Sexual Harassment, Molestation, and Heroes
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Contrast.
I have been silent long enough. I had decided to keep quiet as long as Daddy was alive because there were times, growing up, when I saw Daddy wave a gun to defend other people and I was afraid he’d be my hero and he’d kill somebody to defend my honor and end up in jail for the rest of his life.
Every so often at work, they give us a mandatory training in sexual harassment so we’ll understand what it is and how damaging it can be. It’s mostly bullshit taught by somebody who’s never been harassed and thinks a dirty joke is reason enough to crucify someone. Mostly what these classes do is teach the real bastards how to disguise their actions so it looks like the victim’s mind is in the gutter and she simply misunderstood. Been there, too, more than once, and rather than be mocked, I asked that I be taken off a plum program because the guy inviting me to his room on every business trip was the mastermind behind the program we were working on and if he were taken off it, then the program died, and we needed the program. Even then, the harassment in my Department of Defense job was never as bad as I experienced when I was 22.
Mention “sexual harassment,” and you see people either get snippy or rankled. I’ve seen male colleagues and friends—men of integrity—tremble at the thought of a woman declaring them satyrs for no reason or for the reason of revenge or
Their fear is real. There are certainly women (and men) who do this. One of my co-workers filed grievances against a man who worked in a different area from her, one she had no connection with at work, because he was sending her explicit jokes and she suddenly announced she was tired of his attention. The investigation turned up about six months of explicit jokes that she’d initiated and participated in until she was tired of him and wanted him to go away without her husband finding out about their relationship and he wouldn’t.
An acquaintance with a mean mouth said whatever she wanted to the men around her but when one finally fired back with a comment that was nothing, just nothing, she called out the lawyers to destroy him. What it amounted to was someone had finally taken the bait and answered her. She was also very clear in her conversations with me that she wanted money and enough that she’d never have to worry about money or work again.
When I hear of women like that, it makes me angry. They have no idea what it’s like to be harassed for real.
I didn’t learn mine in college, though I did have some professors who were a little too friendly and one who said some rather risky things to me personally, then told me I was ignorant when I called them down on it. No, mine was on-the-job training.
I remember having to squirm and fight and beg to get him to get his hands off me, his hands and his mouth on me as I managed to get away…on more than one occasion. It never got any farther than unreturned kisses and pawing but he knew long before the first straying hand that his advances were unwelcome and I made that perfectly clear. Again and again and again.
I remember his very long and explicit details of his sex-capades throughout his youth. Un. Com. Fort. Able. Details. I would do anything in the world to keep from working late and being alone with him or having to go on a site visit alone with him. I knew if I were alone with him, I’d have to fight him off and sometimes, he’d pull over in an isolated wooded back road miles from the office and try to talk me into sex then and there and I’d be terrified.
I remember him telling me how much he enjoyed looking at my legs and how he’d hide behind the window to watch me unawares. I told him how uncomfortable his comments made me feel and that that’s why I stopped wearing dresses and wore only pants. He told me he didn’t mind because he like the way my ass wiggled when he hid behind the window and watched me walk to my desk. I started wearing skirts after that, often long skirts.
I remember him suggesting a house I might have moved into where he could come see me alone, and for that reason, I didn’t move into my own place. He admitted to me that he’d kept me from getting a promotion because he didn’t want anyone to think he was favoring me. He offered me money to sleep with him and be his mistress. A lot of money. I mean a lot of money. More money than I have made in my career to date. Let’s just say I know what my price isn’t.
I remember him reminding me what a good church man he was and how upstanding he was in the community and how no one would ever believe me, a 22-year-old kid, if I said anything. He had a perfect reputation, he told me, and I’d be shamed out of town if I spoke up. Not only that, but my parents would be ridiculed, too, because even if I left town, they would be left behind to bear the shame I’d caused them if it came out either that I was lying about him or that maybe we were having an affair. Even though we were not having an affair and I did not want his advances. But in any case, I would be called a whore for his unrequited attentions and he’d get away scot-free.
Nowadays, if any of that happened, I’d be feeding his balls to him for breakfast. But then, I was 22 and scared. I felt utterly betrayed, too, because this was a man I had respected and whom I thought appreciated me for who I was. But it was all about his mid-life crisis and the college girlfriend I reminded him of.
I got engaged to my longtime boyfriend during that time—who was the only person then who knew about the harassment at work—and even with a ring on my finger, the guy wouldn’t leave me alone. I quit and moved out of state to get married, took a new job at Christmas that paid a lot less, but I was free of my harasser and I’d done it in a quiet and unassuming way that left my parents unscathed.
People who teach sexual harassment classes like to demand to know why I never spoke out about it. Some things are more complicated, you know? There were a lot of reasons, including me not wanting to see his wife and children hurt. Though in hindsight, I would have been painted as a vamp and they would have believed him over me because that’s what most wives and children do when they don’t want to know.
But the main reason was that my dad knew this man
and liked this man, respected this fine Christian man, and I’d seen Daddy just a few months before grab the pistol from his truck and try to go after someone who’d committed a minor injustice, and I was afraid of what might happen if Daddy went after this man and why. I was afraid Daddy would try to be a hero and I was sure someone would end up dead.
That was foolish thinking.
Not long before Daddy died, Mama told him what I’d said about the uncle who molested me when I was around 11 or 12 or so. The one who died of a heart attack before he could rape me.
(That, I’ve journaled about before in detail so I won’t go into it here.)
How my dad was perfectly okay with the man’s request for me to “ride to town” with him alone or accompany him to his car far from the house and how I should be grateful that the man was always bringing me jewelry and presents and how lucky I was to have such a nice uncle.
Daddy didn’t seem to think about getting his gun. After all, he’d just learned some upsetting information about a man he’d held in high esteem and that man was long dead. His response was to put it off on me, that it was somehow my fault and I should have said something. I guess “I want to stop kissing me on the mouth”
and “I don’t want to be here when he comes to visit” wasn’t quite clear enough but then, I was in middle school and very protected and naïve and had had sex described to me as a man “planting his seed,” which to a child raised on a farm conjured up all kinds of images, and none of them correct. But somehow it was the victim’s fault, even when she didn’t know what the hell was going on.
Looking back now, I realize that if I had spoken out, Daddy wouldn’t have waved his gun on my behalf or done anything at all. He probably would have questioned what I’d done to lead the man on or would have doubted my story because of the man’s reputation in the community, among other men in the community, at least.
There are no heroes in this story. My daddy didn’t step forward to be my hero when I was a kid fending off a child molester through my own wits. He wouldn’t have stepped forward when I was finding out first hand what sexual harassment was. My boyfriend didn’t do anything either. Nobody did. I wriggled out of that miserable situation without any help from anyone and with as little damage as possible to anyone else.
Other than my ex telling me (no kidding) that he’d married me to “save you from yourself,” I don’t think anyone’s ever mounted a rescue for me. I’ve always had to do it on my own.
It’s not that I wouldn’t mind a little help sometimes or someone by my side, but it seems I’ve always had to be my own hero. I just didn’t realize that that’s what I was doing.