The topic of discussion at home between my husband and me was a model who wrote a book of essays released this month. Although I have yet to read the book, I understand it to be a reflection of her life with wins and losses along the way. The press surrounding the book has sparked conversation about an incident she experienced eight years ago dealing with sexually inappropriate behavior.
The question of her reason behind sharing the fact a client touched her inappropriately was debated. My husband felt she should have said something at the time, spoken out at the time—not in a book years later. We both agreed that the atmosphere in the video was one where touching her breasts was almost unavoidable. She was topless n the video and snuggling up to the alleged offender, as well as dancing around. If you watch the video, it would have been a challenge to avoid her breasts, but there was no clear breast grabbing.
This isn’t to say that it didn’t happen on the set and the model has clearly stated the client apologized at the time. If someone doesn’t know the whole story and offers up their opinion they might conclude that here’s another woman claiming sexual assault years later who wants to “out the offender.” That isn’t why she wrote the book and she has stated so. It’s about her experience and how she felt about being violated.
My side was that we have to do is look at the situation and how it made her feel—what I think is key. In order to explain, I’ll use the example I shared in my discussion with my husband. Back in the mid-nineties, I worked with a man whose first language was not English. He was over-confident and flirty. I didn’t pay him any attention until one day he said something entirely inappropriate.
I have a habit of sitting with one leg under me when I’m focused on work, and that day I was wearing a skirt—one that was slightly above the knee. I was hidden in my cubicle with an opening to my left. He approached me and I swiveled in my chair. Nothing was exposed, mind you, but I clearly wasn’t sitting lady-like and wasn’t thinking when I turned. He leaned down as if he was trying to see under my skirt.
Naturally, I put my leg down realizing how I was sitting and asked what the hell he was looking at. His answer?
“I’m trying to see your pussy.”
Shocked isn’t the word. I was horrified. I felt humiliated and embarrassed. I don’t even remember what I said, but he obviously didn’t realize how inappropriate his comment was since he was standing there with a smile on his face. I turned back to my computer and he left.
Should I have reported him to HR? Absolutely. Did I? No. However, he was eventually reported by others who actually worked in his department. In any language, his behavior was inappropriate, but I had reasoned at the time that he was simply not fitting into American culture easily. Had I reported him, perhaps others wouldn’t have had to go through the same thing. I was wrong to not go to human resources.
The only person I’ve ever told is my husband—in our discussion. The model’s story triggered the memory. My point is how I felt at the time and how it was easily summoned today. A 2018 study by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) showed 80% of just under a thousand women had been sexually harassed or assaulted in some form or fashion. Based on my own experiences and those of my female friends, I believe that percentage would remain the same if millions of woman aged 18 and up were asked.
The model was hired to dance around topless and she was fully aware of her job that day. This, by no stretch of the imagination, doesn’t mean her breasts were up for grabs. It was taken for granted that if she was willing to be topless, she must like her breasts to be fondled. Anyone who thinks that is wrong. What happened to her was unprofessional and sexual assault. I think my husband gets the point I was making and know he would never want me to feel like I did that day.
There’s a huge misconception that if a women feels empowered enough to display her body that it warrants lascivious behavior towards her. Low-cut blouses, short skirts, or high heels are worn because a woman feels good about who she is as a person and that’s how she wants to dress. It’s a barbaric belief that if a woman looks “too sexy” and gets sexually harassed or assaulted, she was asking for it. Come on. Would you feel that way if it was your wife, sister, daughter or mother?
That’s who that woman you see in the video is—or the woman in your office, at the coffee shop, or on the street—she’s someone’s daughter. We are raising our daughter, who is now seventeen, to not only speak up when she’s uncomfortable, but to be confident in who she is and what she wants. Just talking about any potential harassment she may face raises our blood pressure and stirs up so many emotions. But, unfortunately, it’s a realistic discussion we have to have. The best we can hope for is that the statistics of sexual harassment for women drop significantly as everyone learns to respect those around them.
“You can have regret from yesterday, fear tomorrow, but peace today by sharing your heart’s deepest feelings. A life spent being fearful of showing your soul is a life not worth living.” ~Shannon Alder