The first time it happened I was just shy of my 21st birthday. He invited me into his office. I had known him less than a few weeks when he told me to close the door behind me. His office door was never closed. I wondered what the women working in his office were thinking. They surely had seen him flirting with me the days before. I will never forget the cockiness of this man, nearly twice my age, when he looked at me from his desk. I was standing across from him.
“You like to have fun. Would you like to have fun with me?”
This man, my doctor, was asking me to have sex with him.
I was his patient. I was paying him to treat my injuries, and he was asking me to have an affair with him. I didn’t report him, and I allowed him to pursue me, because I simply did not know that I didn’t have to do it. That’s the shame rub.
That was the day I became part of the problem. Not because of my doctor’s actions towards me, but because of my lack of action, and inability to defend both myself, and other women who had the courage to stand up to men like him. Because of the years of shame surrounding that experience, and the many more I would have in the future, I felt the need to defend the bad behaviors of men in power. I defended them, to protect myself and the guilt and pain I was experiencing. I thought I was responsible, and in that I demeaned other women who were fighting for women’s equality.
I had a voice inside of me, that I attempted to numb out for so many years with drugs, men, wine, food, drama, stress, more of everything because nothing was enough… I now refer to that voice as Grace. Finally listening to that voice happened to be an unexpected and most wonderful side effect of both sobriety and a lot of soul searching deep down into the trenches of my darkest parts. I realized that I was put in a victim role, and my perpetuator knew this. He was in a position of power, and I was a victim. I was not “bad” or “wrong”, I was mistreated by someone in power.
Grace spoke to me when I stopped defending the things that used to hurt myself, and others, and started being offended by those very things.
This immense change in my entire being has made me reconsider everything I’ve ever believed or been taught. The unraveling of who I was before addiction recovery, a woman capable of allowing men to hurt me and defending those actions, into the woman that has always churned inside of me.
How it starts…
I grew up being taught that men had power, and they were to be chased, feared, and made excuses for. They would either abandon you, or they would provide for you, but they would hurt you and demean you. Hurt people, hurt people. I also learned at a much too young age that my value in men with power was only in my sexuality.
In my heart, I now recognize many things from my past that I could not see before. All men have a responsibility to women, but especially men in powerful positions. The latest statements that came from our presidential nominee, has created a new level of outrage for women. We’re trying to understand why Americans are okay with voting for a man into the most powerful office, when he has an entire history of demeaning and assaulting women! Even talking about his own daughters in a sexual way.
In response, women are sharing their accounts of men in power abusing those positions and they are being shamed for it! By none other than….fellow women.
Can we see the problem here? Instead of supporting our fellow females, women are, downgrading, and blowing off these accounts of men in powerful positions getting away with sexual assault.
Women against women.
But wait, there’s more…
The most recent account of a man in a powerful position taking advantage of me happened just two years ago! He at one time held one of the most powerful positions in my city. Now he is pushing 90-years old, but still likes to help pretty girls get jobs. I was attempting to find some corporate work to help support my family. It was early on in sobriety and with all of the emotional growth I was facing, I needed a break from writing and speaking publicly.
A female headhunter sent me to this man. She told me exactly what to expect from my encounters, leaving out the sexual harassment. Just as she said he would, I was invited to attend a large luncheon with most of the power players in the city. He paraded me on his arm to no one’s surprise. They all seemed to expect this behavior from him, saying things like “… always has the pretty women on his arm.” Instead of discussing job opportunities at the end of the event, he told me I should go to Hollywood and be a model or an actress.
Then, as the headhunter predicted, he invited me to lunch at the country club. A couple of days later we met there and he spent the entire lunch asking to see my breasts. The only time he wasn’t talking about what he would do to me if I hadn’t been married, was the few moments he insisted we pray when lunch was served.
Once again, in my stunned state of mind, I didn’t leave. I tried to figure out when I would bring up my resume. Where did I squeeze that in? Between his stories of using Viagra with his 50-year old girlfriend or him asking what my cup size was and insisting I not tell anyone about this?
He wasn’t senile. He didn’t have dementia. He was an elderly man with all of his faculties. At least with the help of a blue pill, apparently. I knew it was wrong. I knew that his connections and a job were not worth this bullshit. I was a 37-year old mother of four girls. Yet I didn’t walk out on him. I didn’t make a scene in the country club. I endured it. How could I go home and look my daughters in the face, when they asked how my business lunch went at the fancy country club?
“Well girls, mommy got groped by a rich, white man who is old enough to be her grandpa today and if you don’t have a college degree and have been a stay-at-home mom for years out of the work force, this is what getting a job looks like.”
Instead I said, “The salad was good, but I’m not getting a job.”
“Boys Will Be Boys” Mentality
Many of my friends are raising boys and I ask them what it’s like to have difficult conversations with their sons about rape culture. These brave, wise parents tell me they do it because they have to. They teach those young men about consent and they drill that meaning into their developing brains. Men who are raised with a conscious know that this climate of sexual assault isn’t “locker room” talk.
We are finally having the hard conversations as a nation. They are painful and we are triggered. Women are being forced to hear that we aren’t worthy of men not talking about assaulting us. That it’s a joke and it’s a laughable offense to talk about grabbing our most private, sacred parts.
I, like so many others, refused to accept that I was a feminist, or that I really deserved equality. I defended much of the bad behavior we are now reading all day online. I made excuses for the men who used their power to hurt me.
I was part of the problem. For that I am deeply sorry. I know very clearly now that women have to support each other. Even if we can’t identify, we must try to see the pain our fellow women are feeling. That’s called empathy.
We also have to take off the layer of protection around our own pain of assault and look deeply into what has happened to us. To tell women that reading books like 50 Shades of Grey cancels out their concern of sexual assault is demeaning and amoral. We are human beings with strong primal urges for sexual encounters. What consenting adults do together is no one else’s business. The key word being…consent.
This is a time to get real honest with ourselves and our past experiences. It is not a time to say “let’s just stick to the real issues.” If we, as a country, do not see that the demeaning of women on a national level as not a “real issue” then we will never heal and grow as equal sexes who support each other.
I am no longer angry towards the men in power who took advantage of me during my vulnerable times. I feel sorry for them. Perhaps they grew up with men and women who were afraid to share with them the importance of respect for all humans or they themselves had never been taught. Perhaps they watched their father’s demean women, which perpetuated a cycle of negativity toward women. Or perhaps they have chosen to act out childhood trauma in this way instead of getting the help they so desperately need.
I now have empathy for the men in this culture who have been hurt, and act out sexually defiant towards women. But more so, I have empathy for the women who have been acted out against.
As a nation, we can no longer be silent about this cycle of abuse, and demeaning of women. Male silence has to stop. Women will never be equal until men support us, and speak up in support of us. We must talk about these dark, shame-filled corners of our existence. And together…we must heal.