There’s a new movement afoot and it is taking down some powerful men from the broad spectrum of the good old boy’s network. We are seeing men fall out of favor from the movie industry, political leaders, and corporate gurus. I’m a firm believer that people who are given more power than they deserve, will most certainly abuse it. I agree with the movement to speak up, call these men out, and let them know this is unacceptable and that nobody is allowed to touch you without your permission.
However, the me too movement brought out some women with a completely different mindset that has really thrown me for a loop. It is the younger women, ages 20-30 somethings, that are protesting this movement with the general idea of we lived the assault once, why must you make us live this again. The concept of it triggering bad memories and setting them off into a downward spiral is a common theme amongst them. I’m sympathetic to their plight, I really am, but with that being said, can we talk about the women who have walked this path for years before the me too movement came along?
Being sexually assaulted at work with the threat of losing your job was only one part of the dynamics that occurred when women were first entering the work force. The part that was worse was the complete lack of support by most all people in the general public. It seemed to be an acceptable act taken out on women and the advice given to most victims was “shut up and don’t talk about it.”
I was raised with 3 brothers, the only girl, and I fought within my own family for equal rights. I came on the work scene in the mid-70s when women were already fully integrated into the corporate world. We were secretaries and assistants trying to make our way through a male dominated domain. I was seventeen the first time my boss made a vulgar remark about what he’d like to do to me. The other men standing around laughed and seemed amused by my discomfort. I talked to my family that night at the dinner table, I was positive they’d have good advice, but they didn’t. My parents sluffed it off as if it was nothing. I got in an argument with them about it and asked what I could do if this happened again. Quit your job is what I was told. I went to friends, other adults I respected, my grandparents, and yet nobody seemed to understand that this was serious and I had no intention of shutting up.
I refused to quit my job and so I continued to work and tried to avoid this man, but that was no easy task. He sought me out and harassed me when there were other men around. This time it happened in the copy room which doubled as the coffee lounge. I was separated from the door by several men as I was trying to make my copies and get the hell out of there. My boss approached me from behind and pressed himself up against me, his arms on each side of me, I could see no escape. He spoke softly against my neck, rubbing his groin against my backside, and told me to lift my skirt. I abruptly turned around to face him and told him to get off of me. The other men in the room razzed him; this was a game for them. He shoved me hard into the copy machine with a beet red face and told me I’d pay for this.
The room fell silent, I shoved him back and told him that he would be the one paying for this because he just assaulted me in a room full of witnesses. I started writing down the names of every single person in the room and I left work and went to the Civil Rights division of the Attorney General’s office. I filed suit that afternoon.
It took three years of fighting through the bureaucratic swamp of male dominance, but I won. During those three years I was faced with great pressure to stop this whole thing. People wanted to know why I had to make such a fuss and why I couldn’t just let things be. I felt at times like I was not strong enough to face the great opposition that stood in front of me, but I persevered. The firm was made to pay me a sum of money equivalent to two years of my salary and new procedures were put into the employee handbooks about sexual harassment. I may not have changed the world, but I changed the policies of that company and led the way for other women to do the same.
Since that time I have gone on to press forward for gender equality. I have filed suits against two other companies that were openly discriminating against women and won both. Being fired for becoming pregnant or getting paid a lower amount for mileage reimbursement doesn’t even seem plausible in this country today. I am a mother of two adult women now and am proud that they have my history behind them. There was a rugged road that was forged long before the me too movement was even thought of. With all due respect, if we are quiet now, what did I fight so hard for?
“Moonlit Thoughts” by Angela Bertoli