Let me get this out of the way…the comments Trump made on the Access Hollywood bus were without question demeaning, disrespectful and unacceptable. I think FLOTUS summarized it perfectly last week when she said,
“…I have to tell you that I can't stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn't have predicted.” - Michelle Obama
I concur. Hearing his words shocked me, and I’m not easily offended. They pissed me off. It made me want to cry. I felt the sting of those words personally. To paraphrase Robert DeNiro’s viral video, it made me want to punch him in the face.
Most people would never say or do the things Trump described, but harassment doesn’t need to be overtly physical to intimidate or demean. Until now, I don’t think that our society has been open about discussing where that line is drawn, even among women. Since the release of that tape I’ve had many conversations with friends, both male and female, about their experiences with harassment. I’ve learned things about friends I’ve known for decades that they had never mentioned. Either they had buried it deep in their memories or were too embarrassed to bring it up before, but now that the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, these stories are being discussed. I think this is progress. I’ve also remembered encounters that I hadn’t thought about in years.
I recall a time in my early 30s when I ended up in a walk-in coat closet with a client as he retrieved his bag and I picked up my umbrella. When I turned around he was blocking my access to the door. He proceeded to invite me to Miami for a weekend on his yacht, apparently unfazed by our 40-year age difference. He mentioned that he would love the opportunity to see me in a bikini. I felt utterly disrespected. I had just delivered a sophisticated presentation about his portfolio’s asset allocation and the impact on his future wealth. Our discussion hadn’t come close to bikinis and yachts. As a good corporate soldier, I laughed and thanked him for the offer. I begged off with the excuse that I had plans for the weekend. I really wanted to punch him in the face as well, but that wasn’t an option.
I remember a time when a colleague picked up a pen off of his desk and threw it on the ground in front of me as I walked by, then asked me if I’d pick it up for him. It was very Mad Men-esque before Mad Men even existed. He laughed and said, “I’m totally kidding.” Yeah, maybe not so much.
I remember being told by a colleague, intended as a compliment, that despite being blond and attractive I gained credibility as soon as I started speaking. Why would it be assumed that I was not intelligent in the first place?
I’ve had friends tell me of times when a high school teacher asked her out on a date (when she was still in high school). I had a male friend tell me about being subjected to constant conversations about the sexual prowess of his female colleagues’ partners while at work. I’ve heard of false rumors being spread about affairs between colleagues of both sexes because it “seemed” they were receiving preferential treatment by management. I’ve heard of a friend being encouraged by her boss to apologize to a male client who had been openly discussing her boobs the night before at dinner to make him feel less uncomfortable about the situation. For what exactly was she apologizing? Having breasts?
I could go on and on about other incidents experienced in social settings, but I’ll stick to the professional situations because they have a direct impact on personal finances.
The implicit message in these circumstances is that “I have power over you, your career, and your income.” The high school teacher could have impacted my friend’s grades, and thus her college and career choices. My client could have threatened to pull his money from the firm if I didn’t play along, which potentially put my job at risk. The women discussing their partners’ sexual performance could have decided to alienate and marginalize the lone man in their group. The common thread is that we all face a decision of whether to play along, or to say what’s on our minds and face the potential consequences. My guess is that most of us try to smooth out the rough edges. I’m sure Billy Bush would agree with this. (I was sympathetic to Billy Bush having to play along until he made the request for a hug, ugh).
Let’s pivot back to the upside of this situation. I’m glad that these discussions are taking place. I’m thrilled that we’re sharing stories and talking about what dis-empowers us. Knowledge is power. We don’t know what we don’t know.
My hope is that the media attention garnered by these words will continue to move this conversation forward. Only by sympathizing with one another’s experiences will we be able to humanize and respect each other in a way that will empower us all. Let’s not mistake being a kind and caring human being for being “too P.C.” I believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Please leave any experiences you'd like to share in the comments.