One-by-one, they all fell. News anchors. Movie directors. Actors. Countless others. Each allegedly had made sexual advances toward unwilling women. We watched with our hands cupped over our mouths, shaking our heads in disbelief. The recent stories of impropriety poured in so furiously that we tuned in just to see who made the roll call.
Women beseeched, ‘lawd, please don’t let it be Denzel!’ We were not making light of the situation, but the frequency of the allegations and the favorable reputations of the accused led us to believe that anybody could be next.
As we witnessed women speaking out and taking down the mighty, we thought, ‘this issue is not isolated in the entertainment industry. This happened to me.’ However, like many others, we were paralyzed by the fear of what might follow if we let the secret slip. *Seventy-five percent of women who reported harassment also reported that retaliation was not far behind.
This fear convinces us to play along. We shrug off dirty jokes. We suck our teeth at sexist, degrading comments. We roll our eyes when a male coworker thumps our backsides in the elevator. The truth is, some women have come to accept indecent behavior from men. Many of us expect it. But, when we don’t call men on their stuff, the behavior can swell and create an even more uncomfortable situation.
As a young reporter, I befriended a male editor at a local newspaper. Ours was exactly the type of relationship that might develop when two people are working long hours, often late into the evening. We would take breaks together, review each other’s copy, pitch story ideas, share resources. Then we took our relationship offsite. We dined, watched movies, chatted by phone after midnight. We heard murmurs from co-workers about our relationship, but I really had no feelings for this man other than friendship.
As our friendship grew, we spent more and more time together. Then, he started making sexual innuendo. I thought it was innocent at first, but it became aggressive and physical (he tried to kiss me, caressed me, showed up at my apartment). I felt nervous being alone with him and backed away but remained friendly. When I was ready to take on more responsibilities at work, I asked for his recommendation. He asked what was in it for him and suggested
we meet at my place to discuss. I was hurt, ashamed, angry. He went on like nothing ever happened. I eventually moved away and never spoke with him again. Later, I learned he had a similar budding relationship with another young reporter. And when he stepped to her wrong, she put him on blast. He lost his job. I wish I would have been as brave.
Women who speak up are commonly labeled liars or somehow are to blame. The first question is ‘what was she doing there anyway?’ Her being there doesn’t give another the right to violate her. The #MeToo movement, started by Tarana Burke, has given women a voice and support they never believed they had before. Now, more than ever, harassers (men and women) are owning up to their bad behavior and employers are holding them publicly accountable.
The only way to stop this behavior is to stop this behavior. All of us. We know when we are being inappropriate and when to shut down someone else for acting the same. Most importantly, we must strengthen our communities by promoting respect for others.
*Equal Employment Opportunity Commission