Thursday, January 18, 2018

Open Letter to a Young Woman I Don't Know.

You deserve so much better.

You deserve comfort, and not to have to do the heavy lifting and take on emotional and bureaucratic headaches because of someone else's actions.

You deserve never to have been violated at all.

But you were.

The responsibility being pushed at you right now is this: to provide consequences for HIM. To make manifest how illegal and how immoral and how brutal his actions were.

It's a pain. It's unfair to you. You deserve better; peace, and never having to deal with him in the first place, and being able to concentrate on your goals, your life, your education. Yourself.

Because he concentrated on you too much, you're being asked to interrupt EVERYTHING and take on a terrible job, expose yourself before strangers tasked to judge him, examine and re-examine and document and reiterate a series of experiences it would be so much better to forget. Not easy. But better. You want to move on. You deserve to.

The problem is: does he?

Does this person, who not only intimidated, but in the end physically violated you, deserve to get past what he's done to YOU with all the comfort, with all the ease you seek and should have had all along? Does he deserve the seamless existence he disturbed for you?

Who am I to interrogate you?

I'm you.

Most women are. We've all dealt with encroachment upon our daily grind, our reveries, our desires, and our bodies. In this "moment of #MeToo" everyone keeps talking about, my question all along has been #WhoNOT? What woman has NOT had to deal with the harassment dealt out, from leers to assaults, every day, all day, around the world, at every level of society and in every culture?

When I was maybe eleven, it was the guy at the lake who tried to get me and my cousin away from our families. Who speculated as to our sexual experience. Assessed our bodies, in terms of how decorative and/or desirable he found them. Never touched us with his hands, but clearly touched some part of my brain that, forty years on, still bears the bruise.

The million men who've told me to smile. Because, again: they are trained to think we're decor, and they like pleasant decor.

The ones who do so much worse.

The ass-grabbers.

He was not allowed. And here is the problem ... if you don't press the charges against him, which his actions legally invite: he'll think he is. And he will do this again.

Several years ago, a contractor in my department stayed late at work. This was someone who made me uncomfortable in the most general sense; he wasn't very socially ept, he demonstrated more interest in me than I would have liked. He never touched me.

But the night he stayed late (knowing I always stayed late), he popped up at my cube when he heard the sounds of my preparation to leave, and held up a napkin to me. On the napkin was a cherry stem, tied in a knot. And he said, "No hands."

He didn't use his hands then, either. The implication of what he'd LIKE to have used was entirely too clear. And so shocking that I found myself unable to respond except with a quick dismissive joke and a hasty exit.

I talked to a manager the next day - not a formal complaint, but a discussion with someone I thought I could trust with the question of how I should proceed. She blew me off, and I ended up saying nothing. Time went by, and he never said anything else to me - and I was able to move my cube well away from him. I had power of my own.

I also learned that there had been a witness to what transpired that night; a woman in the next row of the cube farm. She heard everything, and told me I was entirely correct to be creeped out. He was wrong.

I told at least one other person at work about the incident, and let it go.

I deserved that. Right? Moving on?

Then I saw Jane (pseudonym, obviously). I saw her doing her job one day, cashiering us out at lunch, and I saw the way his presence made her SQUIRM.

It was obvious, instantly, that I was on the only person he'd ever "been inappropriate" with. I may have talked with that other friend at work about what I'd seen.

But I didn't talk with HR. I didn't go to my boss.

Time passed. I was pretty comfortable. Jane had herself moved to another location. I told myself it was all okay.

Then The Stem emailed my boss, hoping for a recommendation as he applied for a permanent position. I audited my boss's emails, and within two minutes of seeing The Stem's note, I was in my boss's office, calling him while he traveled, and explaining that we must not hire The Stem.

In less than an hour, I was speaking with an executive in HR. She got exactly the story of what The Stem had done, including the part about why I'd been silent, and my previous discussion with the manager. I also talked about what I had seen with Jane: that I had no permission from Jane to discuss anything he might done to her, and that I didn't know what that might be, but that I was clearly not alone in my experience with him.

To hire him would be a risk. That was enough. He was put on the a list immediately, and did not get the permanent position.

I felt a LITTLE better about failing to act for Jane. She knew nothing about my incident, and may never have known about my discussion with HR. She had used her own power. I didn't know her beyond friendly greetings at lunch or breakfast, but she had a family. They all deserved peace, too.

There's been a lot of talk in recent months about extraordinarily wealthy and/or powerful men using their position and pull to harass women. This tells the comforting story that, since most of us aren't really in contact with famous men or highly-placed moguls ... these things happen to someone else.

But it happened to you and me both. It happens to everyone. It happened to Jane, and I didn't do anything for her the moment I saw that. She used her own power, and got out of The Stem's way. And in the end, I got him out of the way of my employer.

But he doesn't know that.

And he is probably still acting exactly the same way.

I had power enough to push the bubble in the wallpaper, but the bubble still exists. There is a whisper network - something not unlike the Shitty Media Men List - and he may still be stuck with contract work. But nobody ever held him responsible for what he'd done to me, and for Jane.

He never had consequences. It's entirely possible he never will. Just another awkward guy. Not a rapist (that we know of). Not a mogul or celebrity.

But still making women squirm.

He got off.

Does the man who touched you - do the women he will undoubtedly assault, and emotionally damage - for years to come ... deserve that?

Does he deserve to get off?

And do they deserve to endure anything he does to them? If he stays the same. If he escalates, with age - and knowing he can get away with stalking, with assault?

Don't even you deserve ... not to have to carry that question with you? Not to inherit complicity in his guilt, when you are innocent?

You have the power of the law itself behind you. You have a lot of people behind you, too. You can do more than take a different route out of the cube farm at night, or wait a year and whisper when you think it finally matters. You can provide real consequences to a real criminal.

You have the power, maybe, to save a bunch of Janes - and their kids - and their families. To give them the peace that they deserve.

Please don't trade your power ... for regret ...

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