Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Sexual Harassment Is Fun.

Except that it isn't.

Some time ago, when I read Naomi Wolf's article in New York Magazine about being sexually harassed by Harold Bloom, I began to think about the prevalence of sexual harassment -- and the degree to which it goes ignored, unreported, brushed off. I don't know too many women who can't -- off the top of their heads -- recount at least one incident of sexual harassment, and yet how many of us do anything about it?

- I remember, as an undergrad, a freshman seminar professor who took too much interest in my love life. He was later fired for having an affair with a student.

- One of my first bosses in LA used to make regular eye-stops at my chest (we're not talking glances here; full-blown staring). I would make mental lists of shirts not to wear to work. I finally crossed anything resembling v-necks off the list completely because he just couldn't keep his eyes off. He wasn't shy about it, and I don't even have that much to look at.

- Another LA boss would call me into his office then, as I would wait to see what he needed, he'd look me up and down and assess. Once he actually asked me to turn around. When I refused, he said, "I just think you've lost weight. Turn around and let me look." I still refused. He called the other boss in. "Don't you think Pam's lost weight? Look at her." The other boss said, "You're such an asshole," and walked out. I liked that boss.

- My own agent would send me on "meetings" that were actually set-ups.

- A professor who literally looked under a conference table at my legs to comment on my skirt (I don't wear skirts all that often; not that that excuses it) then got me to take him home and showed me his bedroom.

- A teacher in Russia who I thought I was friends with who "rescued" me from an overzealous guy on the last night of the seminar only to shove his tongue down my throat at my room door. Then, later, when I expressed, um, discomfort at his actions, wrote me an email that began, "Oh, come now, P..." He went on to say that we were in a "magic time space" (wtf?) and that his wife and one-year-old daughter didn't exist in that place in time. (I still hate it when people say, "Oh, come now...") I told my boyfriend at the time. He was angry with me. As if I'd asked for Will to do that. As if I wasn't the one who felt betrayed and victimized by someone I trusted. I understand it was only his tongue in my mouth. I know there is much worse. It doesn't make it better.

- The doctor I posted about before who tried to bring muscle relaxers to my house at 11:30 at night, after telling me way too much about his personal life.

I know these aren't "that bad." But they're cumulative. And they all made me uncomfortable, to varying degrees. So what's the answer? Laugh it off? Report someone and "risk" being impolite? Because, God knows, as women, especially in the South, we're trained to be "polite" at any cost. What is it we're afraid of? Being called melodramatic? Overreacting? Hypersensitive? Not being believed? Or being laughed off as we ourselves try to laugh it off.

A writers' assistant on a TV show in LA sued for sexual harassment right around the time I left Hollywood. I don't know if she won or not. What I do know is she never worked again.

I was once tricked into going on a date with a guy who later became an agent at the same agency where I was represented. At the end of the night, desperate to get home and away from the uncomfortable situation, I drove him home and tried to take my leave. He wouldn't get out of the car. I found myself wedged against my own door as he groped and grabbed. He finally got out and I left, crying, feeling like driving into the wall of the 10 on my way home. Why? I hadn't done anything wrong. And yet I felt like I had. When he called a few days later to ask me out (?!), he couldn't understand why I wouldn't want to go. When he became an agent at my agency and I made it clear that I didn't want to have any contact with him, everyone -- yes -- laughed it off. When I saw him a year later at a bar and told him he was my least favorite person in the bar (yeah, I'd had a few), he made me sit at a table with him and tell him why. He was baffled. He thought we'd had a good date that night. He had never understood why I didn't want to go out with him again.

Was I that unclear? Or was he that clueless? Do we, as women, play a part in our own sexual harassment, or is that very line of thinking buying into the same thought pattern that prevents us from saying anything?

Is there some division between standing up for yourself and being a bitch? Is there an answer, or is it something we have to deal with simply for being female?

Do we have to stay quiet for as many years as Naomi Wolf did before we finally feel like it's okay to speak out?

We can call it harmless. But if it makes us uncomfortable in any way -- especially in a place where we shouldn't have to feel uncomfortable -- is there anything, truly, harmless about that?


Blogger The Sandmonkey said...

Ohh, that's one discussion that I am not getting into!

1:56 AM  
Blogger pamela said...

:) And here I was really looking forward to your input!

9:23 AM  
Blogger egyptiansally said...

it's amazing how easy it is to recall every single instance of stuff like this. as i was reading your list, i was thinking about my own. it's something you never forget even if at the time you try to brush it off and forget about it... & that's not counting all the maybes when you thought something was amiss but couldnt be 100% sure.

remind me to tell you the latest with a certain j.s.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Tai said...

This post is great -- not in the "I love it," celebratory way; but in the "more women need to be doing this and sticking up for their personhood" kind of way.
Interesting how many teachers are listed here. Is that saying something about educators? hmmmmm

11:45 AM  
Blogger pamela said...

Perhaps. I remember when I recounted a story about a different faculty member at SLS Russia that one of our professors said, "It's endemic to academia..."

However, a lot of bosses are listed too (probably on everyone's list) so it's more likely just a power thing. I think?

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Handline said...

This blog has made me think more than anything Pam has written before (well, that I have read anyway). I'm not quite sure why, other than the fact that all of us women can relate to it. Females are always expected to look beautiful. Working women are expected to be professional in a "mans world". How a woman merges the two is where the tricky part comes in. If we look too good, than we are not taken seriously and thus become an easy target for Sexual Harrasment; however, if we do not "look good" then we constantly deal with hearing comments about the other women who do. Not to mention actually getting ahead in the business world because of the way we look, or don't look. Should we as women "put up with it" for the betterment of our careers, or take a stand and never get ahead? At least we can comment on it amoungst ourselves....

4:09 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

i must agree with sally, as i too have thought of too many instances of similar behavior while reading your blog. my first experience was when i was 16 and my manager at jc penney would have me work the cash room at night and ask me questions like "so, have you ever been frenched?" etc etc. and nasty experience in particular dealt with a police officer, who pulled me over, asked me to get out of the car, eyed me up and down, complimented my skirt, legs, etc and proceded to have me get back in my car and drive off the main road to a secluded area...as to not interfere with traffic, indeed. i was scared and unsure, he was a cop and all, so i did as told and he gawked and such for about 30 minutes, and finally let me go with a warning: i had to get the tiny light bulb over my license plate replaced, right. and the list goes on and on...as i'm sure you can imagine :)

9:11 PM  

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