull away, and he became more insistent. I do not remember how I was able to persuade him to let me go, but suffice it to say he got angry, made some rude remark, called me a word that rhymes with "witch," and let me leave.  I didn't get the job, nor did I ever see him again, although I read about him in the music industry trade publications now and then. I am sure that, if questioned, he would have said I came on to him-- which I did not-- or he would have denied anything unusual had occurred.  And for him, probably this was nothing unusual. For me, even four decades later, I can still recall what he did.

I told my boyfriend at the time, but I decided to say nothing to anyone else.  The radio business and the music industry were very much a "good old boys" club back then, and if I had spoken out, even if anyone did believe me, I never would have been hired by anyone ever again.  Ultimately, I was able to find another job back in radio, go on and have a successful career, and even spend nearly thirty years as a consultant.  On two occasions during my consulting career, I encountered behavior similar to that record company executive-- clients who, after a nice dinner, expected that they could put their hands on me or who saw nothing wrong with trying to grope me (one even thought it was amusing).  Both men were very famous in the broadcasting industry.  And once again, I felt it best to keep silent, since a woman who complains is seen as a whiner, and the men in the industry tend to circle the wagons and defend each other. I knew that speaking out would blackball me from the industry I loved. So I chose to just keep it to myself.  It was a terrible choice to have to make, but women in mostly-male professions make such decisions often. And yes, it still goes on even today.

Please don't get me wrong.  Most of the men I met during my long career in broadcasting were wonderful. Most treated me as a fellow professional, which is all I ever asked them to do. But my point is that on a few very traumatic occasions, I was the victim of men who believed it was perfectly fine for them to put their hands on me, and that if I objected, I was the one at fault.  I don't know if the accusations against Donald Trump (or for that matter, Bill Clinton) are all true, but based on my experiences, I know first-hand that for many powerful men, they believe they have the right to treat a woman any way they want.  And sad to say, society still has a tendency to cast suspicion on the woman, rather than saying in no uncertain terms that there is NO excuse for touching a woman without her consent.

I totally understand why Trump's accusers said nothing; I too said nothing when it happened to me... and besides, on the one time when I did speak up, I was vilified and subjected to shame and humiliation.  As a second-wave feminist, I am pleased at how far society has come on many issues affecting women.  But when it comes to matters of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching, we still seem stuck in the dark ages, back in an era when women were supposed to just grin and bear it, and accept whatever the man wanted to do; he was the man and we were supposed to cheerfully submit-- or suffer the consequences.  I know first-hand about those consequences.  I also know this story isn't partisan-- powerful men (whether they are Republicans or Democrats,  or even men who claim to be religious) can all be part of the problem.  And rather than blaming their accusers, I can only hope these men will decide to become part of the solution.  But in a culture that still defends boorish behavior, I don't know if they ever will.  


  1. Thanks for sharing this. It's never easy to tell these stories and I feel that men, especially those who have remained unaware of this long history of powerful men feeling entitled to women's bodies, need to hear and have our consciences shocked awake.

  2. I fully understand why victims don't always come forward until years after.


    At least ONE of the ''VICTIMS'' is working on Hillary's campaign. That's a little troubling IMHO.

    ALL the rest of these woman are registered Democrats... The plot thickens...

    You have this billionaire that"s been around hot woman for 40 years, and never a peep about sexual misconduct. NOT ONE, Mrs Halper. And 3 weeks before the election, they ALL come out of the woodwork in a 3 days span? I'm sorry. It just doesn't compute...

    1. Not entirely true, regarding whether the accusers are working for Hillary's campaign-- fact-checkers have already debunked this Trump talking point. But even if they were Democrats, or even if they all knew Hillary, does that mean they are lying about what happened to them?

  3. Donna: this post was probably a difficult one to write. I still work in the radio business and depending on the company, there are still pockets where the type of actions chronicled in your post are ignored or excused by management (even when it happens to more than one woman). The current company I work for is VERY professional and has a culture where harassment (and, of course, assault) claims are taken very seriously. There is no retaliation for reporting such actions to management and people do get fired when harassment claims are shown to be true.

    I've heard stories from co-workers about guys who say things to women like "I'm a hugger" and then grab them and hug for an uncomfortably long time. Or, start kissing women on the cheek and try to move closer to their mouths if they get a second or third chance. And then there's Facebook or Twitter trolling through Messenger or Direct Messages that some of my female co-workers have complained to HR about. Thankfully, HR and managers where I work act swiftly on investigating and addressing these claims. If they didn't, the company could face lawsuits and people just quitting because it's a hostile environment.

    And this is not about political correctness as some kind of plot to trample on people's ability to express themselves how they want. It's about treating people (co-workers, et al) with respect and professionalism in both the workplace and society at large.

  4. Thank you for speaking up, Donna. And, Max, has it ever occurred to you that one of the accusers is working for Hillary BECAUSE she knows what Trump is like? I think you'll find that almost every woman past puberty in this country has been harassed, groped, raped ... and they are all forms of assault/non consensual touching. We don't ask for it. It simply happens. I have finally - 30-plus years later, come to terms with being raped in college (by dorm mates). But with all this going on, I've been flashing back to other times being groped by people, by the "friend" who climbed into bed with me, by the "colleague" who "just couldn't resist," as if my breasts were a box of chocolates. Please, talk to the woman in your life, Max, and you'll hear both why we believe these women and why we don't usually come forward. And you'll hear how angry we are. This is going to be like with Cosby - women are going to KEEP coming forward. The mountain of evidence is going to be undeniable.