I’ve been reading a lot of powerful “Me Too” moments which have gone viral since this weekend in reaction to the sexual harassment claims against Harvey Weinstein himself and the Harvey Weinsteins of the world. I almost chose not to share my own three “Me Too” moments based on an interesting article by the Huffington Post that women sharing “Me Too” won’t change the ideology at the base of the problem. But three things prompted me to share regardless:
- A college essay writing conference with a young woman arguing, powerfully and articulately, that the way her male peers respond to the way she dresses is their problem and not hers. Her writing voice compels people to listen.
- The best poems can be like old friends. Today, I showed students a Taylor Mali poem which we watch and listen to on youtube each year before we start writing our annual Rotary speeches. There are these lines, which you really must listen to and not just read, that have different meanings for me each year I hear them depending on what my personal or professional experience is leaning towards in that given moment: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGAMd-tT6fQ)
“…I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you,
I challenge you: To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks
the determination with which you believe it…”
3. This year, between “locker room” talk and Harvey Weinstein and the conflict between standing and taking a knee, I need no more encouragement to speak my truth, if for no other reason, than for my students– who are both boys and girls of impressionable ages.
There was the time that dirty old man at a friend’s parents anniversary party stooped down to rub a lemon on my leg, while my 11 year self waited in line for a ginger ale. “Yum,” he exclaimed after putting the lemon wedge back into his mouth. Any adult I told just told me to “steer clear” as he was a quirky old man. Like quirky as in child sex offender? Like quirky as in doing some jail time for child porn? What level of quirky justifies a man rubbing a lemon on a young girl’s leg?
Then came college. I didn’t know anyone who had been slipped a date rape drug in their beverage or assaulted in other ways on campus—but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen— and I’m pretty sure the ground would have swallowed up anyone giving cat calls on the Connecticut College campus so hallelujah for that. However, I did experience an ongoing situation with a peeping tom, (too kind of a label for that kind of creepiness so let’s call him a peep creep) in our second floor co-ed bathroom. The first time it happened I was showering when I noticed his glassy brown eye in the wider part of the gap between the door and the wall of the stall. I did not use my words. In retrospect, I should have scared the living crap out of him by screaming and chasing him out of the bathroom. For a person who never struggled defending herself, this was unchartered territory and it made me so uncomfortable I remained quiet. Further, I could not identify him, not that time. Not until later in the year when he was more visible on our floor but not sociable or friendly in any way. So when his brown eye appeared again through the stall during my shower a second time my freshmen year, I knew his identity. Yet, still, I did not use my words. His audacity pissed me off, and instead of sharing the situation with our house fellow, the Conn College equivalent of an RA, who would have followed the proper chain of command, and handled the entire event in a safe, composed manner, I told the boys who lived down the hall on my floor. These were boys who were (and remain) my best male friends from college and could be counted on for anything.
But instead of notifying the house fellow, who would have contacted our Dean of Student Life, I told these boys (whose identities will be protected in case they run for future office one day) Currently, they are professionals in their fields of study and active family members with loving wives and children; they were and continue to be really good people who would do anything for a friend. In those moments of my panic and paranoia and tears and anger recounting that creepy brown eye staring me down in the shower, they found him down in his room and threatened to break his knee caps. They figured the threat would be enough; however, he brought their words to campus safety along with the Dean of Student Life, who then had to drag us in for questioning. Our dean believed our words, but I wish I had used them differently in the first place. Needless to say, to make a long story short, he was moved out of our dorm and then dropped out of college, yet not before suing the college with the Civil Liberties Commission, claiming he was being disciplined too harshly based on his disability. If memory serves me correct, he had been treated for Depression. Twenty-four years ago, and I remember it all too accurately– unfortunately.
His lawsuit lasted our entire four years at Conn College and finally was settled without the college owing him a dime thankfully. In fact, we received word of it being finally over in April of our senior year.
The issue was not our co-ed dorms. The issue was not me showering. The issue was only his belief that it was okay to watch. I’m grateful cell phones were not capable of what they are today for this very disturbing experience.