Weinstein was the tipping point.
As soon as the news broke about Harvey Weinstein’s gross and predatory behavior toward women, I began compiling a list in my head of all the sexual affronts and obnoxious acts I’d encountered in a lifetime, then posted it on Facebook. Other women quickly added their own stories.
And then I kept thinking of incidents I’d omitted. A short list:
The local dentist—now deceased—who, after implanting a crown, kissed me forcefully on the lips as I still sat imprisoned in the chair.
The owner of the deli where I’d only worked for a week, back in Michigan, when I was 18, who drove me home one evening and asked me to … errr … “put out” as we sat in the driveway of my home, where I lived with my parents. I escaped before he got his hands on me. I didn’t tell anyone, including my parents, and went to work the next day. I really, really needed that job. I was fired after my shift the next day.
The co-owner of the more upscale restaurant where I’d worked next, who called me to his office after I’d been there for several months. He made chitchat that I do not recall, then got up from his desk and came around to hold me and kiss me on the lips. I was too stunned to respond.
Again, I kept my mouth shut—but now kept my distance from this otherwise good boss and father of daughters. What had I done to encourage this? I wondered. How had he misinterpreted our pleasant relationship?
The name owner of the Madison Avenue PR firm where I worked briefly in the 1970s. He ran the place like his personal harem; everybody knew whom he was currently “having dinner” with, and what that meant. No one said anything, except gossip—after all, he owned the company.
The well-dressed creep who walked up to me at the corner of 53rd and Lexington in Manhattan at lunchtime and said, quietly but directly: “I’d like to f— you.” It was springtime, I was wearing a light coat, heels and nylons, probably even gloves. What had I done to encourage that vulgarity? And, furthermore, what could he possibly have gotten out of saying it?
Whenever I am near 53rd and Lex, that icky, sick moment comes to mind, and I momentarily remember the feeling of being so objectified, so demeaned, even though this happened decades ago. He probably doesn’t remember it all.
The late “gonzo” writer Bill Cardoso, who ran his hand down my chest in the lobby of the American Hotel, while a group of our mutual friends—my husband included—were sitting there. Instinct kicked in, and I grabbed the guy’s junk and embarrassed him. Everybody laughed—at him. Situation over.
My regret is that I did not squeeze until he squealed.
The dapper older gentleman riding the elevator in Saks on Fifth Avenue who forcefully squeezed my behind. I wish I’d slapped him, but I simply turned around in shock. He acted surprised—why was I looking at him? But this time at least I did something—I got off and immediately reported him to an employee.
The whistles and words called out by street workers in Manhattan. Too numerous to remember them all, but I remember the feeling of being diminished and embarrassed. Only when I was older, and more fed up with the catcalls, did I retort with a choice truck driver insult that begins with “Go …”
But mostly we have been silent. We don’t tell others, because in doing so we are relating how we were devalued by someone, and thus planting the idea that we are cheap. Somehow to blame. What will the person we tell think of us now? It’s the same old “What did I do?” To cause that comment/insult/assault?
And then, one morning, I opened The New York Times and found that someone I once had a relationship with was stepping down from his job because of sexual harassment claims against him. Him? I could hardly believe it. I thought of him as especially principled, a man of character who once gave my heart more than a passing twinge—and I’d been the one who ended the relationship badly.
Well, Lord, now what?
Do I rethink how I thought of him?
I’m still turning this over in my mind, but I’m not coming up with an answer. Mostly, I am just stunned, not disbelieving the women but having a hard believing he did it, whatever “it” is.
Now I feel I understand the people who say, I’ve known so-and-so and he couldn’t have done it. Just like the legions of people, my husband included, who didn’t want to believe until DNA proved otherwise that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings whom he kept as slaves. But he did what they said, and so apparently did the man of my acquaintance.
What is the point of everyone coming out and talking about what happened to them? Because it’s a friggin’ relief to let go of all the gross, inappropriate comments and behaviors that demeaned and humiliated us.
Because it is a way to prevent these predators and sexual marauders from holding high office and having the power to control the livelihood of others.
Because what the people at the top do filters down to how the new employees act. Office behavior is ultimately a mirror of the behavior of the person in charge. When he or she is a sexual miscreant, or the one who tells dirty jokes at every possible moment, that behavior becomes the culture. Good ol’ boys in charge train new ol’ boys coming up the ladder.
But women are not statues to be touched surreptitiously, the way we might want to touch a marble torso at the Met. We are your mothers and daughters, your sisters and friends.
And, finally, enough is enough.
We want the next generation of women not have to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous touch and language. We want to be treated with respect, not turned into random objects of casual lust. We want our sons to treat the women they pass in the street and the women in their lives with dignity and respect.
Surely that is not too much to ask.
Lorraine Dusky, a resident of Sag Harbor, is a theater reviewer for The Press, and an author whose books include “The Best Companies for Women” and “Still Unequal: The Truth about Women and Justice in America.”
(From The Southampton and East Hampton Press, Nov. 22, 2017)