I’m back… yes, more #metoo is on my mind. Rather than saying part 1 or part 2, let’s just skip ahead and say part infinity. It kind of goes on forever.
Today the internet is lit up with the news that actor Dustin Hoffman sexually harassed an intern in 1985. There has been a great deal of surprise about this, including my own for about a second.
Honestly, I am talking to myself as much as I am talking to others as I say this… I think we should stop being surprised at learning some other person of note has committed some form of sexual harassment because it is so systemic.
Think about it, women were essentially chattel for a great deal of history, and remain so in many ways and places. A big part of the white nationalism movement goes beyond issues of race, color, ethnicity, and also seeks to return to a time when women knew their place. Zoom out – it is part of something much more significant, and we are all involved in it. This is why it is still a challenge for many women, let alone men, to use the term feminist. I myself avoided it for a long time, and it was not because I saw myself as some little lady.
Sexual abuse, rape, assault – these are crimes of power. Dustin Hoffman would not have said “I’ll have a hard-boiled egg … and a soft-boiled cl*toris.” to an intern if he did not think he could get away with it. Worse yet, it probably wasn’t even thought out – simply a reflex given his position. That this was done in front of an entourage, and of course they all laughed hysterically only adds to the abuse.
One of the worst #metoo experiences I have is about a man who simply used the most disgusting descriptions of sexual acts as he tugged and pulled on a bottle of wine that he was trying to uncork at a company function. Some of our coworkers were no more than ten feet away. In a low voice he questioned what I might like to do or experience in terms of his struggle with the wine bottle using the most vile and explicit language. Honestly, I was in one of the most senior management positions, higher than this man, but I was so shocked that I stood stock still. I do not think a single muscle moved in my body. Did I breathe? I don’t think I did that either. Honestly, I felt terrified although I knew then, as I knew now that this man would never lay a hand on me. Yet this language and these descriptions of what he imagined I might enjoy threw me. And as suddenly as it started, it was over. The wine was corked, he stood up (he had been a little hunched over) and smiled and walked away. I wanted to faint.
One of my first thoughts was “did I hear him correctly?” Of course, the reflex of many women is self-recrimination and blame. “Was I wrong?” was a nearly unconscious reaction. I turned to look at the rest of the room, people were filling up the place after an event. I felt as if I were out of time or in a dream sequence. On one side of the room I saw one of my employees, a woman. She was pretty wild and had had a lot to drink; I remember that I worried she would do something foolish. (She did… that is another story, file under #himtoo. It happens.) Anyway, I could not deal with any of it, so I quietly left and was about to walk back to my room. A friend came along and asked why I was leaving, so I told her. She couldn’t believe it but neither she – nor I – would have thought about reporting it.
The man was someone I had known for about 16 years give or take. He was not someone I would have imagined would do such a thing. He was drunk, and that was not entirely unusual for him or others at this function. It seemed to me that I sort of knew he was having some marital issues, but maybe that’s just because I now know that in reverse. But you see, in some way I was trying to get him off the hook.
Well a funny thing happened on the way to the HR department. As I noted, there was a #himtoo story having to do with my female employee and I was working with my HR person on that. She was a great employee, but also drank a lot and she was a very wild child in those days. We’ve lost touch, but I think she calmed down. Anyway, as I was casually speaking to the HR person, who was a friend, I mentioned what had happened to me that same night.
Well, guess what? She was kind of a mandated reporter. Just knowing about it casually meant she had to investigate it. I was horrified – and ashamed. One, I started to wonder if I had misheard him. Two, I felt ashamed because I just felt ashamed. Three, I did not want this to become a thing. (And we wonder why rapes are not reported?) Too late – things were going down.
Let us just say that of all the possible endings, it worked out well instead of truly awful. I can say this, I was in receipt of what I believe was an almost immediate and sincere apology from the other end. No serious actions were taken, and frankly, I think he was shaken to his bones over this. I did mention to him that he was a manager of young women and that he needed to be aware of his actions. Today I’m pretty glad I actually said that, regardless of how it might have turned out. I have no idea where he is today and while I do not wish ill upon him, I do not need to know.
Most of the stories do not turn out this way. Most of the stories leave us feeling angry, ashamed, or worse. I still have a number of those. But you know what, if nothing else, #metoo reminds me it is actually #ustoo. None of us are alone in this. And the fact that it is pouring out like water overflowing a dam is a good thing.
Expect more stories, don’t be surprised. It is not an excuse but the entire machine was set up this way. That goes a short distance to explain what most men should have known better about, but who consciously chose otherwise.
Here is a song to remind all of us who have been indeed – silent all these years. It makes me feel strong, but I also cry every time I hear it.