After the news came out that Harvey Weinstein had been sexually harassing and/or molesting women for decades, a Facebook campaign started among women, with millions posting “Me Too” if they had been victims of harassment or assault. I wasn’t surprised that most women chimed in. Many shared horrific stories from “casting couch” job interviews to date rape. I felt incredibly lucky that my experiences in comparison were so minor. I was fortunate that I had an innocent and protected childhood and no one tried to harm me – thank God, although it’s amazing how many women, including former clients, have had that experience.
My first experience with creepy men was when I was in high school and would hang out at the community theatre production my older sister was in to watch the final part of rehearsal. There was a good-looking actor, clearly a playboy among the ladies, who was always complimenting me on my looks. I didn’t mind being called pretty, but his comments seemed menacing in a way that I didn’t understand. He would look at me in a sexual way, check me out all over, and then say in a deep, sexy voice, “Just you wait.” Every time I saw him, he said that. I knew that he was flirting with me, which I found strange, because he was over twice my age and not remotely attractive to me, but every time I saw him he made the same comment. I didn’t know what the words meant– I was an innocent 15 year-old– but I knew that the way he acted made me very uncomfortable. He was, after all, almost my dad’s age. But I think from his perspective, he was a handsome 35 year-old and since he could have anyone he wanted, he figured he could have me too, as soon as I turned 18. I finally had had it and asked him one night, “What do you mean by ‘Just you wait'”? All of sudden, the normally suave and articulate actor started to stammer and stutter, and I knew for the first time that I had protected myself from something that was not okay. After that, he stayed away from me.
I also had a choir director I went on long summer tours with, and the girls in the choir, many of whom were very pretty teenagers, took turns sitting on his lap. I never felt anything inappropriate beyond that, but looking back, that was not okay. I realized even then that if you wanted favor with the good-looking thirty something choir director, you sat on his lap. Ten years later, I found out that he had been kicked out of the church for having sex with the minister’s daughter, one of the girls in my choir who was on those choir tours. It was unclear if he had really done it, since it was his word versus that of a troubled teen looking for attention, so who knows what really happened. But looking back, allowing young girls to sit on his lap, if they were pretty and good singers and wanted the better solos, was just plain wrong. I’m so grateful that nothing happened, but I learned early on that older men expected pretty girls to make them feel better about themselves, and that was sometimes the price to getting what you wanted.
Even though I was never assaulted, I did get a bit of sexual harassment, in the form of a good-looking associate at the law firm I worked out who told me that I should enter a wet t-shirt contest because I would win. I also had a record producer make it clear that he “wanted to make me a star” but apparently there were a lot of strings attached, which I wasn’t willing to go along with, like riding on his motorcycle and then “looking at his record collection” at his place. And I had a well-known voice teacher who was well into 80’s try to feel me up while I was singing, thinking it was all right since he was “important.” I never went back.
Now that I’m a coach and work with many female clients who are 30 and forging their careers and navigating love and relationships, it’s disheartening that nothing has changed. Even though there is greater awareness about sexual harassment and assault, women are still having to twist themselves into pretzels to get along and not offend, which is so diminishing and exhausting. I see so many women who make statements that sound like endless questions and who apologize constantly, to make themselves seem smaller and less threatening. I recently had a gay male priest at a church we used to attend, accuse me of being “deeply unhappy” just because he disapproved of a political comment that I made. Shame is a great poison– don’t attack the idea, but instead diminish the woman. But standing up to that is what makes it stop. I told him, “Why exactly would you think that I’m deeply unhappy just because you disagree with what I said?” And like the handsome actor from my teenage years who stuttered when I confronted him, this priest did the same. What he couldn’t say was that he felt better about himself if he could diminish another person. He clearly wanted women to stay quietly in their place. That might have been allowed in 1817, but not 2017.
To find your world stage, reclaim your voice, which means speaking out against harassment and abuse and belittling and shaming. Go to http://www.worldstagecoaching.com and sign up for my free PDF called “5 Key Ways to Find Your Voice” and try the action steps suggested. It’s time we start speaking up and claiming our very own world stage. We don’t need permission to know that we are allowed. It’s time.