Although I’ve felt too busy this month to blog, the daily onslaught of accusations of sexual harassment around the world has inspired me to take a break from adding seven hundred words a day to my current novel and share my personal story.
I’ll introduce my story with another, namely, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” In this novella, Dr. Jekyll attempts to create a potion to prove his theory that two different entities may live within the same body. When he drinks his potion, he turns into a murderer: Mr. Hyde. Drinking it again turns him back into the man of science: Dr. Jekyll. Two men in one. Over time, the alternate personality of Mr. Hyde becomes dominant and takes control of Dr. Jekyll.
Now for my story. For five years, I worked in a community college admissions office. Recently, I read that someone coined the expression “sexual harassment”on the east coast in the 1970’s. Maybe so, but for years the word didn’t pierce the west coast bubble I lived in.
My experiences at the college started small. It was a two-story building and I always took the stairs to the second floor. One time, when I opened the door on that floor, I was greeted with a pair of puckered lips attached to the face of an administrator, who had seen me enter the stairwell on the floor below and then taken the elevator up himself, so he could ambush me. (Despite this bizarre encounter, I continued taking the stairs because seeing his lips approaching me in an elevator would have been much creepier.)
This man’s behavior was mild compared to the stunts of the Director of Admissions. He would rub up against women from behind and encourage them to take advantage of his many physical gifts. I once made the mistake of entering his office — at his request — and letting him shut the door behind me. On my way out he stood at the door and grabbed hold of my breasts. Dr. Jekyll.
The women who worked for him traded stories. While what he did was humiliating, our stories made him the laughingstock of the department. For some reason he never seemed powerful, never seemed like he could hurt anyone’s career, but none of us ever spoke up. Who would we complain to? Other guys just like him?
The man had a young child maybe three or four years old, and from time to time he brought her to work. When she was around, he was not the same lecher. He glowed when he walked into the office holding her hand, and she worshipped him. Jekyll or Hyde?
Fast forward many years. I was promoted to a different department, then left the college for several other jobs and forgot about this man.
My last job before retirement was in the central office of a K-12 public school system. Imagine my shock when I met the harasser’s daughter as a thirty-something adult just beginning her teaching career. A veteran teacher mentor, who was protective in the extreme, worked with her. The young woman struck me as very vulnerable.
She hadn’t been teaching long when I heard that her father had died of a heart attack. Traumatized by his death, she took a long leave of absence and ultimately quit work. I never knew what happened to her after that.
I’m sure there are many examples from history of dictators who treated their families well, but never have I known someone personally who was two distinct people: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Given the behavior of my boss’s child, I fear the Hyde character might have taken over him.
I’ve been thinking about all of this (how can you help it with all the stories coming out) and find myself wondering where is the line on “sexual harassment.” The key, of course, is power. In the past I’ve had unwanted sexual advances change my behavior but never my career. Many people, though, have had their careers and lives changed dramatically by such advances.
Check the stories in this Guardian article: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/21/women-sexual-harassment-work-careers-harvey-weinstein?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=253338&subid=22001129&CMP=GT_US_collection
You are right, though, to whom would any of us women reported these incidents to? No one cared.