under your hat

November 1st, 2011

This is not a post you might expect from me, but you’ve heard the likes of it before. I know I don’t need to write this, but I have been quiet so long.

Yesterday there was a stereotypical news leak about a political candidate. Stereotypical news engenders stereotypical responses — denials, blame, defense, sympathy, antipathy, and conspiracy theories.

Maybe the story is fabricated, maybe this didn’t really happen, and maybe it’s just another round of dirty trickery. Maybe the whole thing was a misunderstanding — the case of innocent friendliness being exaggerated and exploited for gain.

If you’ve ever experienced it, you know sexual harassment and discrimination is not an exaggeration.  It’s not exaggerated  because you probably didn’t even say a word about it. But it is a fact: a fact that is usually ignored, tolerated, belittled and then forgotten. Until it happens again. It always happens again.

The story made me remember things I’d forgotten.

When I was just out of college and working in my first job, a client invited me to dinner. He said he wanted me to come to work for him. When he started talking about sex, I excused myself.

Shortly after that I did some writing for an oil company. I flew to another state and spent an hour interviewing a refinery manager for an article in the company magazine. At the end of our conversation about industrial safety, apropos of nothing, he said, “I like that skirt on you.” I said thank you and left.

The day after I was hired to handle publicity for a financial services firm, the president of the company called me and asked point blank, “So, you wanna fool around?” I hung up.

Assigned to work with a regional vice president of a large beverage company, I was told by his assistant, “From now on when you come to a meeting, don’t say anything. We don’t mind looking at you, but we don’t want your opinion.” I resigned.

Everybody can tell stories like this. This stuff happens all the time. No one really gets hurt. It’s all a misunderstanding. Don’t take it the wrong way. Things aren’t always what they seem. Don’t be so touchy.

I’m an old lady now, and I no longer care how I’m seen or heard. I’ve left that conversation for good.

When you feel intimidated, accosted or afraid, what you really want to do is leave. But the people who say and do things like this rarely seem to go away. They’re still out there pulling infinite second chances from under their hats. To them I say nothing. But to you, I say speak up, even if it’s only here.


  1. Brava!

    Unfortunately, I’ve experienced sexual harassment in the workplace…at a women’s college. The professor (male) has been teaching there for over 30 years and has been brought up on charges before.

    He was cagey. He knew just how far to push things and then he’d back off for a while so you would let your guard down. He chose to harass vulnerable women–staff, professors without tenure, students. I did speak up and was told I should find a job in a different department. I wouldn’t. If I did that, he would’ve won, and I wasn’t about to let him win.

    The experience made my life miserable for several months before I reported him to Human Resources. They listened to my story, but they didn’t do a thing about him–even though they knew mine wasn’t the first experience.

    If it feels wrong, it probably is. Follow your instincts and find someone safe to tell your story to. And document every little thing. I came up with four pages of incidents with this guy off the top of my head. It’s disturbing that we are still subjected to such obnoxious behavior, but if we speak up about it, a tipping point will eventually occur.

    Yet again, Maezen, you bring up an important topic that all too often gets swept under the rug. I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone.


    Comment by Robin — November 1, 2011 @ 9:12 pm

  2. Good post! I am certain that this behavior is systemic in this world of ours. It is so interwoven in the fabric of our culture. One of the only ways to ‘unravel’ this is to expose it and educate. It is similar to to what is happening with bullying lately.

    If we all speak up as you suggest, things will get better.
    All the best,

    Comment by Jim Cuvelier — November 2, 2011 @ 5:01 am

  3. I was very fortunate that after the first time that happened to me I was smart enough to mention it to a few of my female colleagues and found out I was not alone. Just this knowledge and mutual support helped us to realize where the problem lay and that he was just a sad old guy getting older and past his prime, even though he liked to come across as being powerful, worldly and charismatic.

    Comment by Gweipo — November 2, 2011 @ 5:04 am

  4. I love this post. Discrimination against women is apparently the last perversion standing in our culture. I have experienced it many ways. Of course I have. Every woman has. If only our movement had the same energy and success that the gay rights movement has. For me the saddest of all is that crimes against women namely rape remain outside the realm of hate crime definition.

    I watched in horror from Canada as Hilary Clinton endured abuse after abuse in the media during her presidential campaign. And now that too is under the hat. All forgotten and forgiven. Why do we as a society accept gender related hatred that would never be tolerated by African Americans or Muslims or Jews?

    Thanks for this Karen.

    Comment by Bobbi — November 2, 2011 @ 9:02 am

  5. I was recently watching a taped talk from last year given by Harvard professor (and now Senate candidate) Elizabeth Warren. When she stepped away from the podium to be interviewed, the very first words out of the male interviewer’s mouth were, after a little chuckle, “you make economics so sexy”. Hello? She didn’t smile or laugh or even act embarrassed. She just waited for him to ask a real question.

    Comment by Janet M — November 2, 2011 @ 11:34 am

  6. Janet, thank you for sharing that. No wonder so many are drawn to someone who has the strength and self-assurance to wait for the real question.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — November 2, 2011 @ 11:45 am

  7. Thank you for sharing this. And for your valuable reminder and no-nonsense encouragement.

    Comment by Lisa — November 2, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

  8. Yes! Thank you for clearing the air here, for creating a space for truth. Bravo.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — November 2, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

  9. This was a very powerful post. You are right, this sort of thing has happened to many of us and many of us were powerless to do anything about it at the time. Each time we speak of bullying and harassment, we get one step closer to stomping it out.

    Comment by Eniko — November 2, 2011 @ 11:20 pm

  10. Yes! Thank you for writing this. As always, we must remember that the truth will set us free….

    Comment by Laura M. — November 4, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

  11. It feels so wonderful to know that this stuff happens all the time. Isn’t that a crazy thing to feel, think, and say? But it’s true. It means this stuff happened to me, and not because of some weird curse on me, or something wrong with me, or something I did to bring it upon myself.
    I was touched inappropriately in preschool by my friend’s dad. I spoke up, he admitted to it. And in college, not two days into my first semester, the slimiest professor started his unique version of this stuff that happens all the time. When it reached a point that I just could not call a misunderstanding anymore, I spoke up. Spoke up, spoke up, finally found two other women with similar stories with him (only worse), finally spoke up to the president of the university (which has 25,000 students). No one did anything to him except make him attend a sexual harassment training. Ten years later, one of these other women sued the university and won, and he was finally fired. This happened because I spoke up. But at the time, did I think it would take ten years for action to be taken? Ten years is better than never. Speaking up works. It might not work the way you imagine it should. But it does restore integrity, if nowhere else than in your own heart.

    Comment by char — November 5, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

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