Monday, October 10, 2016

Men, Understand This: Every Woman Has At Least One Story ...

The following post has been lingering in my email Drafts folder since November 8, 2011, hence the reference to Herman Cain. As you read, swap in "Donald Trump" today. Nothing has changed.

It happens all the time.

If I were a betting woman, I'd wager that every woman I know has been sexually harassed at least once. Beyond the bounds of catcalls from construction workers and the like, obnoxious though those are. But by someone they know well. Someone they work with, perhaps.

I was.

I was 21 or 22. He was 57 or 58.

I was hired, ostensibly, as his assistant. I was only expected to come in when he needed help. It wasn't a full-time thing. But I remember sitting with him, my first day after having been hired, working on whatever it was we were working on that day, and him asking, out of nowhere, "So, are we going to have an affair?"

I looked up to see if he was joking.

He wasn't joking.

He was 36 years my senior. And he was paying me to be there. And he was asking me if we were going to have an affair.

I seem to remember saying, bluntly, "I don't think so."

I definitely remember not going back there again.

Maybe he suddenly no longer needed an assistant.

Or maybe he didn't need an assistant who shot him down. Not that I would have gone back if he'd called.

And maybe you're saying, "That wasn't sexual harassment. That was a proposition."

To which I'm saying, they're one in the same.

proposition: an offer of sexual intercourse made to a person with whom one is not sexually involved, esp. one that is made in an unsubtle or offensive way.

Men and women are having very different reactions to what's going on with Herman Cain and his accusers. And that makes me think that that is because men and women exist in very different worlds.

Men, I suspect, have never felt the surge of unease that comes with, to use Cain's word, "inappropriate" behavior.

I once had a superior ask if I would date him. It caught me off guard, and I tried to be polite in my response even as all I could think of was a way to get out of the room. Which was stupid, since I had to return to the room later. We were at a client's office. And then we were at an airport. And then we had to return to the client the following week. In the days in between, the surprise that he would ask gave way to anger that he'd put me in that position. I negotiated my contracts with him. I needed to work.

But I wondered if I had somehow given him the mistaken impression that I wanted to pursue a relationship with him. If I had, I wanted to know about it so I could adjust my demeanor accordingly.

So I asked.

No, he said. I was always very clear that we were just friends.

So why had he asked?

Because he wanted to ask, he told me.

Which made me even angrier. If I had given him no indication that I had any interest in him romantically, what right did he have to put me in the position of having to turn down an advance from him?

I pointed out that he was my boss.

He disagreed.

"I negotiate my contracts with you," I said.

He had never considered that part of it, that he was the man who determined whether or not I worked with that company and/or that he was the man who decided how much I earned.

To him, it was an innocuous question, asking if I would date him.

To me, it was anything but innocuous. It changed the way I related to him.

I'm reading a lot about "political correctness," as if women are simply too sensitive and men are always to blame.

No, women are not simply too sensitive.

The man who was 36 years my senior, who hired me to help him around the office, who was married, had no business asking me if we were going to have an affair. What part of me filing papers suggested that I welcomed his sexual attention?

Just as the man who was the one who negotiated my contracts had no business asking me to date him.

Men may see no connection between their ability to grant employment or otherwise offer assistance and the suggestion that women enter into a sexual relationship.

Women do.

To add a more current anecdote, I was recently behind a car that was pulling into a gas station. I, too, was going to pull in. The car in front of me stopped just after turning, leaving me with my car half in the street. I don't know if the driver was deciding whether to park or to pull over to one of the pumps or if he had stopped to talk with the guy in the pickup truck who was leaving. All I knew was that I was going to be blocking traffic. I said, rather loudly, "Oh, for the love of God," as if to say, "Move!", immediately after which the guy in the pickup truck drove past me and screamed, "Fuck you, cunt!" The memory of that moment still makes my heart race a bit.