Last night, a handful of my colleagues – women and men - and I got together in a social gathering, had some alcoholic beverages and talked. It only took about 10 minutes before we hit the #metoo conversation.
One fellow professor said she was surprised I hadn’t posted a story of sexual harassment given my years in the sports media business.
Here is why I did not post anything – I never really experienced sexual harassment at work. Not from colleagues, not from athletes or coaches, not from readers.
I had some people email or call me in the middle of the night when I was sure not to answer and suggest I “go back to the kitchen,” and that I didn’t know anything about sports because, naturally, I’m a woman.
A married baseball player once asked me out. I quickly retorted that his wife probably wouldn’t like that. He said she would come and I laughed it off. The player never mentioned it again and acted professionally and kindly to me thereafter.
Thanks to guys named Bryan, Sergio, Roger, Barry, Rich, Mark, Bill, Ron, Nick and the rest of the men I worked with, the horror stories that have befallen so many of my friends never came to me.
I never thought about getting out of a career I loved, or felt I wouldn’t get where I wanted to go because of sexual harassment.
I’m thankful for that. The workplace was good to me.
But, a man I thought was a friend raped me when we were in college. For years – and, honestly, even still a little bit today – I blamed myself for being in the position to let it happen. Like, if I had just been out of the closet, maybe it wouldn’t have happened... or so many other senseless "what ifs."
It didn’t define me. It didn’t wreck my life, or change how I thought about sex, or men, or my own sexuality. It was always just something that happened.
And then it happened to someone I love.
And then it happened to someone else I love.
And someone else I love.
And, the more I talked about it with friends, I learned that it was just something that happened to them, too, and to women they loved, as well.
A man in a trusted position sexually assaulted my wife. A married co-worker made a focused, direct and unwanted sexual advance on a friend. A young man raped one of my students when she woke up with him on top of her. I wish this was the end of a list… but, it is quite literally only the beginning.
We can make this political.
The President of the United States bragged about grabbing pussy and has been accused by several women – including his ex-wife – of sexual assault. Last year when the tape revealing his pussy-grabbing comment came out, we were reminded that a president a little further back had an affair with a young woman whose career, and life, he wrecked. Three women also accused him of sexual harassment.
A woman I know who is a bit older than I am rolled her eyes over all that when the pussy-grabbing news came out and told me, “THEY ALL DO IT,” as if to say it was OK because the behavior was so pervasive.
But, I can’t help but wonder…
They all do it?
All of them? Really?
The men I love and respect? They do it?
The men I worked with who were professional to me? Friends’ husbands, and brothers, and my own family members? They all do it?
By the sheer volume of stories I have read the past week, it seems to me that that woman was right – they all do it.
Of course, that isn’t the case.
They don’t all do it, but, many men do. Some men I love and respect do. Some men I worked with do. Some friends’ husbands and brothers, and my own family do.
But not all of them. Not all of them.
The thing is, if the ones who don’t rape, don’t harass, don’t use their power to coerce, don’t feel entitled still refuse to listen to what is being said right now, it feels like all of them.
And, if women can excuse that behavior because it feels like all men participate in this kind of malfeasance, then it feels like the problem of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment is one we all just have to endure.
This is not something that just happens. It is something we – as men and women – allow.
And, they all don’t do it. But, we need to hear the voices of those who don’t so they all don’t just blend together.
Molly Yanity, Ph.D.