On October 15, 2017 the MeToo hashtag, indicating the movement against sexual harassment and assault, went viral on social media, with 4.7 million people in 12 million posts using it on Facebook alone in the first 24 hours. I was one of the millions.
A year later I’ve chosen to write about my experiences, because our son (who motivated me to start my blog) believes this essential movement needs to hear from ordinary women like me, who’ve no one to sue, no scores to settle, but who can attest to shameful episodes of men crossing the line.
Reader discretion is advised. Scenes of harassment and assault follow.
When my girlfriend Ingrid and I were driving east across the southern U.S. in 1971, our van broke down in Morgan City, Louisiana, a small town 85 miles west of New Orleans. Because the garage needed to order a special part for the repair, we found a safe place to park our camper: the lot of the police station. In the next few days we chatted with several policemen, including the Sheriff. First shock: the white men told us they’d recently lynched a black man for raping a white woman. With no notion of the word allegedly and no trial, they simply hung him. And felt no remorse.
Second shock: after escorting us around town and touring us on his luxury yacht, the Sheriff took me for a ride in the countryside, stopping unexpectedly at the dead-end of a remote road. Under the guise of practising amateur psychology, i.e. discussing sex, he pawed me. Incredulous that a figure of authority would assault me, I burst into tears. To my profound relief, he discontinued his actions and we returned to the station. Ingrid and I left town as soon as possible. Only she heard my story.
Less than a year later when I sought professional help to deal with the tragedy of Ingrid’s death, a psychologist sat me on his lap and fondled me, as I wept inconsolably. At the same time, he counselled me not to let grief diminish my interest in sex. I soon gave up on him, and on the University of Alberta, much to my parents’ disappointment. I did not tell them of the abuse. But another figure of authority had breached my trust.
Twenty years later, Mom told me the same psychologist had harassed her a few years after I saw him. However, she reported him immediately to my Dad, who managed to get the man’s license revoked in Alberta (apparently he set up a practice in BC). I was confounded to think Mom hadn’t realized I too must have been a victim. Yet, no one talked about such indecent behaviour at the time.
When I worked at a downtown hotel in Calgary in the late ’70s, the General Manager took an interest in me. In fact, when I mentioned my dream of opening a bookstore, he said he’d become a partner in my venture if I put together a viable business plan. So I did just that, and then we agreed to review the material at his place in Banff. As I spread my research and plan on a dining room table, he served me a glass of Faisca Rose. I remember a wave of wooziness overwhelming me, so I stumbled up the stairs to a bedroom. He nestled beside me on a bed but I flung his arm off before passing out, fully clothed. After a few hours he woke me for the drive home, during which I nodded in and out of consciousness.
A friend staying at my apartment took one look at me and declared I’d been drugged. Given the man’s background in medicine before entering the hotel industry, I believe he did drug me. But he did not rape me. We never spoke again of the incident — or of the bookstore. Not long after I changed jobs and relegated his actions, plus my dream, to the recesses of my mind.
In reading my narratives some might ask: how did you end up on a dirt road, on a lap, in a condo with unfamiliar men? But each man presented as an older figure of authority, ostensibly worthy of my respect and trust. In the past, no matter how egregious the breach in conduct, few women exposed their perpetrators. Men felt so confident we would not break the code of silence they acted as though their sexual transgressions were normal.
In my unsavoury experiences, I did not characterize myself as a victim — although I was. Nor can I say the predatory men traumatized me. Somehow I managed to keep the abuses separate from my essence, asserting they revealed much about the men, little about me. Perhaps by not taking the actions personally — and the fact I was never raped — I carried on, more or less unscathed. But sexual harassment and assault damage millions of women.
Of course not all men are predators. And I don’t condemn a man who makes a clumsy pass after misreading the cues of the dating game — provided he accepts a rebuff. I abide by the principle “innocent until proven guilty” and fear living in this current climate that presumes “guilty because charged.” Still, I admire women who show the courage to reveal their harassers, no matter how many years later.
In retrospect, I regret my silent acquiescence and winced after reading an article critical of my generation: “boomers didn’t invent sexual harassment. But they should have ended the practice, rather than spending decades perpetuating it.”
- Educate men to overcome outdated ideas of masculinity and male privilege. To stop objectifying women. Gender equality means to liberate both women and men.
- Create a culture in which women who have the grave misfortune to be harassed feel able to expose the perpetrator at the time, to end the harassment. As an understatement: the process is humiliating.
- Promote responsible drinking among men and women. Alcohol often factors into cases of harassment, yet its effects should not serve as a reason for unseemly incidents to occur.
My stories from the past and those of legions of other victims help confirm the MeToo movement is long overdue. Thank you for reading this thorny post. •