Relationships

On Sexual Harassment

By Saul Leiter

The first time I was sexually harassed was in a pizza place…

It was my first job — other than babysitting and shoveling snowy driveways — and I was 14 years old. Wearing my uniform of a white tee, khakis and a giant baseball cap, I was standing at a back counter, filling plastic cups with salad dressing. The owner, Bill, had stopped by the restaurant. Although we’d never met before, he walked up behind me and put his hands on my hips. “Don’t spill anything,” he said, peering over my shoulder. Then he slowly kissed my neck.

That night, when I told my mom, she said, “If that ever happens again, kick him where it counts and run home!” But it was disorienting. He was my boss. I wanted that job. It happened and was over in five seconds. I was filling the dressings the whole time.

Earlier this week, reading the horrifying allegations against Harvey Weinstein, I found myself thinking, I’m so fortunate, nothing at all has ever happened to me. But as I read the accounts, I remembered the pizzeria owner’s hot breath. And then countless other times came flooding back, when I’ve felt uncomfortable or violated. Nothing big, nothing major, but countless times for decades: Men at parties forcing kisses. A guy who stuck my hand down his pants when I was asleep. A boss who poked me in the stomach every time I walked by. A stranger exposing himself as I jogged by him in a park. The list goes on and on.

Last night, I was wondering, how have all these experiences always added up in my mind to nothing? That I’ve chalked them up to just part of life, part of being female? That I’ve brushed things off again and again and just tried not to think about them? Have you done the same?

“One of the cruelest things about these acts is the way that they entangle, and attempt to contaminate, all of the best things about you,” wrote Jia Tolentino in the New Yorker. “If you’re sweet and friendly, you’ll think that it’s your fault for accommodating the situation. If you’re tough, well, you might as well decide that it’s no big deal. If you’re a gentle person, then he knew you were weak. If you’re talented, he thought of you as an equal. If you’re ambitious, you wanted it. If you’re savvy, you knew it was coming. If you’re affectionate, you seemed like you were asking for it all along. If you make dirty jokes or have a good time at parties, then why get moralistic? If you’re smart, there’s got to be some way to rationalize this.”

Plus, you might feel like you’re powerless or have no real solutions, especially at work. “What can I do about it? Who do I tell?” wrote screenwriter Liz Meriwether, who was sexually harassed in her twenties by a powerful man but stayed quiet. “Was it that big of a deal? Did I make it up?… It was just a weird thing that happened, and now it’s over, and I’m fine.”

When I’ve told tales to male friends or partners, they’ve often been outraged. “Men who hear these stories, I’ve found, tend to interrogate you to get to the truth of what happened, then, if they believe you, they want retaliation or revenge. Men want rules to be enforced and authorities called,” writes Meriwether in New York Magazine. But of course it’s not that simple. “Women want those things, too, but we understand the complicated mental calculations that are forced on us. If a man reaches under your skirt on an airplane, does that mean you should put your career, your ambitions, your livelihood in jeopardy just to watch him get some kind of slap on the wrist? Isn’t that ultimately giving this stranger more power over your life? Women don’t have to explain these things to other women, because we’ve all had to ask these questions ourselves.”

If you say something, you’re often called uptight. You’re overreacting. You have no sense of humor. You’re hard to work with. (Remember this parody article?) After the Weinstein scandal broke, a top talent agent’s response echoed what the world often thinks: “He asked for a few massages? Waaah! Welcome to Hollywood!” Basically: Get over it, ladies.

And it’s not just Hollywood, of course. “Abuse, threats and coercion have been the norm for so many women trying to do business or make art,” writes Lena Dunham in the New York Times. “[Harvey Weinstein’s] behavior, silently co-signed for decades by employees and collaborators, is a microcosm of what has been happening in Hollywood since always and of what workplace harassment looks like for women everywhere.”

What happens now? Honestly, I’m not sure what the best steps are. Is it to share loudly? “When we share, we unlock other women’s stories, and suddenly secrets don’t seem so necessary,” says Jenni Konner in “Our Voices Are Our Superpower.” Is it for men to speak up? Is it to raise good children? What else? There must be something else.

P.S. On feminism, and how to teach kids consent.

(Photo by Saul Leiter.)

  1. TjP says...

    You really do get used to apologizing for being a smart, pretty woman in the workplace: not directly, by saying ‘sorry, I am cute and you can’t handle it’ but by ignoring the weird mildly jokes and assumptions that I am the secretary (or at least (of course) the one who should coordinate the holiday potlucks). And pushing way deep down the knowledge that my lazy white male boss is there because of two of those three demographic markers.

    It’s crazy too, because my husband truly believes that no one is sexist in the workplace anymore.

    • Mallory says...

      YES! The giggles you have to produce when weird old white guys think you are their to entertain them and smile at them. If you don’t, you are expected to explain why you are feeling down.

    • Alexandra says...

      Mallory “If you don’t, you are expected to explain why you are feeling down” yes yes yes! Having to pretend like someone else is funny/intelligent/charming or else they accuse you of being humorless/a b*tch/on your period is so exhausting.

  2. Jamie says...

    I’m so sorry any of that happened to you. And I’m sorry for all of you here (and everywhere else) with similar experiences. I was groped by an old man in a haunted house amusement ride when I was nine. Nine! Wtf. And at work when I was 21 (When I yelled at him he asked if I was a lesbian). When I was 22 some guy wrote ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ on my body in sharpie while I was drunk. I could go on. The worst part is the confusion and the self blame and the minimizing. So hearing about others’ experiences is so important. It makes it clear, we’re not to blame, it’s not small, and it’s not us. In no way is it us.
    Thanks for writing this Joanna.

  3. Anonymous says...

    As a first-year lawyer at my law firm, I was out drinking with some male partners (my bosses) at an out-of-town conference. While we were dancing, one of the [married] partners grabbed my breasts and thrusted against me. I ran out of the bar, went straight back to my hotel room, and cried. I never said anything to anyone at work, and had to continue working with him on a daily basis. Three years later, when my daughter was born and I came back from maternity leave, I was still anxious working around him. I finally disclosed the event to some bosses I trusted. Luckily the law firm handled it well, conducted a full investigation, and I never have to work with him again. I felt supported and heard.

    In the end, becoming a mother inspired me to speak up. When you have to look at your sweet baby girl, and ask yourself, “How would I advise her if this happened to her?” (Because, sadly enough, it’s almost certain that she WILL face sexual harassment or assault in her lifetime.) I knew I would tell her: “It’s not your fault. It doesn’t matter if either of you were drunk. You worked too hard for this job. He chose to violate you. If your employer doesn’t support you, it’s not a good place to work and you need to leave anyway.”

    I just had to take my own advice. And some day, I’ll get to tell my sweet daughter how she inspired me. I can’t wait for that conversation.

    • Clara says...

      Yes, I agree with you. I think we should be a role model for our children. I am a mother of a boy and I feel a huge responsibility in teaching him to respect women, but also everyone around him, men, animals, nature… There is definetly something to do, we cannot surrender and pretend we are powerless. Education is paramount.

  4. “There must be something else.” What an eloquent conclusion. I’m moved to tears. Love to my sisters. Thank you, Joanna. xx

  5. Cazmina says...

    The part about the questions we ask ourselves really resonated. Like the high school phys-ed teacher who put his hand on my thigh while we were sitting in the stands watching a swimming competition, or the older male colleague who, upon hearing that I was about to move overseas, literally stepped to the side to look at my butt and said “oh you’ll have lots of fun with the boys over there.” Or the time I woke up to a friend rubbing my breast after falling asleep at a party. I’ve always been speechless at the time and afterwards thought “is saying anything worth it?” “did I do something to bring it on?” “would anyone believe me?” “was it even that bad?” “what would happen to me if I said something?”

    I don’t know what we can do to change things, but I think sharing stories helps. I think we need men to get their heads out of the sand and help us fight this battle. Some may genuinely not realise how prevalent it is, though others clearly know yet ignore it (apparently Weinstein was an open secret in Hollywood). The abusers brush women off as overreacting, hysterical, attention-seeking or manipulative (and therefore not worth listening to), so if other men are loudly saying “this is not ok” then perhaps they will listen.

  6. Katie says...

    I’ve experienced incidents similar to the ones Joanna mentioned over the past few decades as well. I think my worst memory, though, was detailing a particularly uncomfortable experience to a female colleague and not having her support to speak up for myself. She was incredulous that I would make a big deal of it. I still can’t believe over ten years later that I never said anything. It breaks my heart to think that she thought it was ok.

  7. Alex says...

    A few weeks ago after I finished at work, a man ran towards me in the staff carpark. In a children’s hospital. At 1:30am. I saw him standing still near a wall, facing the door, wearing a backpack, then the movement towards me. I ran back inside. I reported this to security who obviously didn’t believe me. The next day, they had reviewed footage of the surrounds (no camera on that carpark level) and said, laughing “It was just a jogger”. As though I was silly to be scared. A random man lurking in a secluded carpark in the middle of the night was given the benefit of the doubt, and a female doctor – one they worked with every day – was not. The lifetime incidence of sexual harassment is 100%. We’re made to feel complicit or foolish when we notice. Thank you for this post, and for forming this community. x

    • Katherine says...

      Yep. My only serious incident where I really felt threatened and unsafe (amid several less threatening like wolf whistles and dance floor gropes by strangers) met the same reaction. Two guys cornered me on a train, sitting either side of me and boxing me in. The tram line transferred to a bus line so I moved to sit right behind the driver. One man still came to stand right next to me and hassle me, verbally and with his presence. He got off at my stop. I can only assume he was too drunk to run after me because I bolted the second I stepped off and ran the whole way home. The people I was staying with literally laughed at me. In the end, nothing ‘happened’ to me either but I was denied the chance to feel safe in public, and belittled for a rational reaction to a much bigger, stronger and intentionally threatening man. I would not have really expected any police or official follow up, but support from the people you know and who should care for your safety, well, that would have been nice!
      It affected me for months. Every time I saw a man fitting his description (he was an uncommon ethnicity where I was living so people like him stood out when they were around) I had a visceral and physical reaction. I still think that lasting reaction was made worse because of the isolation and belittling. It was 20 years ago and I can still see his eyes.

  8. Thank you so much for this post.
    When I was an intern I ignored a coworker grabbing my butt because I was afraid of someone thinking I was overreacting and I wanted to get hired. A year later, he grabbed my intern’s butt. I went straight to HR.

    Now, I bring the rain down on anyone who pulls that shit in my office. I will not be complicit or complacent.

    It’s so tough, not only sexual trauma, but being a woman who isn’t believed. So much of my life is a journey toward credibility, because that is my protection.

  9. Em says...

    I, too, think of myself as someone who’s never been sexually harassed. But if I think back, I can recall countless moments. Sure, I haven’t had anything incredibly traumatizing happen, and for that I’m grateful. But I’ve certainly been made to feel uncomfortable, and I’ve certainly had that sickly, embarrassed feeling after a man said something gross or got too close. Because these things happen every day — so many honks from cars, lewd phone calls from coworkers, unwanted shoulder rubs — the mind minimizes it all as “normal.” But it’s far from it.

  10. Kay says...

    In my early 20s, after a gruelling 5 month job search I had an interview at an energy company for an admin position. The employer warned me about the sales culture, mostly dudes, I’m a pretty girl, blah blah blah…said I’d probably get hit on a lot, & could I handle that? What did I say? Yes. Because I was desperate, had worked at a sports bar for a year in college and thought I could handle any sexual harassment after that. I literally worked for years in places where disgusting behaviour and sexual harassment was considered to just be the “workplace culture”. Makes me sick to think about.

  11. Ali says...

    I’m reading all of these comments and besides relating to them, I’m thinking about the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know”. I am still haunted by countless “small” situations I experienced in my 20’s, when I was newly single and as Lena Dunham said, was “busy trying to become who I am”. I was pretty shy growing up and like my mom, very much a “people-pleaser”. Saying “no” was difficult, and I was probably a bit too trustworthy. Throw in a little alcohol and a fragile self confidence and you have the perfect recipe for creep-attracting. Mostly, I look back at these times and wonder why it didn’t occur to me to be more outspoken in the moment and stand up for myself more. I guess I blew it off like it wasn’t that big of a deal, I wasn’t ever raped so it wasn’t that serious, right? I took it as flattery, that he liked me- that’s why he HARDLY listened when I didn’t want more than making out because we had JUST MET THAT NIGHT. I suppose I had always thought of harassment in more black and white terms. I have my own young daughter now, and there are nights that I lay awake, reliving those experiences all of a sudden. And then it hit me- I was lying awake reliving bad experiences that happened years ago…THAT is the definition of being violated! At the time I didn’t realize that, so I couldn’t call it that, and in some weird way I’ve found a way to forgive myself for not being stronger.

  12. edie says...

    thank you for speaking out on this, but it’s startling to me that you’re quoting Lena Dunham in this article. Dunham (casually) admitted to abusing her own sister in her memoir. Is she really the person you want to be referencing when it comes to sexual harassment?

    • She absolutely did not abuse her sister.

    • Eliza says...

      Good point!

    • Anonymous says...

      Edie, please do your research before you regurgitate what you once read about Lena Dunham. If you read the book, you will learn they were BOTH children, exploring their bodies like they explore everything that is new to them, and there was no abuse involved. People just love to hate on Lena for being an outspoken woman, and THAT is more abusive than two children exploring their vaginas the same way they would explore their ears.

    • Wendy says...

      It’s clear you didn’t actually read the memoir.

    • Katharina says...

      What Anonymous said.
      “(…) two children exploring their vaginas the same way they would explore their ears.”

      Seriously. It is so so very hard for me to understand how people can look at naked kids and think about sexual actions or sexual behaviour that can be compared in any way to that of adults (or adolescents for that matter).

      What’s so bad about nudity? Nudity isn’t sexual per se. What is going on in someones mind who associates naked kids with sex? Why assume that kids exploring their own or someone elses body is sexual? They know about consent, teach them to say no if they don’t want to but let them if they do.

    • Tracy says...

      Thanks for saying this Edie. I agree with you and was shocked to see Lena Dunham mentioned in this capacity.

    • Heather says...

      I don’t agree that sisters examining their ears is the same as their vaginas. An ear is not as private or vulnerable as a vagina. And an older sibling holds tremendous sway over a younger sibling – as much as a boss. Younger siblings will desperately try to please older siblings. I don’t believe a younger sibling (or a child) can truly consent to an older sibling OR ANYONE exploring their private parts.I don’t know that Lena knew that what she did was wrong, but it was, and someone should have helped those girls establish and enforce boundaries. It makes me really upset for anyone – including Lena – to defend it.

    • Elle says...

      I’ve read her book and literally missed this part that everyone was talking about. I mean I obviously read it but it didn’t even register as “that event”. So to me it’s just a huge overreaction by people who are trying to find bad things to say about Lena Dunham.

    • edie says...

      Heather – thank you. I agree there is a huge difference between those two areas of the human body.

  13. Eva says...

    Thank you for writing about this, Joanna. “Countless times for decades,” I can (sadly!) so relate to that, like so, so many of us. The worst part is, I only understood the gravity of it all once I hit a certain age, and now I am just outraged. When I was younger, I just felt uncomfortable and embarrassed, and I could not have shared any of my bad experiences with anyone. Being able to speak out is, sadly, such an achievement already.

  14. Kitty says...

    Reading how many women have had such similar experiences makes me feel both heartbroken and outraged. When I was in college I was extremely intoxicated at a party and went home with a guy I didn’t know. Something I would normally never do. I remember falling asleep in his bed and being woken up around 3am to my clothes off and him inside me. I just kind of remember laying there and then I think I was on top at one point. That’s where the line gets very gray for me. If I was on top, it can’t really be rape, right? I blamed myself for being too drunk and not being a responsible woman like I usually am. The next morning I kept crying to my mom that I felt “disgusting” and “dirty.” It was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever gone through and at this point in my life, I just try not to think about it because it still upsets me. On one hand I blame myself and feel stupid for letting it happen but on the other hand I don’t think he should have made a single move based on the fact that I was clearly too drunk. I still feel so conflicted about the whole thing.

    • Mindi says...

      Kitty, you are not stupid. This was not your fault. You are not to blame.
      I’m sorry this happened to you.

    • Sarah says...

      This recently happened to me and I am struggling with feeling conflicted about it too. But it is rape.

      If you are that incapacitated by alcohol you can not consent, there is no consent, it doesn’t matter if you are on top at any point or not.

      I hope you find a way through this, I know how it feels, and it’s awful.

    • Emma says...

      No, not your fault at all Kitty and you’re not stupid – this is all too common. A couple of my own sexual experiences as a young woman were coerced and/or when I was too drunk to remember.
      I remember having an argument with my boyfriend in the late 90s when he said his friends were going out that night to find drunk women to hook up with and I fired up and said that could be construed as rape. He vehemently didn’t agree.
      I see a drunk person and see a vulnerable person. It’s gobsmacking to me that everyone doesn’t think this way.
      Hugs.

    • Barbara says...

      You are absolutely not to blame, Kitty. I hope one day that you will feel that, too. Sending you lots of love.

    • JB says...

      I am so sorry this happened to you. He did not have your consent, it was not your fault. Women should be able to drink too much sometimes and not have anything bad happen to them, men can do that all the time. I hope you, and all of us, can find the healing we deserve. xo

    • Christi says...

      Kitty, I am so sorry this happened to you. How heartbreaking and enraging! He had no right to do any of that. When I finally chose to process through similar conflicted feelings, it was really helpful to have a trusted confidant or trained counselor walk alongside me as I processed the experience. I hope you can find a safe friend to share with in your healing. Sending you love, sister.

    • Alice says...

      He should not have made a move. In no way are you to blame. I hope you find a way to live with this experience, without conflict or self-blame. Love and light to you Kitty.

  15. Beth says...

    Your moms reaction is appalling! She basically told you to let it go. Why didn’t she go after this guy?? If anybody touches my daughters like that jerk at the pizza place did you, they would be toast. She set a poor precedent for you for how to handle incidents in the future

    • krisy says...

      Hm, I couldn’t help but be sad with your Mother’s response. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, I don’t know, but my Greek Mum would have marched over there and told him off in the extreme case scenario, and in the non extreme, certainly wouldn’t let me, at 14, step foot back in there seeing such behaviour is a red flag, therefore, could definitely lead to a more dire situation, and then what? :(
      Could perhaps such responses/reactions be part of the reason why?

    • Laura says...

      It’s possible that Joanna didn’t WANT her mom to get involved- it would be embarrassing (especially for a 14 year old) and possibly cause her to lose her first job. I think it’s time we stop blaming women’s reactions to things and focus on why men think it’s ok

    • I understand what you are saying, but blaming her mom is akin to blaming the victim instead of the perpetrator isn’t it?

    • Aideen says...

      I was also surprised to read of Joanna’s mother’s response. It would be interesting to hear her perspective, if she remembers the incident. I got the feeling the maybe Joanna didn’t want her mother to intervene further because she wanted to stay in her first “proper” after-school job, and maybe her hands were tied. It is not the reaction my mother would have had either, but no blame here, just interesting to hear her perspective and why she responded as she did, and learn from it.

  16. Jessica says...

    Thank you for this. I shared with my friends. I’ve shared that thought-that I haven’t experienced anything major, but maybe a lot of minor things. Now I think that some of those experiences were major and I just didn’t understand how wrong they were at the time. I think so often, was that something or was that nothing? After I had a major knee reconstructive surgery in my early 20’s, a physical therapist put my knee in between his legs, my thigh on his thigh for an exercise. I knew it wasn’t right and I was terrified, frozen, screaming on the inside, and also, unable to walk.

  17. Sarah says...

    Joanna, you said all of this so beautifully. It is exactly the kind of jumping off point this conversation needs and deserves.

    I am a female medical student, and when I reflect on these past few years of working my ass off and being professional and courteous there are countless times when an older male patient asked something personal/said something full of innuendo/blatantly acknowledged my body, it has stopped me in my tracks. He left me in the predicament of either sassing back at him to stand up for myself and other women who are surely in this positon and trying to break this cycle (though risking offending a patient) or ignoring it and going on with my day as if nothing ever happened (and by not saying anything, perpetuating the notion that his comments are OK).

    I spent time with a doctor who had a patient that I had to call out (which, while terrifying, felt incredible), and this doctor, although frustrated because his wife was a surgeon who waded through her share of sexism and harrassment, was so baffled to hear that this was something I was experiencing under his nose. The experience that made me physically withdraw was invisible to him two feet away.

    The fact that I have even questioned whether or not this falls under “harrassment” is an issue that has proven to be so full of confusion and self-doubt and anger, and it is so hard to break because of the need for an appropriate physician-patient dynamic. I have so badly wanted to shake it off and just say “whatever, he’s from a different time” but its just not enough.

    While maybe this is handled differently in other situations, as a student there is a very specific power dynamic at play. I’m wondering when and how that line stops needing to be tread on my part (or if that line has no place here at all).

    Does anyone have a line that works particularly well to acknowledge an inappropriate encounter?

    • Alex says...

      I’ve been there. My line is “That is not an appropriate way to speak to another person. I am your doctor. I will be recording this interaction in the notes. We will now move on to the problem at hand” documentation is important medicolegally but it needs to be verbatim and completed immediately. Discuss with your supervisor and the nurse in-charge (even if you’re a doctor, nurses are better at this) Slight changes to the line made for when patients have masturbated in front of me (three times so far).

    • Lisa says...

      Hi Sarah,

      Female peds subspecialist here. Congratulations on all of your accomplishments thus far. You are indeed working your ass off and it will all be worth it. Now on to your question…

      There is no need for confusion or self doubt. The types of comments you mention are misogynistic and just plain wrong, and should be acknowledged as such.

      In situations such as the ones you mention, I simply look[ed] the person squarely in the eye, and stat[ed] “That is not appropriate.” Brackets as this has happened to me as a student, resident, fellow, and attending and I have used to same line.

      It’s not rude, it’s not untrue, it not judgmental – it’s stating a true fact. If the person to whom I’ve said it apologizes or seems remorseful, I’m open to discussion. If not, I complete the encounter professionally if I think it’s safe and then get the heck away. If I don’t think it’s safe, I excuse myself, find a chaperone, and then and only then will I return.

      I hope that helps in some small way. Best of luck as you continue your training. Do your best to talk about this with your classmates – I am sadly certain you are not alone.

    • A says...

      Sarah, I’m also a med student and have been reflecting about this a lot, too. What do you do when a patient is being inappropriate- remarks and personal q’s, but you can’t aggravate someone in a difficult situation? I just ignore it, but sometimes there are the ones that keep pushing. Unfortunately, it’s not a thing we have ever discussed when talking about doctor- patient dynamics and/or older doctors just laugh and brush it off. Hope someone has an advice to give.

  18. Caroline says...

    “When I’ve told tales to male friends or partners, they’ve often been outraged. “Men who hear these stories, I’ve found, tend to interrogate you to get to the truth of what happened, then, if they believe you, they want retaliation or revenge. Men want rules to be enforced and authorities called.”

    The incredulity of other men at the violence women deal with is still something that I have a hard time with- processing their surprise often requires my most generous self, and I have a hard time summoning her. Sometimes I do not feel I have the mental or emotional strength to walk through the shock and anger of my close male/hetero /cis friends or close ones when I am already so exhausted from just surviving.
    I’ll never forget walking in the snow one night with a female friend of mine; some guys in a car at the intersection yelled something lewd and I shouted back “stop harassing me!” And one of them responded “I’m not harassing you!” And all I could do was laugh and think “you’re yelling at me out of the window of your car, what is that if not harassment?!” Just one minor moment in a lifetime of much worse ones.

    Thank you for posting this, Joanna. I’ve been reading here since 2008 and posts like this are the reason why. Many hugs to everyone.

  19. Thank you for this, Joanna. I so appreciate this weekly email, the topics that you touch upon, your writing, and the community of supportive women who gather here in the comments section. I, too, have had these experiences – unwanted words, gestures, and touches, an unwanted kiss from a married boss who was decades older than me… What strikes me after reading your moving essay, and all of the comments that followed, was not only how pervasive this behavior is, but how “normal” it is in so many societies around the world. I think the crime is partly in the doing – choosing to engage in predatory behavior – but also, and perhaps with heavier consequence – leaving the greater part of an entire sex feeling vulnerable to the opposite sex. While my negative experiences happened years ago now, I still carry with me the feelings of victimhood that were thrust upon me – the cautiousness, the fear, the vulnerability of being a woman. That so many of us feel this way is unconscionable. We are living in the 21st century. Why does it still feel like the Dark Ages sometimes? On a more positive note, the more we speak up, the less chance there is that anyone can ignore this pervasive problem.

  20. Kate says...

    Oh my. This has struck a chord. I’m fifteen and in lifeguard training at the Y. A man, 30ish, is my partner. In our first drill, he pinches my butt. We go to the side of the pool and I immediately tell my best friend. We decide I should tell the instructor; he is sure I am mistaken. I am eighteen and interviewing for my second real job as a waitress. My soon to be boss compliments my body; I laugh. I am twenty three and living in DC. One Sunday afternoon I am on the metro alone. A man (50?) steps on and sits next to me, boxing me in. He stares at me and asks me questions to which I ignore. My heart is racing. How could I be so stupid? When he finally gets off the train, my relief is immense. In retelling my story a friend tells me that next time get off that train to move to another. Why is that our remedy? I can think of many more stories and this is wrong. WRONG! I don’t want my 4 year old daughter nor any one else to have these stories.

  21. Betseykerr says...

    I could create a list, that could go on and on…little comments, gestures, uncomfortable situations, and more. Just today, working an event with a local non-profit exec, and several comments about “pretty women” on TV and another “well, she was blonde and good looking…not sure how tall she was…but she was blonde.” Plus several instances of touching my elbow/arm when not necessary. I say something, and I am the problem.

  22. Jennifer says...

    During my twenties I was a radio reporter and anchor for a nightly news program. During a live broadcast while a commercial was playing my co-host asked me if I masturbated seconds before I had to read my script. He didn’t physically touch me but mentally it shook me for a long time. I’m 46 now and I can remember that night clear as day.

  23. MK says...

    I have memories of being harassed by a camp counselor, an adult, when I was at camp as a kid. The scary thing is, I can’t even remember what he did, just that being around him caused such an anguished sense of dread. I know he made me intensely uncomfortable but have blocked out the particulars.
    I made three tight friends that summer and would have had the best time ever with them, but he ruined it.
    The idea of speaking up about something like that would have been unfathomable to me at the time. I remember just desperately wanting it to stop. The idea that women who do speak up are seeking attention or have an axe to grind makes my blood boil.
    All women want is to not be harassed or assaulted. They do not want attention. Anyone who thinks that- get a fucking grip.

  24. Ellen says...

    Ugh, Joanna, I had the same revelation after the whole Donald Trump “I don’t even ask” grabbing scandal came out. I was sitting at my computer reading the #notokay tweets when I read one about a young girl who was riding the bus when a complete stranger sat down next to her and began stroking her thigh. BOOM, I immediately recalled a memory I hadn’t thought about in more than a decade: 14 year old me went to see a movie with my friend when a stranger sat down next to me. I remember feeling uncomfortable that he didn’t leave that customary “one-seat space” between us since the theater was not at all crowded, but at the time I felt like moving would have made me seem rude. The movie started and during a kissing scene he began stroking my leg lightly with his finger. I was mortified! Completely frozen solid. I pretended not to feel it. Surely he didn’t realize what he was doing, surely he was just twitching his hand absentmindedly.. but as the scene played out he reached his hand over more and more until it was very clear what was happening. I couldn’t move. I was so shocked, I just couldn’t believe what was happening. I was afraid to cause a scene as I was never one to want to draw attention to myself and I was, again, afraid of seeming rude. My mind was racing trying to quickly figure out a way to gently let this person know I wasn’t interested. I tried subtly shifting in my seat, thinking that would do it. It’s so ridiculous now, thinking about how preoccupied I was with HIS feelings, HIS self esteem, and MY manners. Eventually I turned to my friend to whisper what was happening. She looked in my lap, horrified, and dragged me to the bathroom. She asked me what we should do; call our parents? call for a manager? Go back in and just pick different seats? It actually makes me furious to admit this, but I was afraid if he saw us come back in and we didn’t take our same seats, it would hurt his feelings. Can you imagine! I never felt so violated, so exposed and embarrassed in all my life. I could feel his hand all over me. But still, I worried about hurting HIS ego. A complete stranger. Who obviously did not think about my well being in that way at all. It also occurred to me that maybe I should feel flattered since I had never received such aggressive male attention before. It didn’t feel right, but maybe I was just prude or nervous. Also, if we told our parents, we both knew we would never be allowed to go to the movies with friends alone again. So we never ended up saying anything and I chalked it up to a normal teenage girl experience. Put it away in the corners of my mind and never thought about again until recently. What messages had I picked up from society that at 14 years old I felt so strongly that I shouldn’t cause a scene, be rude, or reject his unwanted advances for fear of hurting his feelings? That I should let him think it’s ok to violate me so as not to bruise his ego?

    • What an awful experience. I’m so sorry that this happened to you. How terrible that we have been brainwashed to feel badly when someone else is at fault, to think that pleasing others is more important than feeling safe and comfortable. I hope that things are changing… At least we are talking about these things. Now we just have to share them with the men that we know!

    • I had a similar experience at a movie theater about 10 years ago and really identify with everything you say. As I watched this man’s hand get closer and closer to my thigh, I thought I was just imagining it and found myself basically making myself small and leaning in the other direction as much as possible. I had just moved to a new country and didn’t feel so comfortable with the language — I felt trapped and not able to defend myself, even with words. Finally, I asked my boyfriend at the time if we could switch seats. I didn’t tell him why, because I didn’t want to make a scene in the theater and disturb everyone else’s movie experience in case I was just overreacting. As soon as we did, the guy ran off. It still makes me mad that I didn’t yell at him to stop, even in English, that I didn’t defend myself more directly. After that, I made sure to learn the appropriate phrases in German to fend men off. I wish instead that such men would learn appropriate behavior and realize that they have no entitlement to our bodies.

    • Marta says...

      Same happened to me.I shouted something like what are you doing! but never told anybody neither talked about it with a friend who was my company. I never thought about myself as a harrassment victim but it was just one of similar incidents.

    • Maria says...

      I am so sorry that you had to experience this, and it resonates very much. I had some experiences like this, and always I was so terribly worried that I might seem rude or impolite. I think girls especially are trained from when they are babys that they should not get angry, not fight, not strike back. We want little boys to stand their ground, but little girls we praise when they give way. I´m raising a little girl right now and trying to do it differently, but it´s not always easy.
      It´s the little things. Just recently I watched a little girl beeing forcefully shoved out of a tent by a boy. When she complained to her mom, the mom said: “oh, I´m shure he was just playing, he was actually nice to you.” When you learn that young that what you experience isn´t beeing taken serious, than it really sticks with you, I think.

    • Heather says...

      This reminds me of an experience I had on the school bus one day in seventh grade. An older boy kept making loud, lewd comments about my body, to his friends’ delight. I was sitting with a friend and she told him to shut up, but that just made the boys laugh – it was a performative thing, and they were looking for a reaction.

      After they got off the bus, my friend and I told the bus driver that the boy (whom she knew well, as he was a frequent troublemaker) had been making gross, sexual comments to me. She looked uncomfortable and said, “Oh.” Nothing ever happened.

      So what should I have done next? Was it incumbent on me to pursue punishment, to report it the principal? Even in the best-case scenario (the principal had believed me, not blamed me, and taken the behavior seriously), I would have had to relive the whole painful, embarrassing scenario in the re-telling. This older, scary eighth-grader and his friends would likely have traced the accusation back to me and made my life miserable. They could have stepped up their harassment, threatened me, or spread rumors about me. Would I have had to keep reporting incident after incident until we graduated or the administration grew sick of me?

      That is what strikes me as most unfair about harassment. The burden to seek justice sits so heavily on the victim’s shoulders.

      “Why didn’t you tell someone?”

      Because I didn’t want it to take over my life. As Ellen pointed out above, incidents like this often end with the victim losing freedom/privileges “for their own protection.” Maybe the bus driver would have insisted that I sit in the front row from then on. Maybe my parents would have made me dress in turtlenecks and long pants to avoid attracting male attention.

      Because I didn’t want to become a target. I can’t imagine that this boy’s reaction would have been, “Well, I learned *that* lesson. From now on, I’ll treat girls and women with respect.” No, he would have been angry and would have found a way to get back at me.

      Because I only have so much time and energy, and I have other things I want to do with my life. I didn’t want to miss class to go see the principal. I didn’t want to have to explain what happened to all of my classmates when they wondered why I went to the principal’s office.

      Because all I ever wanted was to be left alone. And letting it go seemed like the best way to accomplish that.

  25. Elisabeth says...

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I had similarly never thought of myself who had been sexually harassed and then in a conversation with someone, where I was arguing that it happened to most women and that it was not at any fault of their own, I suddenly remembered the van of men who followed me on a run, and the hotel owner in Morocco who tried to kiss me, and the man on another trip who grabbed my breasts… and I almost started crying. How do I help my daughter to grow up as the wonderful, generous, friendly person she is, while also being cognizant of the fact that she needs to protect herself?

  26. Leigh says...

    When I was a sophomore In high school, a teacher was having an inappropriate relationship with a friend of mine. After going back and forth about what to do, I told another teacher. Nothing was done, she didn’t tell the principal or anyone else, but she told him I told her. The teacher/predator threatened me indirectly until the end of the year. For example, I’d ask to have the hall pass to go to the bathroom, and he’d withhold it and say ‘I don’t know if I can trust you,’ and just look at me. He enjoyed making me uncomfortable, and I was scared. He controlled my grades and also just knew he had power over me. Years later he crossed the line with another student and was fired. His wife divorced him. I’d like to think he got what he deserved but it stuck with me that I told and nothing was done.

    • This must have been so frustrating, disappointing, enraging – many things! But you did the right thing, and it was brave. Good for you. We all need to speak up.

  27. Mariel says...

    Thank you so much for weighing in on this. It sickens and frustrates me, and brings back memories of similar “small” violations I’ve experienced: An unwanted kiss from an older coworker at a convention, the creepy older cousin that rubbed my leg as a little girl in the dark of a movie, the ballet partner that would always stand too close, male friends getting overly handsy at parties, sexual comments at work….death by a thousand cuts. And so disorienting at the time, as you pointed out. I’m hoping that by getting better at recognizing harassment, I might be better equipped at stopping it when it’s happening. And have the strength to do so.

  28. Eliza says...

    Like pretty much everyone else, I can think of so many instances when men have used their position/physical strength against me in “minor ways” that I just brushed off and I consider myself lucky not to have been targeted for anything more horrific in my life so far (and so disappointed that I have to consider myself one of the lucky few and to add “so far” as a qualifier). I sometimes wonder how to draw the line (for myself) between what is a violation and what is not, particularly when consuming media. I remember reading a feminist review of movies with sexual harassment written off as romance and some of them seemed straightforward and obvious to me even though I had never thought of it that way before (the old Star Wars Hans/Leia “stolen” kiss, the scene in ’16 Candles’ when the guy hands off his inebriated girlfriend to the sober freshman to essentially do as he pleases) but the one that was less clear to me was ‘Say Anything’ – they broke up and he continued to pursue her even though she said she didn’t want to be in a relationship with him (even though she actually did, apparently). The reviewer felt this was harassment….but to me even with that context in mind it still just seemed romantic and I didn’t feel like he was even THAT persistent. Is kissing a love interest without her (or him) specifically verbally asking for it always forbidden? If you ask someone out who has said no once already, are you harassing them (I can think of at least a handful of very successful, seemingly equal, loving relationships that started this way…but maybe the ends doesn’t justify the means?) I’m not trying to be facetious, and some instances are very obviously cut and dry straight up wrong (power imbalances, involving minors, violence, etc.) …but what about these “grey areas”? (I am being sincere, and I’m hoping someone can point me in the right direction – if there is a straight answer – so I can keep my mind open, teach my sons, and be more critical of the media I consume).

    • Sherry says...

      Great questions!

  29. kate says...

    Thank you for this, Joanna. The Access Hollywood tape was really a moment of reckoning about this for me. My mom and I were actually able to have a very intimate conversation about our experiences, things she hadn’t thought of in decades and never shared before. I wondered if it was belittling to survivors of violent rape or other more serious abuses to also consider these “smaller” things sexual assault. But the reality is that that very thought – that being groped or catcalled is “small”- is also a symptom of a cultural sickness. Sexual violence manifests in many ways and it builds on itself. Each survivor of any kind of violence on that spectrum has lived a valid experience and is legitimized in calling it what it is. We don’t need to shrink ourselves or our experiences, and though it is also painful to look back and reconcile a lifetime of living in fear and being abused in large and small ways in every context, I have found it an empowering and unifying experience to share and speak out.

  30. tina says...

    Hm, I couldn’t help but be sad with your Mother’s response. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, I don’t know, but my Greek Mum would have marched over there and told him off in the extreme case scenario, and in the non extreme, certainly wouldn’t let me, at 14, step foot back in there seeing such behaviour is a red flag, therefore, could definitely lead to a more dire situation, and then what? :(
    Could perhaps such responses/reactions be part of the reason why?

    • Mimi says...

      No. That is starting at the wrong end and the typical reaction to blame/part-blame women for men’s clearly overstepping and wrong behaviour. I’ve experienced this kind of argumentation so often and I’m frankly sick of having to talk about it.

  31. H says...

    Thank you for this! Just last week I was exiting up the subway steps, as I’ve done a million times, during broad daylight, lost in thought and minding my own business, as a guy was descending the steps on the same side. Well, as I profusely apologized for nearly running into him, he stroked my arm and grazed my boob saying “It’s okay.” And all I could do was make a silly “shoo” motion and keep climbing the steps. The whole interaction lasted less than a second, but it has replayed itself in my mind about a million times. As much as I could brush it off as a metropolitan right of passage or an accidental slip of his hand, or say that my experience was not bad as _, it’s still not okay. It’s exhausting to keep your guard up all the time, but I don’t know what else to do to! I appreciate that there’s a community who understands and who wants to figure out a solution together. And thanks Joanna for your words and experience. Sharing this stuff seems like a good place to start.

    • Laura says...

      This reminds me of this one time I was walking down a crowded staircase at my work. I stumbled for a second and this college guy passing me on the stairway “caught” me by my boob (he wasn’t a coworker, he was just in the same building at the time). Just one hand reaching out, on the boob. I just looked at him weird and walked on. Was it an accident? Did he really think he was going to catch me from falling by grabbing my boob? Who knows.

  32. Janae says...

    Totally powerful article! I think we need to openly share our mixed experiences so these acts of violation are witnessed and the victim no longer is alone. I appreciate the way you began the article with your story as a 14 year old.

  33. Anonymous says...

    Thank you for sharing the last few days had brought up memories for me too. One incident I thought I should be ok with, because the next day the older “celebrity ” apologised and we still had to work together. I now realise it’s still not OK. I should have told someone. It’s scary when you get warnings from coworkers or friends too because it doesn’t help, it means the problem is still a problem. Maybe we have to take action somehow to save the next victim.

  34. Alex says...

    I finished the end of this post with nothing but a large sigh. Sexual harassment seems to be a “theme” that has followed me since the age of 18. Like you said, the small instances, they add up. When I think back on interactions with males over the last 10+ years of my life, they are overwhelmingly negative. Inappropriate behavior at work. Friends boyfriends/husbands making inappropriate passes/comments. Daily street harassment. Even the sneaky harassment that infiltrates relationships in hidden ways where you just end up feeling like you’re the one at fault. It always makes me sad to bring up this topic with other females and watch them quickly “put out the fire” so to speak. Careers and life opportunities undoubtedly feel like moments worth making sacrifices for. But sacrificing your human right to feel safe and respected will just never be okay with me. I don’t judge the women who push through. But it’s disheartening to think that when women do make that decision, they are also making that decision for countless other women as well.

    • Yes! Thank you, Emma Thompson!

    • A says...

      If you do anything today, WATCH THIS. Emma Thompson has it spot on.
      Thank you for sharing Nadia.

    • Meg says...

      Loved this. Thank you for sharing!

  35. Jessica says...

    Speaking from experience, I’ve sadly experienced many of the situations described above. My 6 year old daughter and 2 and a half year old son have changed my perspective so much. I cannot tell you how many nights I lay awake wondering how I can prevent my daughter from experiencing sexual harassment, how I can teach my son to treat women with respect. Thanks to late night google searches here are some things I’ve been trying. I’d be really interested in a post Joanna – or other reader comments – on what has worked for them:

    1. Telling my children that no one has the right to touch their body if they don’t want to be touched. And then role playing different situations. For example, when a boy in class tries to push you, let’s practice crossing our arms and yelling “don’t touch my body,” or when someone wants a hug and you don’t let’s practice saying “I don’t want a hug, but I’ll give you a high five.”

    2. Telling and teaching my son that if my daughter says “stop” she means it every. single. time. and he needs to stop whatever he is doing to her immediately.

    3. Trying to be a strong role model for my children by showing them through my actions what is not acceptable behavior – and using my “serious” voice. This means being rude in public to men who act inappropriate. I’ve looked into their eyes (at grocery stores, the playground, walking in the city) and said in loud voices several times now “that’s inappropriate, disrespectful, and not the right way to speak to a woman” and then walked away with my children who watch the entire situation play out.

    4. Of the things I’ve read I have found the following books to be helpful “Reviving Ophelia,” “Raising Cain,” and “Protecting the Gift.”

    5. Putting words to feelings and trying to encourage empathy in our family (asking how different situations make them feel and asking them to try to understand how someone else might feel in a certain situation).

    I have so much more to learn – this is just such a small start and I worry a lot about my children. I think trying to be a model for them and show them what words to use in different situations and doing a lot of at home role play definitely helps. My kids – while young – watch everything I do and take it all in, so I’m trying so hard to take advantage of that to help them learn how to trust themselves and stand up for themselves.

    To all the wonderful ladies who also read Joanna’s blog, what are your strategies? What are you teaching your children? I’d love to know. And keep staying strong.

    • Yes to all of this! Good communications skills, the right vocabulary to express our feelings – these all help tremendously. I wasn’t given these tools as a child, but I think we are doing better with this these days (or at least some of us are).

    • Megan says...

      Thank you for sharing this. I have a 3 year old son and worry all the time about making sure he will grow up not only to not be a man who goes these things, but also to be a man who calls out other men when they do.

    • Alice says...

      Jessica, I really admire how seriously you take teaching respect and consent to your children, and put it into your everyday parenting. Love the role-play especially, but all your approaches sound well thought-out and effective.
      I have two sons (1 and 3) and am already trying to teach them to be respectful and listen to girls and women, I want to raise them as feminists, and I want to teach my sons how to protect themselves against harrassment, too. They’re young but like you say, they watch everything we do and say, and I believe in laying good foundations.

      I wonder if there are any good storybooks to add to our arsenal?

      Jessica has given us a great start, but I’d love to see a post on this too, COJ.

    • Kendall says...

      You’re setting such an amazing example for your kids – as well as teaching them by action how to speak out, what to do, and not letting others get away with it!

      If I had such SPECIFIC guidance I think I would’ve known better how to deal with what man people up until now have considered ‘gray areas’….so many memories have come flooding back….This particular boy in 4th grade who would chase girls around at recess trying to kiss them – the teachers coined it ‘his thing’ and ‘he’s only joking’…..The boys on the bus who gave ‘titty twisters’ to girls – attacking them without permission….

      This kind of forward-thinking training not only teaches your children how to avoid harm, but also puts two more people in the world who won’t harm others, and won’t stand for seeing those they love violated!

      They’re so blessed to have you!

    • Maria says...

      I am so impressed that you actually are “rude” to men who behave badly. I think this is really the best, and I need to start doing this. Stop smiling when somebody crosses the line from saying how sweet my little daughter is to making a remark that is offensive or wanting physical contact with her. My son is really unfriendly to people who are too familiar with him- if he doesn´t know them than he doesn´t want their attention, even if their beeing nice. I´m so happy about that, and I have never told him to be polite. But my daughter is different, and I think for her, I have to set the example and be more outspoken if someone crosses a boundary.

    • Ellen says...

      To elaborate on your second point: I want to make sure my kids know that they are not OBLIGATED to show physical affection to ANYONE if it makes them uncomfortable. This includes sweet old Aunt Edna who just wants a big hug and a few kisses or wants you to sit on her lap. “No thanks, Aunt Edna, I’d prefer a high five!” is a polite and appropriate response. And to any relative who says “Awww you hurt my feewings!” and pouts their lip or whimpers in an attempt to GUILT my child into giving them a kiss after they’ve already said no is going to get an earful from me. I posted a comment last night about a childhood incident of sexual assault at a movie theater and how the thing that stands out the most to me now is how concerned I was about my “manners” and letting this guy down gently so he didn’t feel rejected. Perhaps it would be a good idea to start telling our children at a very young age they they are the bosses of their bodies, that no means NO in all circumstances, that you needn’t worry that you’re being rude by simply saying no thanks.. even with Aunt Edna.

    • Katharina says...

      “Stop means stop” is THE rule. And that goes for all: boys and girls, adults and kids.

  36. jennyi says...

    In high school, I worked at a bookstore. My manager gave all the females who worked there back rubs. Awkward at best, but we tolerated it. On nights when we closed up (when it was just the 2 of us), he would sometimes let me do all the tallies. Which involved me and the calculator machine thingy and him standing behind me giving me “massages” that got progressively more inappropriate. I remember feeling very upset with him — but also with myself because it was so gradual I couldn’t really pinpoint when it went from benefit-of-the-doubt-maybe-he’s-just-very-friendly to this-is-fucked-up. He was probably in his late 20s. Just thinking of him still makes me want to take a shower to wash off the ick.

  37. Mariel says...

    I am like some of the other women– never having had a horrific situation happen to me, but looking back, there have been countless encounters of sexual harassment. I think the worst was when I was 20 years old. I worked at a pharmacy and although I was married at the time, I enjoyed flirting and being friendly to others, including men. So when an inappropriate relationship developed between an assistant manager and I, I became uncomfortable to the point I became physically sick going to work. I ended up quitting out of the blue for another job and my store manager would ask me what was going on. I could tell he had an idea of what was going on because he asked if there was anything inappropriate going on with the assistant manager. I was afraid of retaliation or how it would make me look so I said nothing. The assistant manager was also questioned and I could tell he was upset by the fact that I “stirred something up” even when I didn’t. It’s the worst feeling in the world– feeling as if it was all my fault even when I didn’t know any better at the time being so young and naïve.

  38. Anna says...

    Lots of little things. A few stand out:
    1. A fellow teacher who, when I walked in, exclaimed in front of all of my coworkers,”Wow! What did we do to deserve the dress today?”
    2. A guy in high school who pinned me to the wall and hovered his mouth over mine as if he would kiss me while I struggled to wriggle free.
    3. A group of men who drove by and catcalled me WHILE I WAS WEARING MY INFANT DAUGHTER.

  39. Jennifer Flynn says...

    Eewww. The story about your adult boss grabbing you and kissing your neck makes my skin crawl. We all have stories like this, but I think we are making progress. Let’s help the next generation.

  40. Emma says...

    I’m Australian so harassment and sexist jokes are part of the norm here for a lot of women. The men who do this would be horrified if you told them they were harassing you because to them, it’s just honesty.
    Growing up in the 80s dads would tell us girls “jokingly” our arses were getting big (we were skinny back then, not that it matters), we were too flat chested and we’d be told not to get fat if we were eating pizza or chips or something, stuff like that. Mothers and grandmothers weren’t much better.
    Then guys our own age would start saying the same things at school/uni on occasion; unsolicited, objectifying comments about my body/looks have continued my whole life from random guys like housemates, acquaintances (if only I’d lose 5kg, arse/hips too big, I’m “offbeat” or “cute” looking more than pretty, I should wear more dresses, do I really need that chocolate bar? A male flatmate told me once when I was in my early 20s to be careful because women’s breasts start to sag after 19, etc etc).
    Going out clubbing with friends at 18/19, guys would walk up and casually put a hand on our butts, stare blatantly at our breasts, ask immediately how old we were, slap us on the bottom if we were walking past them.
    In my teens and 20s I thought that’s how it was to be a woman, now in my late 30s I have a go back at them and let me tell you, they don’t like it one bit.

  41. Laura says...

    I learned a valuable lesson about this last month. I was contracted to work on a big project at a new hotel that was opening. A man who was also working there strongly propositioned me multiple times to come up to his hotel room. I debated reporting him at first. I ended up letting my employers know of what I had experienced because it left me feeling so unsettled and unable to do my work.
    Long story short, the man was fired over this incident. Apparently he had a long history of harassing other women on the job. My report was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Later, I had a woman come up and thank me for reporting him because she had been harassed by him for months. I learned to always speak up, you don’t know how many women it might help!

  42. AJ says...

    It’s frightening, appalling and sad that sexual harassment is so rife and so, more or less, tolerated in society. It really is true how you almost lose track of all the ‘little’ incidents over the years, because there are so many. It needs to change.

    I feel a bit differently to a few of the comments here though about finding it annoying or depressing when men express outrage at other mens’ disgusting behaviour. I do see the point being made, though I think I mostly find it reassuring if they’re expressing disdain. I think that’s because I’ve had a couple of experiences when men who I’ve thought were decent people have reacted really unsympathetically when I told them about being harassed – and that really is depressing too! Once getting a train home late at night (after my grandparent’s funeral, of all days), I was alone on a stretch of platform when an older man came and stood close to me and opened his coat and started masturbating at me. It was terrifying. Luckily he ran away when the train came. Went home and told my (then) boyfriend – who laughed! He thought it was funny?!?! I felt vulnerable, shaken and violated but he had zero appreciation of that. I’ve heard similar stories from other people, where men just don’t ‘get it’ at all. So I think it’s a positive step if men are using their voices to try and help change this situation now too – because we need everybody on board to really shift attitudes and remove whatever shields society has allowed to be put in place that lets abusers/harassers get away with it for so long. Hopefully in time there will simply be less abusers too of course (the ultimate onus is on the culprits, always) but calling time on letting them get away with it is long overdue.

  43. Lauren says...

    I recently *realized* I was raped. A long time ago in high school I woke up to a guy friend having sex with me. I told him to stop, he stopped, and went home. People at the party knew we had sex but just thought it was this drunk funny thing. I had to apologize to a boy that I liked, whose feelings were hurt, and I felt…slutty. I didn’t let my own feelings be hurt. After that I pushed it to the back of my mind and never really thought about it thoroughly until recently. I brought it up to my husband and he was so hurt that I had never told him that I was capital-R Raped, pissed that I hadn’t done anything about it, annoyed that I didn’t have hate for the guy who did it. This whole experience and literally no part of it was concerned with me.

    • I am sorry, Lauren. What an awful experience. You deserve empathy, not scorn. Sending a virtual hug!

    • Susan says...

      Lauren, I am so sorry about your husband’s inadequate and inappropriate reaction. It is so so far off the mark of what it should have been. So painful. I hope you can talk to him honestly about how he missed the opportunity to be compassionate and to just listen. Sending a hug

  44. Rebecca says...

    It’s incredibly disheartening that this behavior is so systemic. I was first sexually assaulted at the age of 11 by the gardener who worked next door and I did press charges because he grabbed me and threatened me. The prospect of going to court and preparing for that was very traumatic and sure enough he claimed that I had provoked him, had flirted, had “wanted” him. I had done nothing but ride my bike around with my brothers and sister. I was terrified of testifying and thankfully right before we had to go to court he settled for a plea agreement.
    I’m very curious as to whether anyone thinks there is a connection with widespread sexual harassment and the widespread use of pornography. It seems to me that if a man becomes used to seeing and using women as commodities of pleasure it would spill over into real life. Can it be that it’s caused women to be dehumanized to such a degree that many men no longer see us as worthy of respect and only as objects to be used for their pleasure? Does porn make exploitation OK because it’s glamorized and women are portrayed as enjoying assault?

    • Jenna Hoffman says...

      Rebecca, so sorry about your experience as a child. I absolutely agree that pornography is linked to sexual violence. I believe that pornography is a public health crisis. It is so damaging to the viewer’s mind and spirit and degrading and demoralizing to women. Here’s a site with some good info– http://learn.ftnd.org/

    • Marte says...

      I like reading crime novels. Death and murder and violence are often explicit. Displayed for my reading pleasure. It does not make me go out and murder people (or feel the need to solve crimes, for that matter).

    • Yes! I am convinced the use of porn has huge effects on how men view women.

    • Katharina says...

      Well I’d say it depends on what sort of porn. While a lot of porn shows women as you say there is also a lot of other sorts of porn films or pictures. Women do like porn, too.

  45. Megan says...

    All of the commentary lately on sexual harassment makes me want to weep. I’m so so sad that our world makes woman feel bad about experiencing this. I honestly can’t think of a time I personally experienced, but it makes me wonder if I’ve just encorporated it into my life, chalked it up to being a woman and moved on. Reading your story Joanna and how your mom reacted also made me want to cry (and cringe) – your mom must have been so so horrified and disgusted to hear what happened to you. And yet, it was a different time. My mom used to tell me not to wear certain clothes because of ‘what they would make boys think’.
    When I think about what the future looks like and how I want to deal with sexual harassment, and how I want my two sons to conduct myself, i feel overwhelmed at how to verbalized a plan – how I want to invoke change. But believing women, hearing stories, and talking is definitely the first step.

  46. Emily says...

    I am so sorry that all of those things happened to you, Joanna (and to those sharing in the comments). Thank you (and to the commenters) for being open and sharing your experiences w/r/t this subject. <3

  47. Katie says...

    I’m sitting here reading this post and these comments and I’m getting angry. I’m angry because I have had my own fair share of these “too close for comfort” stories and now I see that a slew of other women have, too. I’m angry because I never thought anything about those encounters until literally right this second. I’m angry because it’s been instilled in our society and our minds as women that it’s ok if a guy makes a remark or gets a little too touchy- better yet, it’s OUR fault. Does it make it all ok because my encounters (and seemingly all these other women’s) have been nonchalant and not overtly, in your face sexual harassment? Hell no. I’m raising a son and I hope I instill in him the values of kindness and love, but ultimately I hope I show him that no woman in this world is an object. How else do we stop this vicious cycle?

  48. Jill says...

    I started reading blogs about ten years ago and you are the only one I continue to read because I adore the way you write. You’re topics are always relevant, heartfelt and bold. Thank you for writing this. When the Harvey Weinstein news spread, I started to think about the laundry list of times men had made sexual comments toward me or touched me. I always played it off as, “boys will be boys.” I never wanted to rock the boat or let anyone know what had happened to me. I felt ashamed. Not anymore. I’m disgusted at what H.W has done but at least now women shouldn’t feel ashamed to come forward and speak up when they are sexually assaulted or made to feel uncomfortable. I am a mom of two young boys and I am making sure to raise them as feminists and make sure they treat everyone as equals and with respect. Thanks again for writing this and sharing your experiences.

  49. Emmie says...

    I have a long list of these experiences too that also amount to nothing. NOTHING. Even with police reports filed, I still walk around thinking how lucky I am. ABSURD. Last year I had a “girls night in” with some high school friends and we all began retelling our long lists, we were laughing and crying at the same time. We barely needed to finish our sentences, we all already got it and understood each other, the actors, the situations, it was all too familiar to each of us. Of course. Yes. Totally. Duh. How horrible. I have never felt more connected to women than that night. What a release it was to just say it all and for each one of us to share without judgment. #p.s.ilovethisblog

  50. Meghan says...

    I have been thinking about how I use coded talk as females to discuss experiences of harassment, to suss out who is safe to share this information with (aside from my closest friends). Words like, “hand-sy”, “creepy”, and “weird vibes” are all phrases I use to talk about my experiences of harassment when I don’t feel comfortable coming out and calling it such in those exact words.

  51. Hannah says...

    Thank you for sharing this!
    When I worked as a bank teller I was verbally harassed by a man who was in his 80s; he claimed to not have heard me when I asked if he wanted to meet our new assistant manager because I was “so beautiful” and he repeatedly asked for my phone number, right there as I was processing his transaction. It was mortifying. Since I was at work I couldn’t very well tell him where to stick it, so I had to stand there and listen to it, trying to laugh it off as so many of us do. When I told my manager, and was visibly shaken, she called our top HR office and was told that if he came back and did that again then we could potentially close his accounts. A male co-worker offered for me to let him know if I ever felt uncomfortable and said he would stand there with me if I ever needed him to. I was so grateful for their support, especially my coworker who was in his 20s and could have been a real jerk and told me to shake it off or some crap. The man did come back because it was a neighborhood bank, and they actually let me step away until he was called next and my coworker took care of his transaction.
    I have always been made to feel that this “just happens” because I am “pretty” and to just expect men to act like this but I think it is wrong and we should stop normalizing it. There shouldn’t be a “boys will be boys” mentality, and it shouldn’t taken 20+ women to speak out against one person before he is reprimanded. My fiancé never pretends to be surprised, he is just sorry that I have had to put up with this. We regularly discuss how we will talk to our kids about it someday, especially if we have sons.
    I actually sometimes forget that this even happened because it is so normalized now. Even times when working retail and men have made gross comments to me, it’s amazing how it goes in one ear and out the other because I’m at work and have to pretend like it didn’t happen. It’s especially hard the times you do say something and they counter with “it was a joke.” That cannot possibly be every man’s at-the-ready excuse, can it? How dumb do they think the rest of us are? Yeeesh.

    • Obviously not a very funny joke. You’re not laughing. Im not either. Is that as good as their sense of humour is? Disgusting cop out.

    • Zoey says...

      Agreed that “it was a joke” is a super lame excuse, but it’s worse when they flat out deny it and then make you look like a crazy woman for causing a scene and creating “so much drama” — classic gaslighting techniques. These predators with their ready excuses are counting on the fact that women are
      1) hardly ever given the benefit of the doubt and may not be believed,
      2) generally reluctant to call attention to themselves even when on the receiving end of totally inappropriate and outrageous behaviour, and
      3) all so thoroughly conditioned by society to be people-pleasers that it’s extra difficult to push through that brainwashing and register that what was just done to us is not acceptable and we have a right to object to it, be angry, and demand respect for our bodies, and that it not be treated as just a vessel for men and their entitled sexual desires.

      I’m sorry to hear this happened to you, but I’m also glad you received support and validation from your managers and coworkers — too often women are the ones held accountable (for their completely justified reactions, or even for just being pretty! which somehow makes a woman feel like her own looks are somehow to blame for men not being able to help themselves from being attracted to her and making unwelcome overtures to her) and not the perpetrator/harasser when these things happen. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been there in some way, shape or form. When I landed in my current job ten years ago, I went straight from an all-women work environment to a male-dominated environment, where ‘locker room talk’ was not only considered normal but even actively encouraged by my male supervisor. In fact the more outrageous the comments made within my earshot (my workspace was quite close to his) the more he actually seemed to enjoy them. Things like the guys loudly rating a woman’s body, grading her looks, judging her fashion sense/style and/or making derogatory comments like a woman just showed them attitude because she was PMSing, that kind of thing. All this in spite of the fact that none of them were prizes in the looks department either. I was totally shocked at first and even registered it as borderline sexual harassment, but because they never commented about me to my face (maybe they made the comments behind my back, who knows), it was considered “harmless”. Everyone I confided to about it outside of work (HR is totally useless here) said I should just suck it up and it was just guys being guys and not to make a big deal of it because otherwise the job was great. In time I did learn to ignore the talk and grow a thicker skin, but it still bothers me that *I* had to be the one to adapt to and learn to accommodate such egregious behaviour. I knew that if I were to call them out on it I’d be labelled a troublemaker/wet blanket/prude/all of the above and just put myself in a position for all sorts of blowback, because the balance of power is still concentrated in the hands of men, particularly in the workplace (see: male supervisor). I don’t really know what can be done to fix this situation, because it doesn’t seem like we’ve actually made any progress over the decades (see the current POTUS and his justification of his horrifying behaviour toward women, emboldening the next generation of closet misogynists). If anything we actually seem to be regressing! But knowing that other women who have experienced the same are saying it’s NOT ok, and pushing back, and creating a safe space to discuss it like here on CoJ, judgement-free, gives me hope that we may be able to one day overcome all this misogyny together. We women need to stick together and support each other.

  52. Allison says...

    This is a very important, honest post. It’s frustrating that these harassments are viewed as common. When will this end? As women gain traction in the workplace–amongst scientists, mathematicians, writers, professors, chefs, editors (i.e. everywhere)–I don’t understand why they’re still put down. And, more so, I don’t understand why harassment (whether sexual or otherwise) is accepted as the norm. We need to speak up and be the change for the women of today and for all of the women to come.

  53. B says...

    I agree with so many who have posted — these stories are chilling and yet somehow not shocking. And I cannot help but notice how often it is powerful white men who get away with this for decades. When I was fifteen, I was followed by a man on the maintenance staff in the hospital where I volunteered, and one day he cornered me against the wall in a stairwell. I was able to get away and somehow found the courage to report it. The man was fired and the woman in HR told me that he should have known better, he was a grown man with two children. I felt guilty that the father of two children had lost his job, despite how much he had frightened me. I wonder now if, had he been a hospital administrator rather than a man on the maintenance staff, I would have been believed, or would have had the courage to report him. It is always deeply disheartening to hear these ubiquitous stories. But because they are ubiquitous, I wonder how much they have been normalized. We were shocked and outraged to learn that a man who bragged openly about feeling entitled to grab pu***y could be so close to the presidency. And then, we elected him; 53 percent of white women voted for him, and a slew of other people, of course. What poisonous facet of our culture allows the promotion of such men to such powerful positions?

  54. Carolee says...

    No offense to your mom and I think responses to harassment are generational and have changed a lot but if my 14-year-old daughter told me her boss had kissed her and put his hands on her, I don’t think I’d advise her to stick around long enough to let it happen maybe again. I’d tell her to get the f@&$ outta there and then I’d call him to rip him a new one. Not blaming the victim (or the victim’s mom, in this case) but women often feel like they have to stick around in situations that are uncomfortable or threatening. There’ll be another pizza joint job…

  55. Devon says...

    This post made me think about some of the more striking harassment that I’ve experienced. Perhaps, sitting on a bar stool on a date in a crowded bar on Saturday night and having a man walk up behind me and rub his erection on my butt while telling me “how nice my ass” was. I think that takes the cake for making me feel violated, embarrassed, angry, and confused.

  56. S says...

    This is great. Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s amazing how many moments of harassment us women have had in our lives and how this is our “normal” and that it’s put up with. Ugh, its disgusting!
    I agree that the key is to share about it. Others need to know it happens. They need to be appalled by it. We all need to be comfortable with standing against even small moments of harassment because harassment is harassment.

  57. Ramona says...

    Your comments echoed my own experience, in an eerily, astonishingly similar way, despite our 25 year age difference. I don’t want to recount my experiences. I want to ask why. Why does this harassment keep happening to women who have done nothing that warrants this treatment? When will we stop raising boys into men who feel that this behavior is acceptable? It can be done. My husband and I raised a son and we did not give him permission to see women as anything but equals, colleagues, the other half of the planet, to be treated as he wished to be treated.

  58. Lamisa says...

    Oh, Joanna – so sad to hear this things have happened to you. I have been there, too, particularly as a female who looked very “developed” at an early age. It is all truly inexcusable.

  59. Katy says...

    Just yesterday, I was walking home from work at 3pm and a man I didn’t know was walking uncomfortably close behind me. I have a low threshold for interference in my personal space, and I felt so aware of his footsteps and his proximity to me. At some point, he got close enough that I jerked around (thanks, sympathetic nervous system) and he quickly changed course. Was he distracted and didn’t realize he was so close to a woman he doesn’t know? Does he have no sense of personal space in general (still not cool, but not necessarily harassment)? Was he trying to intimidate or hurt me? Or was I reading too much into it? I don’t know. And for so many little situations that have been happening since before I hit puberty, I’ll never know. Like one commenter mentioned, the little ones are like paper cuts, but when you layer them over and over (especially with some bigger wounds), the healing process is compromised. I wish I had an answer for what to do but I so appreciate everyone for sharing their stories here. Thanks for creating a safe space, Jo & Team.

  60. Monica says...

    Thank you for bringing this topic to light. This topic extends far beyond our political situation, to a deep rooted absence of morality in our society. If we want to fight sexual harassment, it is time that we began to fight our sexualized media. Pornography degrades women, objectifies them and spreads the message to our young men that it is okay to use women for personal pleasure. I believe that when our society begins to treat women as objects, rather than dignified human beings, things like this happen.

    • Rebecca says...

      Yes! I believe that the widespread use of pornography is one of the root causes of this issue.

    • Laura says...

      I agree that the objectification of women contributes to this, but just want to point out that sexual harassment and assault were huge issues before pornography even existed or was easily accessed.

    • Yes, a thousand times yes.

  61. Alexandra says...

    Thank you for this article. I always thought I was lucky, not having had the experience of “serious” sexual harassment or rape, but now, thinking about it, there were (and still are, goodness) countless times where men tried to rub on me on crowded public transportation, a creepy boss who would touch me “innocently”, but not wanted, cat calls, comments about how attractive my height is and other comments about tall women (I am 5,11), overt stares and comments by guys at the pool (I am a swimmer), so that there are times when I avoid going because there is a man who always manages to be in my lane and tries to chat me up in a weird way (“Yes, give it all, you can do it” when I am doing speed drills), even though I made pretty clear that I am not interested even in chatting. Sometimes I want to simply say “F*** off”. This is an important conversation – I have both a son and a daughter and I am attempting to teach both of them the concept of consent and what’s acceptable (and what not), and so does my husband, who is thankfully very understanding, as he has grown up with four sisters.

  62. Annie says...

    Thank you so much for this Joanna, and for the links to great related articles. This Weinstein stuff coming out has also brought back a flood of memories for me… from a pretty serious non-consensual groping and kissing incident when I was a teenager, to so many small moments of touching or forcible kissing or just feeling threatened and unsafe. The reality is that this is a universal experience for women. I also don’t know the solution, all I know is that we need to keep talking about it and believing our own accounts of what happened. Trust your gut.

  63. As a young woman, I came to learn that sexual harassment and sex discrimination were the price to be paid on the road to career achievement. I never believed it was warranted, just that it was a thing that must be endured. I’ve always been an active feminist and at the age of 48, I had come to believe things were better, if nowhere near perfect. Then Donald Trump was elected president after bragging about the ways he had harassed, objectified, and excluded women. I’ll confess that I was surprised that a man who treated women in that fashion could be elected. Since then, my sense that women are better off than the discriminatory past of my youth has faded. I am more outraged than ever at the daily discrimination and harassment women of all ages endure. I am more determined than ever that it must be confronted, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our families, and in the raising of our sons and daughters.

  64. shannon says...

    Most of the harassment I have endured is verbal. We live in a big city, and I get cat-called frequently. It’s scary because I never know how far the guy is going to take it. Will he just say one thing and move on? Or will he keep talking at me? Will it escalate to berating and cursing? When is one of these guys going to start following me down the street, onto the subway, or to my house? Has this already happened and I barely avoided physical danger?

    As far as action, the only two things I can think of that I’ve done are 1) I took a self-defense class, and 2) I share with my husband not only when this happens to me, but I also point out male privilege in other areas of his life. He used to have no idea what women deal with, and I was also blind to how some things I was dealing with were gender-related. Rude comments from strangers, unsolicited advice, etc…he never deals with that, and I get it all the time. I didn’t realize this was yet another thing that only women encounter until he pointed it out to me.

    I think we have to keep speaking up, whenever and however we can, even though this is work are doing to fix something that isn’t our fault. It’s not fair, but I don’t know any other way. At the end of the day, people have to make better choices about how they treat others.

  65. Gabrielle says...

    The first time I experienced sexual harassment was in 10th grade. I was the first person to arrive to class and my driver’s education teacher looked me up and down and said, “dang, you should really be a model”. For the longest time, I thought “was it a compliment? Am I just blowing it out of proportion?”, but no. Definitely no. He was there to be a trusted educator and had absolutely no right to objectify my teenage body like that. I hate to think that there must have been others, too.

    Thanks for sharing your story and thoughts, Joanna. I hate your former employer and every man he stands for. xo

  66. Lori H says...

    Funny that the only people who were “surprised” were the ones that accepted a LOT of money from him over the years. No one was surprised. I would think almost every woman has a story to tell about being harassed, which means as a society, we are doing something very wrong! I was angry that Gwyneth and Angelina waited until the cat was out of the bag before saying anything. After they became powerful female actresses, WHY did they not say something, knowing that he was continuing to do this to young women??

  67. Besides cat calling (which is definitely awful) and men telling me to smile (damn the patriarchy), I have only one memory I can think of where an older man started telling a story of sexual nature that made me feel uncomfortable, during which I stopped him and said, “That makes me feel uncomfortable” and left.

    I’m pretty sure I owe all my “luck” to a lifelong case of Resting Bitch Face.

    • patricia blaettler says...

      Me, too!! hahaha

  68. C says...

    I think a large part of the problem is that from a very young age we learn sexuality as being about male desire. As girls we learn about the consequences of sex and our reproductive health, but we never talk about female desire. I remember learning about erections and wet dreams as early as 4th or 5th grade, but it would be a very long time before I learned about female orgasm or female pleasure. From the very beginning we learn about sex as being about male pleasure and female consequences. It’s no surprise really that men believe their pleasure and desires matter most and that women come to believe that we need to just silently suffer the consequences.

    • karen says...

      agreed. thank you.

    • Neile says...

      Yes, this!

  69. Caitlin says...

    I’m SO glad you brought this up. It’s so true that these “not such a big deal” instances of sexual harassment can be so disorienting and disempowering. The thing that gets me most is the shame and anger I have felt upon later realizing how I’ve normalized things like this. And then, on the other hand, it’s such a difficult position to be in because I (and most other women I know) don’t want to feel suspicious towards/angry at men all the time either. I think it was you that introduced me to the brilliant podcast, The Heart. Have you heard the series, “No”, in which Kaitlin Prest talks about coercion and consent? I listened to it and cried, it put so many things into perspective.

  70. Alex Lane says...

    We live in such a dichotomous time about our bodies. We are constantly being told to celebrate our bodies, to accept and love them as they are, and to dress them in what we feel comfortable and what we feel good. The hard part is when we do that, when we feel confident and sexy and proud, the harassment seems to worsen–at least for me (would be curious if others have this). I am a physician and I consciously don’t wear make up at work because male patients (who often already call me a nurse) comment on the way I look. But I love make up! And just like mb said above, we cannot just be. We are always calculating the risks and benefits of how we appear to the world rather than just enjoying the world.

  71. Monica says...

    The recent news brings forward a strong memory that was tucked away for 18 years. Back in the ’90’s sexual harassment policies were being put in place and all members of staff were being educated. But those efforts felt more like formalities rather than strong and supportive to anyone who might, unfortunately, encounter such a humiliating and threatening situation. I did. And never had before! I worked for a well known insurance company and had been assigned two territories each having their own senior manager that I reported to – one male, one female. Up until this point I experienced only respectful male bosses. While working with/for this male senior manager I experienced things I’d never imagined. On Monday mornings he wanted to meet with me in his office – he’d sit in his chair, legs spread wide open with his hands over his crotch and sometimes ask me why I didn’t wear skirts for him like Nancy – the person I replaced. I replied “perhaps because I feel threatened by you”. This sort of thing went on for an entire year. There were times he’d want to travel on the road with me. Fortunately so many circumstances or finaglings would occur that it didn’t happen. I tried talking to my parents and others but was told to get over it. I had one good friend who I could talk to and she would remind me to be safe and try to not travel with him, only meet him at a scheduled appointment. As for the female boss, I never felt comfortable talking to her because they were counterparts. Thankfully, I was never harmed physically, but my spirit suffered and I ended up leaving the company and exiting corporate America. In between this I interviewed with a well known pharmaceutical company that held interviews in a hotel room – that made me very uncomfortable and I withdrew after the first interview. I’d expressed my concern, but I also felt like a majority of people didn’t get it back then.

  72. Erin says...

    I know Cup of Jo readers are grammar and language people, so I want to share something that came across my facebook feed: “We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenage girls in the state of VT got pregnant last year, rather than how many men and boys impregnated teenage girls. So you can see how the use of the passive voice has a political effect. [It] shifts the focus off of men and boys and onto girls and women. Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic. It’s a passive construction; there’s no active agent in the sentence. It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term ‘violence against women,’ nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them . . . Men aren’t even a part of it!” Jackson Katz. We need to rephrase the conversation.

    • Kimberley says...

      Yes Erin! Oh my goodness, I had never thought of it like this. Such a very important distinction.

    • Zoey says...

      Omg that is so true! Removing men from the equation absolves them of the blame and instead places the responsibility for ensuring women’s safety squarely on women, as if saying there’s no way to control men’s behaviour so let’s not even try, it’s up to women to ensure terrible things don’t happen to them. It’s the same mindset that informs the thinking that women must not dress/act/behave a certain way in order not to get assaulted/attacked/raped, and not complying with those unspoken rules means they were in essence “asking for it”. It’s sick and it has to stop.

    • Hannah says...

      DITTO THAT. A HUNDRED times.

    • Lisa says...

      I got this on my FB feed as well and loved it. It’s a huge difference in the news story, personal story, conversation.

  73. Leah says...

    Thank you for writing this

  74. Aida says...

    The experiences are constant and do add up. You think oh, this is just how things are, trying to normalize it in your head but it’s not how it should be and it’s not okay!

  75. MR says...

    “Last night, I was wondering, how have all these experiences always added up in my mind to nothing? That I’ve chalked them up to just part of life, part of being female? That I’ve brushed things off again and again and just tried not to think about them? Have you done the same?”

    Reading this reminded me of something I haven’t thought about in years. I was 16 and dancing with a guy at a dance party that my friends dragged me to. I was extremely naive and inexperienced and when he stuck his fingers up inside my shorts, I was horrified and felt so dirty and ashamed. I moved away from him and instinctively felt my pocket for my phone, only to realize he’d stolen it from my pocket while we were dancing. I grabbed his shirt as he started to walk away and he bolted out of the room. When I reported the stolen phone to the police, they told me I should be more careful about letting boys put their hands where my phone is.

    I brushed it off. I got a new phone. I never knew that I had a right to be upset about it because until this moment, I thought it was my fault.

  76. ceciel says...

    I don’t know exactly what to do next. But I know you and I are raising feminist boys and that helps. I’m so sorry about your experience. I’ve had the same–little and bigger harrassment throughout the years. And now, you were powerful and spoke up and out. Thanks.

  77. KK says...

    As I’m reading all of these comments, quite a few instances are coming back to me. I worked at my dad’s company in the summers, and his co-worker would slap my butt when I walked by, on a train in Chicago a guy was masturbating while staring at me, I moved seats and he kept his eye on me. My uncle makes weird comments, my brother’s father-in-law makes inappropriate comments in my ear when he hugs me, which he hugs me super tight. At a foam party in Mexico (on spring break of course), I’ve never been so scared as I couldn’t see anything but I could feel a lot of hands everywhere. Like all of these women posting, the list goes on and you don’t realize it. Just reading all of these comments, I’m wondering if I’m going to have the courage to say something to my brother’s father-in-law the next time he’s around me or hugs me and whispers that top looks great on you. I always feel awkward around him, but he deserves to feel awkward, too. And, feel uncomfortable enough to STOP.

    • Hannah says...

      Ugh, the family member thing; my sister-in-law’s father-in-law, and my husbands uncle (two separate guys) both feel completely entitled to say whatever they like in whosever company they like, thigh-touch sitting, shoulder rubs, GAG.
      I have told my husband about all the times they have violated me personally- he was horrified when I used the term ‘violate’, but then when I described what was happening, he realized that they have always gotten away with that kind of behavior towards the women in the family. So next time there was an incident with his uncle, he said, loudly “Can you not see that you have no right to place your hands on a woman without her consent?”
      I want to be able to stand up and verbalize loudly against it for my OWN sake, and am getting there, but for now, having a respectful man stand up to his own uncle was very heartening.
      You could have heard a pin drop a mile away.

  78. K says...

    This is so powerful. Thank you for tackling this topic and sharing with us, Joanna. And thank you to all the incredible readers sharing their experiences and wise words and support. This community is wonderful.

    I went on a date once with a D list celebrity. The date was nice. There were one or two rather sexual comments at dinner but nothing happened physically. I admired him and thought he was cute, and all of my friends were so excited I was out with him so I just ignored it and enjoyed the evening. Within minutes of my getting home after dinner, he texted me questions about my sexual preferences and habits. I playfully deflected the questions and didn’t converse further. As Joanna put it best, it was so disorienting. Was I making this out to be worse than it was? Did I do something to encourage this? It left me feeling so dirty and ick. In the end, I chose not to mention that part of the night to my friends who excitedly asked about the date. They still sometimes like to joke about my dating a celebrity but I silently cringe every time.

  79. Meghan says...

    I feel angry, I feel guilty, I feel sickened and I feel complicit. My most recent experience of this- our shared universal experience, was an old friend repeatedly grabbing my ass and crotch during last call while we were out with a big group. I froze, pushed him away but I didn’t say anything. Only after getting home was I able to process what happened to me, what he did, wonder why I didn’t say anything or make a bigger scene. That’s what stays with me… why didn’t I say or do anything? I can understand the woman and men who didn’t come forward, who didn’t say anything to disturb the peace, maintained the status quo. Maybe that’s part of what sickens me hearing about Harvey Weinstein, too. I see myself not only those women he harassed and assaulted, but in those who somehow and someway protected his actions by not speaking out. I’ve since recounted the experience to some friends since and many have said, “Me too. He did that to me.” Samantha Bee did a really important piece on her most recent intro, I highly recommend watching it. In her ending, she says this. ““Listen up, creeps of Hollywood. We know who you are . . . Women talk to each other. And we talk to journalists. And we talk to lawyers. It’s 2017. We don’t have to put up with this shit. We are coming for you” Thanks for talking to us, Jo. We don’t have to put up with it. Let’s keep the conversation going and formulate a plan. <3

    • Zoey says...

      I absolutely feel you. A similar thing happened to me — i was walking with a group of friends after an outdoor showing of a movie when a male acquaintance behind me stuck his golf umbrella between my thighs. On purpose. It was so bizarre and disorienting, like did that really happen?? I whirled around to confront him and wanted to slap him but my then good friend — also a male — stopped me and told me I was overreacting! In that moment I was so angry and yet also so bitterly disappointed that someone I would have expected to defend me actually turned on me instead. Like all he cared about was that I not make a scene or embarrass him or his friend instead of having any concern about how *I* felt. It just made me feel victimized twice over.

      Looking back I wish I had kicked the umbrella guy’s arse and then told off my so-called friend as well, but the reality is I so off balance and upset that I could barely think/see straight. We’re not friends anymore, due in large part to this and many other “death by a thousand cuts” incidents, but this particular scene still bugs me to this day. Because it really brought home how alone and unsafe I was even along a group of so-called friends.

    • Amanda Kathryn Cihlar says...

      Samantha Bee should correct it to say, “We are journalists. And we are lawyers.”

      We have power. So let’s band together and use it!

  80. jac says...

    It’s for us to say NO. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Eventually society will catch up. It’s going to be horrible, but change does not always come easy. The thing that makes me heartbroken about this is how many women are standing AGAINST the women that spoke out.

  81. D says...

    Thank you for this poignant post. I agree with the article – it entangles and contaminates.

    I recently experienced an assault (2 weeks ago) here in Brooklyn. I found myself uncomfortably, achingly questioning the entire incident. When I confided in a couple friends, I thought to myself: Will they understand where I’m coming from? I’m mostly fine, but this is still an incident that shouldn’t have happened. They’ll think I’m overreacting…
    The most outrageous, angering, and discouraging part of this was that the officers that initially responded to the incident presented me with misinformation to discourage me from moving forward with an official report. (Well, that poor tactic didn’t work.) Additionally, the process of reporting made me feel revictimized.

    Thank you for having this conversation; that is definitely part of the answer…

  82. Charla says...

    Thank you for this. Reading the Weinstein articles this week left me feeling physically ill, but your comments and everyone else’s make me realize I am not alone in feeling so deeply affected. I, too, thought “nothing” had ever happened to me, until I started considering those instances over the years where men have made me feel uncomfortable, feel vulnerable, feel embarrassed. I thought it was nothing, it was just me being overly sensitive, if I wasn’t so shy it wouldn’t have bothered me… why do we women always assume it is our own fault? I am not sure what the solutions are, but I am so grateful for this community of women where we can speak out.

  83. Amy says...

    I was harassed (I call it assault, really) by a NYC cab driver a few years ago. I had been drinking that night and was having a fun and totally innocent conversation with the cabbie on the drive home. When we got to my apartment building I had trouble swiping my card and he decided he needed to get in the back seat and “help” me with the card reader… as soon as he climbed back there my card was accepted and he proceeded to shove his hand directly up my dress!! I pulled away from him and told him NO… but then I continued to pay my fare AND tip him for some insane reason!!! I quickly hurried out of the cab and into my building. A wave of shock and disgust came over me… why on earth did I tip that pervert?! My first thought was to get his cab info from my credit card company and report his ass… but then I started getting scared because he knew where I lived. I ended up keeping quiet. I regret that choice so much because I’m sure I am not the first or the last woman he has assaulted. This was not the first time something gross has happened to me, either. These incidents are occurring on a regular basis and I hope the awareness increases in light of recent events. I would absolutely report this man if it happened to me today, but I completely understand why it can feel so hard to do so when you are violated and in shock :(

  84. Anne says...

    Only 54 comments so far?! That says something, don’t you think? Are we’ll all scared to share, even in a forum that is supportive and can, if we wish, be almost entirely anonymous?

  85. Thank you for writing about this. I really believe that the United States is a rape culture, and women are viewed as second class citizens. We do not have autonomy over our own bodies, especially in states like Texas, where I live. Until we do, we will never be seen as equal. I think it’s so important to talk about this and share our stories, shout our stories, so that others will know. I have two young sons and I am doing my very best to teach them to treat all girls and women with the dignity and respect that we deserve as half the population of the human race.

  86. Ally says...

    I had the same experience. I couldn’t believe how many moments I’d been harassed and it hadn’t even registered. I’m glad we’re having this conversation, calling out this behavior and holding everyone more accountable.

  87. I had it happen at 26 (and I was a young 26, kind of naive). I was at a business lunch (actually a congratulatory lunch for my good performance) and the only woman there. I got into a conversation with a senior colleague about losing weight (we were both on WW at the time) and how some people take drastic measures like fat burner pills. A mid level manager then made a comment about ED pills and wondered why they only affect “certain” blood vessels (gestured to his crotch) and not others (stuck his arm out). I was mortified.
    When we got to restaurant, I went to the ladies room and burst into tears. My red eyes and smudged mascara’d face freaked all of them out when I got back to the table. I said the line I had practiced in the bathroom for a few minutes, “Your comment made me really uncomfortable and I don’t want to eat lunch with any of you anymore”.
    HR made a note in my file and when I was laid off a few months later (with a bunch of other people), I negotiated an additional 2 weeks severance out of the company.
    That same guy would make cruel jokes towards women all the time (saying “rattle, rattle, here come’s the cattle” to my pregnant colleague who was already suffering enough with awful morning sickness) and no one ever said anything. I’d like to think he eventually got his comeuppance–but I’m not a naive 26 year old anymore.

  88. Emilie Harris says...

    The most important thing I ever read was this article: https://www.thebillfold.com/2016/01/a-story-of-a-fuck-off-fund/. Like your mom said, if someone steps over the line, you should be able to tell them to get away from you without worrying how you’re going to pay your rent. It changed my life. It freed me – reading this article. Take care of yourself, ladies, and remember that you deserve to feel safe, celebrated and comfortable in all aspects of your life.

  89. Juliet says...

    I am always so impressed by the timeliness and eloquence of your articles, Joanna, and the relevance of your sources and quotes. Last night at 2am, I got caught up in a warmhole reading all the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, as I’m always behind on the news. Reading the stories of all these women, and now yours (as I feel like I kind of “know” you) continues to shock me. I’m a naive college student who just moved to NYC, but while I was going to say I’ve never experienced anything like this, I realize that it’s happened- a long look, a touch- and I say it’s nothing (and compared to many experiences it is), but it adds up.

    I’m very thankful for this little corner of the internet, and for all the not so little issues you continue to address.

  90. Karen says...

    I stood up to someone and told the bosses who said I was misinterpreting (a manager’s frequent invitations to his house among other things). I quit because I was young, it was a low paying job, and I could. The most frustrating thing about weinstein, or bosses in any industry or presidents or politicians is that there are others who can speak out without fear of job loss, admonishment, including the male actors who instead kept it under wraps. Or co workers in other industries who could help support or speak out when there is pattern or circumstance of illegal or unethical behavior. It’s been so minimized for so long. I hope to teach my daughter AND my son to stand up for themselves and for others.

  91. I also have the male masseuse example (except he rubbed his erect penis on my back) and a boss who told me “You know, if you say your name really fast, it sounds like ‘do you screw.'” I was paralyzed because I wanted to slap him across the face, but society has taught me to laugh about it and be cool. The worst offense was a date rape in high school. Then my rapist graded my performance the following week when he wrote derogatory things about me where everyone would see it. The sadness I have for my 16 year old self is that it wasn’t until 15 years when a therapist pointed out what had happened to me. I had just tried to push through it. And just today I was wearing a “Wild Feminist” tee. A man passed me and then turned around to chase after me and asked “where do I get my wild chauvinist tee?”

  92. Donna says...

    An unfortunate childhood memory I have from our family’s trip to Florida is not of Disneyworld but the man who made obscene gestures at me while driving next to us on the freeway. Such a creep. And then as a teen being followed off a bus by a man, another exposing himself to me on the subway, and now, even in adulthood, as a female runner, I’m honked and whistled at regularly. There’s also a man in my hood who repeatedly makes comments when he sees me such as “I wish I were that bike seat.”

  93. Anna says...

    I was fired from my job at 16 years old for telling my boss to please not touch my hips as he stood behind me at the register. When I asked for protocol regarding reporting sexual harrassment my other manager scoffed in my face & showed me the door. It enrages me that our stories are nearly identical for us & probably millions of others. ?

  94. Rose says...

    What a great post.

  95. A says...

    This. This post is everything. Thank you so much for sharing your story, and to those who have commented so far and shared.

    When I have discussed the current news stories around this I have heard softer echoes of something that seems to ring universally out there in the ether — ‘I just don’t understand why those women wouldn’t report it earlier. Why they wouldn’t say anything. Why anyone would have assisted him in these set-ups.’ Frankly, this is just a gentler version of victim blaming. It does NOT hold the actor accountable, but seeks to find some kind of blame in the victim. I have heard this response from friends, and from colleagues whom I am close with and it just bares an eerie resemblance to the harsh trolling that happens when any woman speaks out about an experience with harassment or sexual assault in the media.

    M.B. made a comment that resonated with me so much — “I had denied all those experiences as “mattering”–the thinking goes that it only matters if I am traumatized and I am not traumatized. But in small ways, I am traumatized. I am hyperaware and hypersensitive to situations that can be misconstrued, that can lead someone to perceive something as a flirtation, etc…”. As a sexual assault victim this resonated with me so much. Every. Single. Little. Micro-aggression. Matters. Women are strong and we trivialize these things because we want to move on and spend energy on the things we care about like our goals and families and selves and not be way-laid by some jerk who invades our space. But each single one matters, and talking about it matters. Thank you for opening this conversation.

  96. EmilyR says...

    The single bright spot in this horrible year of sexism and racism personified by our President has been the realization that my sons, aged 20 and 15, are not only horrified by the sexism and racism but utterly comfortable calling it out. I’ve heard them repeatedly challenge friends’ comments, and every time the offending person has backed down, embarrassed by their own words. It gives me hope that the upcoming generation really might have an easier time because of all the terrible things that have been highlighted this year.

  97. I was a freshman in college and a “family friend” from where I grew up was a senior and invited me out. A friend of his started flirting with me and took notice. We hung out in a group a few times and around the time of my birthday he took me for dinner. I had a glass of wine, ONE and he went straight in for a kiss, rubbing my shoulders, and moving his hands down my back. I DID NOT ASK FOR IT, yet society would tell you differently. I called him out on his behavior, told our “family friend” I will never speak to him again and that was it…..until a few months later we were at the same bar. He walked right up to me, told me I liked it, I wanted it, and that he would one day get his hands on me. Let’s just say I made the biggest scene of my life, screaming what a creep he was, that he was sick, etc…Many vulgar words came out of my mouth and I walked out of the party with tears running down my face.

    Those are my memories of Freshman year, a time that was suppose to be exciting.

    Ladies, we have to speak up and speak out.

  98. Joanna, this was so well said. This part especially hit me so hard: “I found myself thinking, I’m so fortunate, nothing at all has ever happened to me. But as I read the accounts, I remembered the pizzeria owner’s hot breath. And then countless other times came flooding back, when I’ve felt uncomfortable or violated. Nothing big, nothing major, but countless times for decades.” That was me. I remembered that actually I have been sexually assaulted. That a man, younger than me, made me give him oral sex at a party. I never characterized it as sexual assault because I was very drunk, and I didn’t say no. But I didn’t want to, and I was embarrassed that people found out. I played it off as a funny thing that happened because it was a friend’s brother. But for weeks I felt so dirty and disgusting. And it’s definitely affected that aspect of my sex life!

    Not to mention all the times where it was more “harmless”: having my hand placed on a guy’s crotch when he thought I was sleeping. Coworkers making comments about my butt. Customers coming in to my place of work repeatedly and giving me love letters and gifts despite my many, many protestations (and the fact of that person being married, and me engaged). So many “small” moments we write off because we think it’s part of being female.

    I don’t know what else to say, but THANK YOU, thank you, thank you, for addressing this, and for sharing your own story Joanna. This is something we need to keep talking about.

  99. Mary says...

    My personal experience of something like this includes my own father. No one else actually, just him. In bringing it up with my mum first it was briefly acknowledged by her and then promptly ignored. I was too ashamed for ten years to approach them again but then just before my thirtieth birthday (somehow in my head that’s when I felt I truly became an adult!) I wrote them both a letter describing how terrified I had felt being around him after that. They both said sorry for that and another occasion I was beaten badly as a three year old (nothing sexual) and then completely ignored what had been said, again. Like that’s that now, forget about that like a good girl, no ‘real’ harm came to you and let’s not even think about the dysfunctional environment that allowed this to occur in the first place. When I eventually told my brother he too completely ignored it. I guess that’s what one does when one is not ready to confront the truth. Thing is, and this may be a rather controversial point but in a way we leave no room for anyone to recover from being the perpetrator. They are just vilified in papers online and in print. It’s easier then to ignore what’s been said in terms of maltreatment than accept responsibility and heal than it is for the victim and who wants to be labeled as that forever either really?

    It took me a whole decade to regain my health and well-being after a process that eventually resulted in me being estranged from my family. But all really is well now. I went from being deluded to being aware I was a victim to now completely recovering. I feel love for my family, if at a significant distance! Where I suffered most was in considering how others might think of me and the family I came from. It also made me afraid to have children in case I would do as I was done to but that has passed I’m glad to say. I’m feeling so much more confident in myself and my self worth has increased enormously.

    As ladies all this horridness however awful is actually a healthy sign I think. It may have been ‘normal’ before but we have more confidence now as a whole in society and that is the best protection. If we can bring our male and female children up to respect themselves, and to have confidence in themselves then they will naturally respect others and have the confidence to walk away or speak up when they are unhappy about how they are being treated. That’s my two cents anyway.

  100. Karen says...

    When I was 13, I babysat for a family with a little girl. When the mom and dad would come home in the evening, the mother would go and check on the child and the father would rub my back as I explained how the evening went. I always made my mom come and pick me up (I never told her why) because I was scared to have him drive me home. I used to joke with my friends that he was a pervert, but I never realized how wrong it was until I was at least in my 30s. I can’t even remember all the other experiences I had in my 20s working in DC, but I know that I just accepted them and the “good ole boys club, “and thought this was just part of being a woman. I have a daughter who is about to turn 14, and I’m so worried that she will face the same exact situations and just accept them as well.

  101. EBeth says...

    I was amused/dismayed to hear about Ben Affleck’s “horrified” reaction to the Weinstein’s behavior and it immediately came out that he had “tweaked” a woman’s nipple – w/o her permission – on camera! Could he not see how WRONG that behavior is, too?! I, too, have been sexually harassed several times by different men over the years. Yes, I put them in their place and they didn’t try it more than once but seriously, to have to do that is ridiculous!! And soul sucking… Talking about this rampant problem makes me more hopeful so I really appreciate the space that Cup of Jo provides!

    • Meghan says...

      YES and furthermore his brother is an ABUSER!! I was so put off to see that too. Men will use a position against sexual violence to get ahead in the world, even if they are perpetrators of sexual violence. I see it all the time in my community and it makes me so angry.

  102. j says...

    I’ve experienced so many incidents where I’ve had to talk myself out of calling it sexual assault or harassment. Then I could rationalize not reporting it, not making a big deal, just moving on etc. Its easier for us as individuals to just move on in the moment – but if we were willing to get brave and call it out and make it uncomfortable, maybe we could save the next woman from experiencing the same thing. I think talking about our experiences is a great first step to making change. Think about all those rich/powerful/famous actresses who were too scared or embarrassed or ashamed to come forward with their stories until a few people broke their silence. Same with Cosby cases. Its harder to dismiss us when we all speak up together. Thanks Joanna!

  103. Those quotes from Liz Meriweather reminded me of a conversation I had with my husband a few days ago that I’m still trying to process.

    Backstory: a couple weeks ago, one of our close friends was assaulted by a date. The guy seemed completely normal – he has a kid, he has a good job, he seemed really kind; he seemed “woke” even, based on convos our friend had with him prior to the incident. And then he drugged her at his apartment and assaulted her.

    When I told my husband what happened he was outraged, saying he wanted to find the guy and hurt him and he wants him to go to jail. As Meriweather said–yes, I want those things too. But I was frustrated by my husband’s response. It’s not the first time I’ve had the same kind of conversation with a man where he has that reaction and I’m left feeling exhausted and discomfited, and I’m still trying to articulate why. I guess because it always feels like they’re pouring *in* to the trauma, rather than easing it. My husband meant to comfort me, but instead I felt like I was helping him process and accept that this is our reality, that we never feel safe with anyone, even the most “normal”-seeming men. And I think his comments about wanting to hurt the guy felt like a show of chivalry that is rooted in the same violent masculinity that leads men to abuse women. Even though my husband would never hurt a woman, comments like that show that he still thinks that manhood is about brute strength rather than vulnerability or leadership.

    What I wish men would say, even to friends of the victim recounting the story, is “I’m so sorry that happened. I believe you.” And then STFU and listen so that *we* can be the ones to express our anger, talk about how we want the world to be different, and discuss the ways that we need them to act to help create that change – set an example, believe in and advocate for women, call shit out, and raise their own kids differently.

    • Kimberley says...

      Yes Bethany! “And then STFU and listen so that *we* can be the ones to express our anger, talk about how we want the world to be different, and discuss the ways that we need them to act to help create that change – set an example, believe in and advocate for women, call shit out, and raise their own kids differently.” – I loved this so much!

  104. allie says...

    The first time I can recall being harassed was when I was 15 and working as a bus girl at my dad’s restaurant over the summer of 1993. We would stay late, sometimes until midnight or 1 am, after closing, smoking cigarettes and drinking sodas at the bar. I felt so cool and mature – hanging out with the servers who were in their early 20’s – it was like being in a late-80’s, early 90’s beach shack summer romance flick and I loved it. There was a guy who was probably 23 or 24 at the time – I thought he was incredibly handsome – tall with dark hair and a strong build, but I found him attractive in the same way I found Christian Slater attractive – from far away and not ever someone who would notice me. And then one night, after closing, while we were all gathered around the bar, he came up next to me and put his hand down the back of my khaki shorts, resting it on my bare ass cheek. He said something in my ear about getting together sometime…I was frozen. It was strange because as much as I knew what he was doing wasn’t right – aggressively coming onto a CHILD – I was strangely flattered and almost star struck by it. It was like he approved of me, he thought I was pretty, he thought I was worthy. I don’t know that we discuss that as much – the guilt you may carry if at the time, you may have wanted to see it as something else…anything other than what it really was. I felt valued and acknowledged through him in that moment. How crazy is that…

    I’m 38 years old now and in my current job, I frequently interact with an 80 year-old trustee. He’s a respected and loved man throughout the city – and every time he sees me, he pulls me in for a hug and a kiss on the lips. I hate it. And I still let it happen. I won’t say anything. It’s not worth the trouble. I attended the Women’s March in DC, I have feminist tattoos on by body, I’m pregnant and I actively think about how to raise a girl in this world so she can and will advocate for herself and everything she believes in. And I’m her mother that lets a creepy old man kiss her all the time. And again, how crazy is that…I feel ashamed but I just wanted to be honest…we’re all dealing with this stuff in one way or another every day. It’s nice to know we’re not alone.

  105. B. says...

    Also, is our collective cultural memory so short that men don’t remember #yesallwomen? I’m just running out of patience for ignorance.

  106. Meg says...

    One more: I just read this and found it so powerful. Maybe switching up the way we talk about sexual harassment is another thing we can do.

    “We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenage girls in the state of Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how many men and boys impregnated teenage girls.

    “So you can see how the use of the passive voice has a political effect. [It] shifts the focus off of men and boys and onto girls and women. Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic. It’s a passive construction; there’s no active agent in the sentence. It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term ‘violence against women,’ nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them..Men aren’t even a part of it!”

    attributed to Jackson Katz

    • Thank you for sharing this, Meg. The words we use matter! How we frame the conversation matters! Especially when a pattern of behavior has persisted for so long. We need to change the way we talk about these things. I remember once hearing someone say “Sexual assault and harassment of women are not ‘women’s issues.’ Women are not raping themselves.” Her point was – where is the outrage from men on this issue?There is so much victim-blaming, so many excuses made… This needs to stop.

    • Aya says...

      Thanks for sharing this!

  107. Leah says...

    I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in another country but I was never sexually harassed at work or school. Had the pleasure of working with a lot of men who treated me with dignity and respect. Only time I ever experienced sexual assault was on a plane. I was sleeping, and the stranger sitting next to me put his hands between my legs under the blanket while his wife was sitting on the other side. Besides pushing it away again and again I was frozen, and I regret that till today.

  108. Jessica says...

    I don’t know what the next best steps are either. Other than continuing to stand up for oneself and banding together as women. It’s disgusting and disheartening that even the most extreme sexual harassment cases (ie Bill Cosby) are so difficult to prosecute due a woman’s word going up against the defense’s ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ position.
    Working in the film and TV industry, I have unfortunately dealt with many physical and verbal types of sexual harassment from producers. But apart from standing up for myself, every situation at the time felt like it had to be brushed off as par for the course as working in the industry. The behavior is rampant.

  109. Anonymous says...

    There is a 60-ish-year-old man at the gym where I work out, and whenever I see him he makes a comment, such as “Your perfect physique keeps me motivated” or “It’s working…looking good,” often when another male is within earshot, so I’m doubly embarrassed. I now adjust my times going to the gym so that I don’t have to see him. He is not harassing me–I know he thinks he is being kind and complimentary–but I think some men just don’t understand how they are being received.

    • LP says...

      He is harassing you, whether he believes he is or not.

    • Lauren says...

      I really like your point here. I think I have the right to *not* call something harassment if I don’t think that’s what it is. At the same time, that doesn’t mean it isn’t uncomfortable and uncalled for. If you were to draw his attention to the fact, and he continued, that would not be right. You shouldn’t have to change gym times. Sometimes it’s complicated.

    • Amanda says...

      Yuck. There is a problem with intent vs. impact in a lot of instances in life – what is meant and what is perceived. I would argue that he is harassing you; you’re uncomfortable with the behavior to the point that you’ve completely altered your schedule to avoid him. If it’s unwanted, it’s harassment. Even if he doesn’t see it that way, you do. It is really, really hard to address because we are taught to just deal with it, especially from men who are “came up in a different time” or like to frame it as a “perception problem.”

    • Haylee says...

      What bothers me about this type of situation–which is SO common–is the difference between what’s acceptable for a man to say and what a woman would even feel comfortable saying. Imagine these roles reversed–how weird does that feel, and doesn’t that say something? I do not appreciate, either, those men that brush off a situation they perceive as benign with a short, “Oh, she likes it, I’m being nice.” I can’t think of a time where I’ve heard a woman say she likes it. We’ve just been forced to accept it. Perhaps that’s what bothers me most, this idea that one group of people can decide what’s appropriate for another group to feel and how they should react. Even though the time you go to the gym seems flexible, and even though he might defend the intent behind what he says…you should be able to go to the gym any time and feel comfortable (I mean…as comfortable as you can…I wouldn’t describe myself as comfortable when sweat is dripping into my eyes, but you get the gist ;))

    • Hope says...

      I hear this – men “not understanding” is such a huge part of abuse, harassment, and rape. Women understand because anything from the range of a passing comment or physical abuse is belittling and initiates a base fear. Men don’t understand what it means to have all that you are suddenly boiled down to their assessment of your body.

    • jac says...

      Tell him that you weren’t looking for his approval. “Please keep your comments to yourself”. Is it better to be passive and let him make you feel uncomfortable, so you don’t make him upset? NO. NAH BRAH.

    • Ramona says...

      Unwanted attention is harassment. His comments are unwanted. You do the math

    • Jenn says...

      But he is harassing you – and it’s so wrong (but understandable) that you are having to change your actions (going to the gym at different times to avoid him) rather then him changing his! He is objectifying you and making you feel uncomfortable – that’s on him, definitely not on you.

    • Marta says...

      And this is what enrages me. We, the victim after all, are the ones ending up being penalized. Do not get me wrong, I am not blaming you or saying you shouldn’t have stopped going to the gym, because I would have done the same. Which brings me to the question Joanna raised: what do we do? What option would not penalize ourselves? Even if you speak up, what are the chances he would stop going to the gym at that time? You will be continuing feeling unconfortable everytime you see him if you continue to go at the same time as him. Is there a way to do not penalize ourselves? This shouldn’t be a hopeless situation. Just shouldn’t. But it feels like.

    • Melanie says...

      Um, yes, he is harassing you. Please tell him to stop (or ask an employee of the gym to tell him to stop). That’s not right.

    • Aya says...

      I think he is harassing you and knows it. I think you are completely justified in your feelings.

    • Colleen says...

      My husband is 60ish and would NEVER say anything like that to anyone. Do not excuse this man.

    • Anna says...

      I think so many men – especially men of a certain age – hide behind a kind and complimentary facade. They have themselves convinced that they really are being nice. But if this man knew you were going out of your way to avoid him, I wonder if it would dawn on him that he’s actually being awful. I’m sorry.

    • KL says...

      He is harassing you. He is making unsolicited, unwanted, inappropriate comments about your appearance that make you uncomfortable. He may not see it as harassment but that’s not your problem. I think women are conditioned to excuse this behaviour by our fundamentally patriarchal society. He doesn’t deserve your excuses for his harassment of you. You should be able to go to the gym and enjoy it.

    • Alycia says...

      He is using your looks to embarrass you-that is harassment. Do whatever you need to do to be comfortable at the gym but if you see him and he says it again, tell him to stop. He might not know any better, but if you tell him how uncomfortable you are, and he keeps doing it, he does know better and is choosing to harass you.

    • Carla says...

      Um, he IS harassing you

    • Lauren says...

      One popular dictionary, the Oxford, defines harassment as “aggressive pressure or intimidation”. Many people here seem to define it as “unwanted attention.” I hope I’m free to chose which one I want to use for myself. Again, these things are complicated.

    • Alice says...

      What I think is despicable about this situation is if you chose to say something, would it be taken seriously? Because women’s complaints about harassment are dealt with casually, disrespectfully, patronisingly, or as if we are kicking up a fuss about nothing because we’re over-sensitive. You’re changing your days, you’re being harassed, who is going to take it seriously? I really hope/wish/dream your gym would/will.

  110. Tiffany says...

    I have so many memories of “small” instances like this. I vividly remember a time in grade school when a boy was running around touching all the girls butts. I knew my parents were visiting for lunch and I was petrified that he would do this to me (again) in front of them. I instinctually knew that I would be in trouble with my dad if this happened. I remember crying and begging the boy to just wait until my parents left.
    I also remember a couple years later when a different boy grabbed my butt I kicked him in the balls. I got in trouble.
    SMH

    • Em says...

      This makes me so sad :(

  111. Kayla H. says...

    This is a really good post, one that touches on ways in which women rationalize the sexual harassment they may face. I, like so many others, have my own laundry list of stories, the most recent being in August when a guy on Bourbon Street grabbed me in public and then immediately bragged to his friends about what he had just done. My response? To walk back over to him, flip him off, and give him some choice words. That didn’t feel like justice, but I didn’t know what other route to take and wanted to get away as soon as possible to protect myself and my unborn child, as I was 6 months pregnant at the time. Soon, I will welcome my daughter into the world and I don’t want to be silent anymore. I want to add my voice to the chorus. It’s not okay. The world we give to the next generation has to be better.

    • Xenia says...

      “Soon, I will welcome my daughter into the world and I don’t want to be silent anymore. I want to add my voice to the chorus. It’s not okay.”

      I love this. Thank you.

  112. Erin says...

    I was 12 years old and at Sleepaway Camp. A 16 year-old counselor took interest in me and I thought I was so cool because of that. But it took a turn on the last night of camp when my bunkmates put all of the mattresses outside of the bunk and went to sleep, and I woke up with him on top of me. The night is kind of a blur. I wasn’t fully sleeping, I think I saw him approaching, and nothing else happened, except he was on top of me. BUT, he was on top of me. A 16 year old who knew his power, his “hotness”. It lasted all but 10 seconds, but it made an impact. He returned to camp after an absence to be a boating instructor when I was a 16 year old counselor and I had chills when I saw him. He was a legend in our tiny bubble, but he was a predator in my eyes. What makes it worse, is that I knew he did this to other girls. At the time, his verbal flirting was exciting because my 12 year old self loved the attention, but once it became physical, I felt dirty and ashamed. I never said anything to anyone because “nothing happened”, but something did. Something happened, and the stories that other girls told about his advances were frightening.

    And then there was that night in College where I was extremely intoxicated and my friend pushed me onto a guy on the dance floor and we started to kiss and then I felt his hand go down my pants. Out in the open. With everyone watching. And I knew it wasn’t right, but I was too drunk to say something. But I kissed him back, so I “asked for it”, right? Those grey lines blur.

    It is sickening that I can think of many more instances where I’ve felt uncomfortable around men. Where I’ve felt powerless, but have done nothing because I didn’t want to rock the boat.

    We need to speak out about our experiences and stand up to these disgraceful boys who think we are a toy. And we need to teach our young boys to respect girls because they will turn into men one day, who have that “power” to be feared.

  113. Anne says...

    wow, thank you for sharing. I needed this. I definitely fall into that camp of the “sweet and friendly” who blame themselves more often than not and wish that I had a tougher exterior. but it happens to all of us, at any turn. I echo the line someone wrote above: It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to feel this way and it’s exhausting to keep explaining to the world why it matters. I don’t have answers either, but I am grateful for communities like this one that hold each other up and give space for stories to be shared.

  114. Amanda G says...

    When news like this breaks anymore, I’m saddened by the fact that I’m not even surprised. Women are ogled, groped, cat-called, objectified, and subject to unwanted advances ALL. THE. TIME. What angers me the most is all the men who are suddenly infuriated. Where have they been for the rest of their lives? How many times did they turn the other way while their buddy wolf-whistled at a woman jogging down the sidewalk or say nothing when their male colleagues made sexual comments about a female co-worker? Most likely, they themselves have been the harassers somewhere down the line!

    We live in a society where this has become a normal part of our society, and it terrifies me. It’s in our music, our movies, and our White House. Of course, the same people who are amazed that this type of behavior is so commonplace are most likely also the same ones I’ve heard lament that “racism was dead until Obama was elected and stirred up race relations again.” I grew up in a biracial family with an African-American father, knowing that racism was alive and well, and the same can be said for sexual harassment. Something needs to change.

    • Holly says...

      THIS!

  115. Robin says...

    Two years ago, I was sexually assaulted by a celebrity at a restaurant opening. In looking back on that experience, I realized how it was well-orchestrated. No one saw the details; he acted like a gentleman who was smitten by me. I turned him down numerous times. He was married, and so am I.

    What stays with me after these years is how small and alone I felt because I knew I had no recourse. We can say telling is easy, but it is not. I knew that my whole world would blow up, that I would be hated by revealing this story about a small city celebrity that became a hero to the masses. And I knew that he had bigger and better resources for a fight.

    This is what has to change: The onus of these experiences, and the responsibility to pursue change or charges, should not be placed entirely on the women.

  116. Katie says...

    The thing that has struck me about this is not simply the sexual aspects – but the power aspects. I have been lucky not to have been sexually harassed at work, but I have been in many situations where men controlled the dynamic of the situation, especially when they were my peers, not a boss – it can go from obviously joking to serious quickly and the pivot is disorienting and usually only women are called out. I read that in the original Weinstein NYT article – that he commanded situations by controlling the power dynamics of them with women. I was in that situation once, and a man (who was beloved by all!) used that to intimidate me in a private room to never joke with him, that he controlled the situations. I was 26 or 27 and relatively feisty but I was terrified and had no recourse – and because he was a “nice guy” no one really cared what he had said or done to me.

  117. Emily says...

    When I was in tenth grade, we had a new, young, male geometry teacher at our school. All the girls thought he was cute and all the boys thought he was cool. I sat in the front row in his class and one day he picked up my desk, with me in it (it was one of those attached desks) and turned me around to face the entire class (big rookie teacher mistake on his part). But I remember just knowing that he had power over me b/c he physically picked me up. IN MY DESK! Fast forward to the end of the year. He signed my yearbook and I thought nothing of what he wrote. I went away for a summer writing program and my mother was reading my yearbook and found his inscription. It read: “Even though you’re a member of the inferior sex, I wish you continued success in mathematics.”

    My mother (a career public school teacher), took the yearbook and drove right to the administrative offices and walked into the superintendent’s office and said, Something must be done. Now. The teacher didn’t return to our school. I have no idea what became of him. I was mortified that my mother had done that but now, as a mother myself, it was so clearly the right thing to do–both to show her daughters what was and was not acceptable messaging to young women and also to address a problem in the community.

    • Rams says...

      Your mom is a BADASS. <3

    • AJ says...

      This is shocking – what an idiot (to put it mildly) – but also so brilliant of your mother. Let’s hope he never taught again.

    • Melanie says...

      Your mom rocks!

    • Yay for your mom! I have goosebumps!

    • Ellen says...

      Oh my gosh. You’re so right: as a teenager I would have been so angry and embarrassed by my mom for this. But now as an adult and a mother myself, THANK GOD for your mom.

    • Aya says...

      I love your mom and want to be like her for my daughter if need be.

  118. Meg says...

    The shock of men comes from the privilege of not having to know. It’s maddening in the same way any display of privilege – whether one knows he’s privileged or not – is maddening. I say keep your outrage unless you tend to use it to educate other men.

    • Lauren says...

      The privilege of not having to know… wow, that brings tears to my eyes. It’s so frustrating.

  119. Megan says...

    Thank you so much for writing about this. I haven’t been able to shake it from my mind for days.

  120. Abbey says...

    Thank you so much for this. You’ve painted a very accurate picture the conundrum so many of us have faced too many times to count. And despite ending your essay with questions, I think the act of publishing this here is one answer. We must keep talking and shining the light on sexual harassment and abuse if and when and however we can.

  121. Carly Martin says...

    I too don’t have any “major” story of harassment that comes up right away, but of course there are always those “little” things like you mentioned, that seemed weird in the moment but not enough to make a big deal about in terms of trauma. Last week I felt someone walking slowly behind me for a half block and mumble something, so I instinctively sped up only to realize it was just the neighbor’s teenage kid that I didn’t recognize. I was telling my husband that I felt bad for ignoring his “hello” which I assumed to be something else and he questioned why I was so concerned in the first place. I had to explain that after living in cities for the last decade I’ve learned to tune out cat-calling, hissing, staring, rerouting a few blocks due to {insert any number of random suspicious men} following me and it’s just become instinct to ignore and deflect strangers on the street that give me a weird feeling. He had no idea what that feeling was, where that instinct came from and it was the first time I really thought how awful it is that as women we’ve had to become so used to random cat-calls that we don’t even think of it as harassment, just a regular ol’ walk down the block.

  122. Rachel says...

    I have no idea how to make this better, but in my personal experience, I have decided that the next time my fiance’s creepy Uncle hugs me a little too tight or comes up behind me to give me a hug, or puts his hand on my hip or the small of my back, I am going to calmly tell him, “that’s too close” or “please do not hug me like that”. In a few instances, I have completely froze. Has he done anything inappropriate? In some people’s opinion, no. But he has made me feel uncomfortable and I want to make it clear that I do NOT want anything else like that to happen. I just need to say “NO”.

    • Lauren says...

      I have got doing this in a non-offensive way down to a science. It’s a quick cheerful apologetic, “oh, whoops, no, none of that” but with serious eye contact, then some benign comment about what’s going on around us. I can’t believe how much I care about not being offensive in these situations. I want to change but it’s hard.

    • Carrie says...

      Thank you for this! I have the same experience with a relative of my significant other. When he does things that are inappropriate, similar things to what you described, I always wonder why I wasn’t a better advocate for myself. I’ve been practicing saying things like ‘I’m sorry, I’m not much of a hugger, kisser, toucher, etc.’ so I’m prepared next time I see him. But, it always happens in front of other family members so it IS hard to say something. These situations are so intricate.

    • Lauren says...

      An ex-boyfriend’s Dad made me uncomfortable in a similar way, but I was never sure how to address it. I fully support your planned responses for next time. You’ve got this!

    • Emmie says...

      Amen. I had a creepy uncle-in-law situation that I never highlighted. In hindsight I wish I would have said, “what did you say?”, “why are you touching me like that?” — to draw attention to it in front of others. I am not going to be silent anymore.

  123. belen says...

    I’ve also been through all this situations so many times. Now as a new teacher I try to bring unwanted behaviours up with students when I see the opportunity but I find it quite hard to be constructive about bad behaviour without ostracizing children who are usually “just joking” cause that is what they see on tv/real life. We talk about rape or harassment but it’s harder to explain the less clear behaviours you are talking about. I don’t know if i’m making any sense haha but i’ve been thinking about this lately, cause I work with teens and they are always bickering, “fighting” and I have a hard time explaining when it’s crossing the line.

  124. Christine says...

    I happened to be thinking this same thing right before I saw this post up – I can’t believe I’ve been lucky enoug to never have anything happen to me. And then, I also remembered all the small things – my butt being grabbed in a packed subway, too touchy drunk friends, etc. It’s sad to think that nearly every woman probably has at least one moment that will come back to them eventually, if not immediately.

  125. Omaya says...

    With all your might, support your female peers, coworkers, family members, friends, and even strangers. We are each other’s greatest resources and battle partners. Do it because our security, our happiness, and our existence are valuable. I have your back against these evils, and I know you have mine.

    • KK says...

      Yes.

    • Amanda says...

      I love this so much. Reminds me of that Gwendolyn Brooks line, “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

    • Yes!

    • Nora B says...

      I love this. Thank you, Omaya.

  126. Katherine says...

    It does make me wonder what men think when they see other men acting that way (and it is mostly men).

    A bit perpendicular to this, and spoilers ahead- but I just saw the new Blade Runner film today, and just all the women in it were basically agentless, and there was a lot of female nudity-even the statues! I don’t know if they were trying to make some sort of point, but I didn’t feel it was there and I was looking for it.

    It made me wonder if men watching it would even think about it, if they even realised that all the women present were just there to serve someone else’s agenda- a ‘wife’ robot to come home to who arranges for a prostitute when she can’t offer sex, the villain acting only on her boss’s instructions, the prostitute used to get access to the main character, and then the replicant child actually unable to lead any revolution and locked away. I just thought-do the men even notice?? Do they think it’s weird? Or do they not care?

    I think almost all women have unfortunately been in situations where they have felt objectified, and treated as there for men’s viewing or pleasure. I realise there are real cultural divides across the world which contribute to this, and areas where it is worse, but it happens everywhere. Do men just feel the need for power that much? If we could understand why, and if the answer is something more than ‘I like sex, power, and don’t feel bad about making women uncomfortable or harming them to get what I want’ then hopefully we can move things forward. My fear is that there are people who just don’t feel bad about it, and what is in the media (eg big films) also feeds into that.
    A recent pertinent bbc article as well:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-41512300

    • Katie says...

      I had the exact same response to the film. I wanted to leave in the middle because I found it so obnoxious. My husband was also bothered, but he viewed it as the film specifically commenting on the objectification of women as a kind of middle term between humans, i.e. men, and replicants. I’m not convinced by that at all. We’re both academics, too, so if it was lost on us, then I’m not sure the message would translated to all.

    • Claire says...

      You make very good points about Blade Runner. Thank you for pointing this out.

    • C says...

      I thought the same thing about the new Blade Runner movie. My husband saw what you’re talking about as a “comment” on our society. I don’t know… it didn’t seem like a comment on society to me, maybe because it didn’t seem to be depicted in a negative enough way to be a comment. The movie really, really bothered me. The sexual and racial stereotypes made it so boring. I mean, it’s 2017, why not have the main character/hero be a woman with a hologram boyfriend? Let’s change things up a little!

  127. Lauren says...

    Ugh… So many small events spring to mind when I really think about it, even though none of them are something I think about every day. And it’s terrifying that apparently that’s the case for most of us… How about the 27 year old coworker that came onto me in high school? The boss that told me my raspy (POST-PNEUMONIA) voice was “sexy.” Or the catcall YESTERDAY while I was talking my dog?

    The worst one… Long story short, in college I started making out with someone at a party. I could tell he was ignoring my hesitation to go further, so I said I had to use the bathroom and I’d be right back… Then ran (barefoot) to my friend’s dorm as fast as I could. What if I had one more drink that night? Or froze up in fear? I honestly don’t know where the bathroom idea came from. I got very lucky.

    I’ve actually joked about the last one with friends. I guess I felt like I wasn’t overtly traumatized, and it was unfair to actual rape victims to claim a violation…. It makes me wonder how many “almosts” go unreported, because we’ve been taught there’s nothing to report.

  128. Meg says...

    “countless times for decades”

    universal.

    • Aya says...

      Yes–(sadly) universal and somehow reassuring to hear that I am not crazy, oversensitive or alone.

  129. Shauna S says...

    I so appreciate this. Thank you.

  130. Rachel says...

    Thank you for your thoughts on this. I’m so frustrated and outraged. What can we do to support other women (or anyone being harrased)?
    I’m currently struggling (as an adult and mother) with a neighbor making inappropriate, vulgar gestures to me and another female neighbor in front of our children. The police can’t even do anything, or so they told us, since he hasn’t physically touched us and remains in his yard while doing so…. What options are there?!!

    • Jean says...

      Video him on your phone and post it publicly.

    • Rachel says...

      Jean — Thank you!! I’m not sure why this hadn’t occurred to me, seems so obvious now. Thank you again.

  131. Ami says...

    One thing that keeps coming to mind as I read all of these articles are, whose sons are these? I am pregnant with a boy, and I am terrified that he will perpetrate these types of actions. Do all mothers think, “no not my son”? But the numbers are against you — YES, your son! Even if I raise him to respect women, will the strength of our culture outweigh me? How are we (mothers and fathers) failing our sons in such a way that sexual harassment seems to be everywhere??

    • Eliza says...

      I remember as I learned that I was pregnant with a boy one of my first thoughts was of relief “he’ll never have to walk to his car gripping his keys as a weapon. ” and my second thought was that I must teach him that he must never make a woman be afraid. He’s 5 now and I ALWAYS do my best to respect his wishes and teach him that “no means no” so when he says “stop tickling me!” I stop right away – even if he’s joking. I wait for him to say “okay you can tickle me again” and then the game resumes. (Teaching him that it’s okay for someone to say no even when they’re enjoying something and that asking to start again doesn’t make him seem silly) I DO pick him up unexpectedly and give him hugs when I can see he needs it, but i DON’T let relatives hug him when I can tell he’s not into it. I tell them “sorry, no means no. I’m teaching him about consent” and I ask him if he’d prefer to give a high five or a verbal salutation – and it’s less about HIM needing to give consent and more about teaching him how consent works and to recognize that other people have that same right. But the negative influence is everywhere and I hope now that our eyes our open and the trend is to be more open with our kids we can at least have discussions about movies, tv shows, behaviour we see in the news and show our sons that they will be held responsible if they replicate bad behaviour.

    • Nisha says...

      This. Exactly this. I am absolutely terrified I am not doing enough to raise my son (who is 5 years old right now) right and that no matter what I do, this world will ‘get’ him. Am I just a total cynic? Or are we really hopeless?

    • Ellen says...

      I have a little boy. I feel the same way. Last year before the election I remember looking into my sweet newborn’s face and thinking, “Donald Trump was once someone’s sweet little baby boy. A completely innocent child, just hanging out in the world, taking it all in.. And now he’s on TV bragging about all the women he’s groped and fondled without their permission.” And still we elected him to be our president. The strength of our culture makes me nervous, too.

  132. Kelsey says...

    Anyone else get cornered in grocery stores growing up? I think of all the times in grocery stores I was alone in an aisle and a middle aged man or older would come up and start speaking to me. Telling me I need to smile, asking if my mom was around, why was I on my own, how pretty I’m going to be… This started happening when I was 13/14 and at the time I thought, you’re tall, they think you’re older than you are. Maybe I do need to smile. But I was a kid who looked like a kid, it doesn’t matter if I was 5’9. I didn’t really get that until my mid-20’s.

  133. Susan Trumbo says...

    After reading this great piece, I found I had goosebumps all over. And not the good kind either. I’m 64, retired now – but worked writing grants in DC – in a male dominated world.
    Little touches, pats on the fanny, cornered in hallways or back rooms, inappropriate comments – these were all considered “normal” back then. The “good old boy” network backed each other up – plus, no internet back then – so no public shaming.
    I don’t know looking back if I would have made a public case of it or not – I think I would have been afraid of he said/she said.
    That being said – not sure how I feel about so many cases coming to light. Yes, it needs to be addressed – but how much will be changed because of the public voices? And how many women still choose to be silent for fear of ruining careers they’ve worked so had to achieve ? ?
    I wish I had the answers, unfortunately I do not. Silence is not the answer, to me it speaks of consent. However – it is still a mans world, whether we women like it or not.

  134. Sarah says...

    Isn’t it amazing (and awful) how all women have these experiences??

    I’d be curious to know- how would others handle the creepy boss situation if your 14-year-old daughter came home and told you that story? I feel like first reaction would be to give the boss a piece of my mind, make my child quit, and track down all the other parents of the kids that worked there to warn them off. But that is exactly what my mom would have done… and as a result, I didn’t tell her much as a teenager. Not the greatest outcome long term, but maybe worth it in this situation? It sounds like Joanna’s mom was very level-headed and responded in exactly the right way.

    • t says...

      I hope to be upfront with my daughter about these likely scenarios and how to respond to them. I would then celebrate her when she is brave enough to confront harassment and comfort and elevate her if/when she is paralyzed by the experience.

      I wouldn’t confront the boss or warn the community but I would hope my daughter will be able to take on that (unfortunate) responsibility.

    • Ami says...

      I think it is a better idea to flip this situation on its head — how would you react if this happened to your 14-year-old son? How would your husband react? (interesting difference, for me at least!)

    • Jenn says...

      I thought this exact thing! It doesn’t feel safe to let your daughter continue to work with the kind of man who thinks it’s ok to go kiss a 14 year old girl, let alone his employee, who he’s never met.. that man is dangerous. But then from my memory of being a 14 year old girl, if you wanted that job, you would be mortified if your mum confronted the man etc and might not tell her the next time something happened. It’s just awful that it’s so likely our daughters will find themselves in a similar situation and we should prepare ourselves for how we’re going to deal with it (and to raise our sons to NOT be like that man)!

  135. B. says...

    The first time I was sexually harassed was in fourth grade. (I developed early.) A classmate passed me a drawing of two owls that said, “Nice hooters!”

    It was passed around and all the boys snickered. My teacher asked me to stay after class, in front of the other students, and told me it was my decision whether I got him in trouble or not. I don’t remember the language she used, but that was essentially the message: We can punish him but you would have to cause it.

    25 years later, I’m still mad at her.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s appalling, B! i’m so sorry you had to go through that.

    • karen says...

      Oh – I’m so mad at your teacher too! That’s awful.

    • Natalie T. says...

      Iit’s not just men! Over two decades later I’ll still remember the comments I got when I was 12 of not being well-developed enough, that I was a “carpenter’s dream.” These comments gnawed at my self-worth. (If only they could see my developed breasts now! Ha ha “They’re real and they’re spectacular.”)

      Unfortunately, teachers and parents/passerby can make it worse. Case in point: all of those parents that would stand in the schoolyard watching me get bullied. It’s disheartening to see that this is how our society is. Hopefully, these horrifying stories will create a shift if only it’s a nudge.

  136. Yup says...

    This. Exactly this. In one of my first professional jobs at an agency, after an event, I was taken in a cab by a superior and he forced himself on me. I got out before anything major happened. The next day a senior to me woman in the company asked me if I got home alright because the man had a reputation and she apologized for letting him take me. I didn’t want her to think it was her fault so I said nothing happened.
    I only told my sister, later a co-worker and recently a friend after her own traumatic experiences. At the time I didn’t think it would help to tell anyone, and I still think nothing would have happened.

  137. Katie says...

    Thank you so much for writing about this. I too have a countless list, some benign and others not so, some overtly sexual and others harder to pin down. I read something recently about how micro-aggressions are like paper cuts, one or two are tolerable but for many women it’s thousands of paper cuts which is insufferable.

    I am currently pregnant and back in a much more conservative area and have been trying to tell me husband how much harassment I have received, always by older men on my daily walk to and from work. I don’t think he got it until a man walked beside us as we were on our way to dinner last week to say that he asked the doctor to “just sew the whole thing shut” after his wife’s episiotomy and that my husband should do the same because then I will be less trouble.

    • B. says...

      What a horrible comment. I’ve been struggling lately to get my boyfriend to see the totality of what women experience. I’m going to use the paper cut analogy.

  138. Emma says...

    I worked as a custodial worker to put myself through college. One of my co-workers kept putting his hand on the small of my back every chance he got and once cornered me in a closet and pressed me back until he was inches away from my face. I pushed passed him and left. I had a crush on him at the time and chalked up all of the unnecessary touching to my own flirting with him even though it made me uncomfortable. After the closet incident I was extremely annoyed, but it wasn’t until recently when I thought about those run ins that it hit me, “That guy was sexually harassing me.” Not cool. I have a sweet little 9 month old boy and things like this are constantly on my mind now. Am I the only mother with a hurting heart? This world just feels like too much most days. Sometimes I feel powerless to protect my baby and future babies.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      it’s fascinating how sometimes you don’t even realize it, it’s so disorienting in the moment/context. once a male massage therapist rubbed my breasts, and i was thinking to myself, maybe this is a type of massage, and a new thing they do. until later than night when i suddenly got so upset.

    • Lea says...

      A doctor (!) did the same to me Joanna. It was the third time I was visiting his office and happened to tell him that, since I would be moving, it would be my last. What a coincidence it is that during that last check-up he “had to” check my breasts even though he hadn’t felt the need to do so previously.

      I didn’t even really realize what was happening until I left- because he’s a doctor right?! I trust him with my health and body, he can’t possibly take advantage of that?!

      Makes me so angry to think about it now. And even more so because I don’t like how it still makes me feel stupid for not having realised and stopped it immediately.

    • megan says...

      You are most definitely not the only mother with a hurting heart. One of my closest friends has a 23 year old daughter who was working her dream job at the concert in Las Vegas – she was physically unharmed, but of course, her life will never be the same, my friend’s life will never be the same, and I can only imagine how much her heart hurts based on the pain in mine. As we’ve talked, almost daily since then, she and I made a pact to spend the rest of our lives looking for beauty. It’s everywhere of course, but lately, sometimes really hard to find. I know this comment is off topic, but I guess like you, I feel powerless sometimes. So we must speak up, and keep looking for the beauty.

    • Emmie says...

      My mom had a scoliosis doctor touch her breasts during an exam. She told me about the experience all the time and told me that I am the boss of my body no matter who is touching, that stuff is not OK. I was annoyed at the time that she told me about the harsh realities of the world, but now appreciate it. (Although it didn’t stop me from experiencing a whole host of other non doctor assault situations).

  139. Kim says...

    Ugh….one of my first jobs was when I was 19 and working for a contractor. It was just me and him in his tiny little office. He was not there most of the time. Things became fishy the second day. I remember him telling me “there’s beer in the fridge in my office….grab one whenever you want.” I politely thanked him but didn’t take him up on his offer.
    Then, a few days later (I’m pretty sure I only worked there a week…..or less), he calls me into his office to have a beer and sit next to him on his couch and watch TV. It was INCREDIBLY uncomfortable! I still remember him nudging me with his elbow and scooting closer and closer to me. And then the inappropriate talk started….asking about my sexual preferences, history, etc. I was SO embarrassed and politely declined to answer his questions.
    Anyway…..to sum everything up……it was one of the most embarrassing, uncomfortable, disgusting experiences of my life!
    I told my mom and she called him after hours, left him a message saying I would never be back and his office key would be slipped under the door that night.
    Ugh!

  140. Hannah says...

    Standing up to be counted. Happened to me aged 41 at work, the above article resonates so so heavily. It weighs on my mind so often. Mostly that I did not officially report it atthe time. I told my boss and he talked me out of it. I realise how that sounds now but at the time so confused I thought it was the right thing. In hindsight I deeply regret it, I fear based on what happened to me I wasn’t the first and definitely not the last.

  141. Allison says...

    Thank you for sharing.

    I’ve also been sexually harassed at work. Nothing “too serious” (what does that even mean, mild sexual harassment.. ) but harassment all the same.

    I’m glad we’ve reached a time when we can speak openly about these situations. And raise the next generation of men and women to behave differently.

  142. Sarah says...

    Yes to this.

  143. Lindsey Fox says...

    Thank you, once again, for this. Your writing and your stories resonate with me so strongly. I don’t have any answers, but know that I’m asking the same questions. Much love! Lindsey

  144. t says...

    I too have an endless list of situations like this.

    However, I also have a lengthy list of moments where I have used my sexuality for power, persuasion, or affirmation.

    Chicken or the egg?

    • Anna says...

      But kissing a 14 year old girl on the neck when you’re a grown man is predatory. HUGE difference and it is very concerning that you don’t see it.

    • AD says...

      Please remember that is your truth and not every woman’s truth.

    • Hm says...

      Really? Chicken or the egg? It is hard to know exactly what you are saying here and to determine if these are healthy moments of sexual agency among consenting adults in appropriate spaces, but there is a whiff of “she was asking for it” here. If *you* are making choices in how you express your own sexuality, and those choices are not harming others, the key word here is choice and it may be okay. The problem of sexual harassment and predators like Weinstein and Trump and O’Reilly (how disheartening that this list could go on and on) is that *they* are are abusing women sexually in unwelcome and harmful ways, often withholding professional growth for those who manage to get away or who say no. It is a abusive act of power designed to humiliate and control, not an act of consent and not an expression of healthy sexuality. And T, if you are in a power position in your own work place, and any of your “lengthy list of moments” involve you in acting in a position of authority to “persuade”, you might need to ask yourself if you are a perpetrator yourself, regardless of your gender.

    • Laura says...

      I’d like to hear more from this commenter about what you mean? I know there was a time when I was an adolescent that I realized I could use my looks/gender/sexuality as short-term leverage…if I was willing to do so. But my understanding of the gravity of the consequences and the illusion of the rewards deepened as I got into my 20s. The words T uses seem specific, and I’m wondering if those moments, viewed in a fuller context, are as rewarding as you allude to. Especially the affirmation part! What does that mean? #curious

    • Kathleen says...

      This. Countless micro-agressions (and perhaps moderate-aggressions), but then also, countless times where my gender and appearance have probably benefited me. Not that I’ve ever done anything inappropriate, but certainly easier for me to entertain a group of male clients as, you know, a 20-something female. And I certainly didn’t lean away from that fact. Not at ALL does this mean I or any other women deserve harassment or “ask for it.” No. But, articulating this highlights how complicated and entangled this becomes, and how easy it is to gloss over situations that aren’t appropriate.

      I hope this conversation reaches a crescendo along with other gender-based workplace treatment that has for me (personally) been more frustrating and more problematic than any incidents of sexual harassment. From aggressive bosses, to managers who labeled me “emotional” to clients who wouldn’t talk contract terms with me (as a lady) to interviewees who wouldn’t make eye contact with me, the interviewer yet addressed a male subordinate… the scar tissue resulting from these countless papercuts are almost unbearable. And, I speak from the privileged position of a white collar white lady, so I can’t imagine what it must be like for a POC.

    • t says...

      My comment doesn’t condone kissing a 14 year old on the neck nor does it imply that my truth is everyone’s truth.

      So to clarify, I am wondering if my experiences of harassment subconsciously taught me to use my sexuality for power or affirmation.

      And vise versa, if a man has experienced a woman using her sexuality to get what she wants (whatever that is) does that mold his psyche to believe that in future instances a woman would welcome harassing behavior?

    • mb says...

      Curious to what T means as well. On the surface level this reads as a dismaying comment because it suspends the difference between knowing your sexual power and having confidence and actually using it to advance some sort of agenda. The latter one brings up a lot of problems depending on the situation. Women can also be sexual harassers, or engage in objectifying.

    • t says...

      @HM I appreciate your comment but the power I am talking about is along the lines of getting hired to do outside pharma sales almost only based on appearances. Getting in front of doctors and closing sales using my appearances and sexuality.

      I assume many know this is very common place especially in the sales sector.

    • t says...

      I absolutely don’t think women ask for it in the way they dress, act, etc nor do I think that should ever be an excuse. However, I am generally confused by how we as a society are teaching men and women what is OK and what isn’t.

      Are strippers the ultimate feminists or not feminists at all? Why do some feminists claim that high heels and lipstick are buying into the patriarchy and some dont. We live in a world where women are sometimes offered up to men for their enjoyment (strip clubs, prostitutes, young women in hollywood, sorority hazing, etc) and then we expect those same men to consider women as equals?

      I think some men (and I am not talking about the blatant Weinsteins or child gropers of the world) must be confused because I am confused. We need to change the ENTIRE message about women.

    • Millie says...

      It’s about power and control. When using your sexuality, you are in control. You have the power. In moments of sexual harassment/assault, women (also men in instances but women are the subjects of this discussion) do not have the power. Using your sexuality doesn’t “blur” the lines of sexual harassment, like wearing a low-cut top doesn’t mean you were “asking for it.”

      I was also going to comment — my husband was so surprised to hear that I have several friends who are survivors of sexual assault. I was surprised that he was surprised. It was one of those moments where we looked at each other like “are you for real right now?”

    • Cazmina says...

      There is an enormous difference between an adult using their looks and mild flirtation to be charming, and someone making wildy inappropriate comments or forcing unwanted physical interactions on another person, especially when they hold a position of power.

    • T says...

      @kathleen! Yes! This is exactly what I was trying to say. Yes, Yes, Yes!!!!

      And it isn’t as easy as just saying sexual harassment isn’t ok.

  145. mb says...

    A rallying cry from second wave feminism:
    THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL.
    All these stories belong in our socio-political landscape. They matter to you, make sure that they matter in politics.

  146. Laura C. says...

    You are an incredible woman and very brave for telling us this. I’m sorry for thst experience and I wish you former boss to have a diarrhea attack.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahaha yes i hope so too.

  147. mb says...

    One of the saddest moments I experienced last year took place when the Donald Trump “grab her pussy” tape came out. I was not alarmed that he’d said that. I was horrified that this person was running for president but not alarmed. Then I began reading the headlines–men were horrified! Such a statement didn’t properly represent how men talk! This was sexual harassment or assault!
    I then realized that I too had endured sexual assault. I have had my butt grabbed, my breasts stroked…a kid in high school even took a picture of my underwear by placing the digital camera under my skirt. I was furious but didn’t take it any further because he handed it to a girl standing next to him so she’d erase it without him actually looking at the picture. The realization that I too was a victim was deeply upsetting. I had denied all those experiences as “mattering”–the thinking goes that it only matters if I am traumatized and I am not traumatized. But in small ways, I am traumatized. I am hyperaware and hypersensitive to situations that can be misconstrued, that can lead someone to perceive something as a flirtation, etc… Being a woman is never just being. Women are expected to be while continuously and simultaneously thinking of who you are and how you are perceived.

    It is exhausting.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      SUCH a smart comment, mb.

      PS “Then I began reading the headlines–men were horrified!” = oh my gosh, yes, in my experience, men are so shocked when they hear about something, and I always think, you do realize this happens all the time, every day, constantly, right?

    • Katie says...

      The men being horrified thing is actually when I think I least like my husband because when he is shocked I think, are you really so unaware of my constant daily realities? I am always on, always thinking about which side of the street is better lit at night, etc. while he gets to move through the world blissfully unaware so much of the time.

    • Jen says...

      Honestly, I don’t know why anyone is shocked that Harvey Weinstein used his position and power to sexually harass and assault so many women. We have a pussy grabber in the White House for god’s sake! And I don’t believe for one second that these men (Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Leo Dicaprio, etc…) had no idea that Harvey Weinstein was a predator in their industry.

    • KayN says...

      this comment is right on, mb and joanna…and may i also add a reminder that this is how black and brown people feel when we hear about another instance of an unarmed black man being killed or harmed by police, while many of our non-POC friends are expressing shock that these things happen!

    • Louisa says...

      I am a scientist in a very male field, and have been harassed by faculty, assaulted by a student, and grabbed by an interview candidate. I never reported any of these instances. In most cases it will disadvantage a woman to report it. (Even if it advances the cause overall.) So when the Access Hollywood tapes aired with our now-president saying “They let you.” I thought: “finally – men will know what is happening – they can’t ignore it.”

      And then he was elected and I lost my ever loving mind.

      I am so impressed by this scientist for taking a stand:
      http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/10/disturbing-allegations-sexual-harassment-antarctica-leveled-noted-scientist

    • Laura says...

      It’s amazing how fast these comments are racking up. I’ve got the angry shakes from reading them.
      I was about 20 and walking to work. It was one of those Mondays that most people have off so town was very dead, almost no traffic. I noticed this white cube car drive past me. Then I saw it drive past me again. and again. I realized it must be turning in to side streets and looping around in order to keep following me. Finally the guy must have parked and got out. He walked past me on the sidewalk and said “nice tits.” I basically ran the rest of the way to work. Luckily I didn’t see him after that.

    • Laura says...

      Oops I meant my other comment to be a new comment. But in response to these comments, yes men are blissfully unaware. The non-creepy guys have trouble seeing the world from a creepster’s viewpoint (which is good, of course, but frustrating to try to explain things to them). For example I was talking with my boyfriend about the Brock Turner case. He agreed that was totally messed up. He said something like, he could’ve helped her and then he still would have gotten laid. I was like, well that’s why you’re a good guy. He totally doesn’t understand. But he is a good guy. It’s frustrating.

    • Laura says...

      *he still might have gotten laid, I meant to say.

    • K says...

      THIS. To Katie’s comment, I also struggle to help my husband understand what my experiences have been like as a woman. The precautions I constantly take. How helpless I feel in trying to avoid harassment at times. I get so frustrated and I know he means well but it’s a very difficult conversation to have.

    • Alice says...

      I also think that it’s incredible how many men say they don’t know any men who would behave that way. I’ve had men intrude on my personal space and on my freedom so frequently, I find that impossible to believe. Some of them are the ‘nice guys’.

    • Kay says...

      Hear, hear sister– it is unbelievably exhausting!

    • Laura says...

      Yes to K. My boyfriend thought I always lock the car doors when I go somewhere b/c I’m afraid of things getting stolen. Of course that is not my primary concern at all. I’m worried about personal safety, something he never has to think about when pulling up to a gas station at night.

    • K says...

      Laura, I once came out of the gym to find a big cube van parked next to my car’s driver side. The parking lot was very dark and not many people were around so I got into my car via my passenger door. (Haven’t we all seen this story on 60 Minutes or something?) I told my husband about this later and he thought it was silly of me to be so paranoid. Nope, just a normal day for us ladies. He means well but may never understand.

  148. Erin says...

    It’s astonishing when you actually sit down for a minute and run an admittedly incomplete mental tally. The guy who suggested that my picture in the report we were collaborating on should be photoshopped so that I appeared topless; the guy who always made a point on work trips to point out that he was just down the hotel hall “if I needed something during the night”; the guy who was so handsy that I learned to always specify “no booths” when making reservations for work dinners…the list goes on and on. Mine is not the face that launched a thousand ships; this behavior was about control and entitlement, and I never once reported it. The occasions have been less frequent in the past few years, and until the most recent election, I had almost managed to convince myself that maybe some actual (albeit incremental) change had occurred. I’m even less heartened by those men who are evincing shock and dismay by the Weinstein accusations; the idea that they didn’t already know that this was going on is outlandish. I just gave birth to a daughter; how sad to have to wonder if she will encounter the exact same situations in 15 years.

    • Holly says...

      Your comment about having to requests “no booths” at a restaurant due to a handsy colleague really resonates with me. In middle school I went on a trip with my youth group that involved a couple days of driving in one of those large passenger vans. One of the older boys would constantly try to put his hand on my inner thigh, under my rear, tuck it under the waist band of my shorts, etc. I was too embarrassed to speak up about it at the time, and he was the pastor’s son, so it was doubly uncomfortable. I learned to time my entrance back into the van after rest stops, so I wouldn’t have to sit next to him, and it seemed like the best solution at the time.

      It makes me wonder how may times I, as well as other women, have adjusted my own behavior to avoid these types occurrences. Even if it’s a small change that doesn’t take too much time or thought (requesting no booth, getting into a van last) it adds up and really takes a toll mentally. As women we are constantly making small adjustments to appease others and not rock the boat. I hope I have the courage to speak up more in the future because, quite frankly, it is exhausting.