As a female sportswriter in my 20s in the 1980s, I was unique among what generally consisted of groups of men: as the editor of the Minnesota Daily college sports reporters, in the press box of the Minnesota North Stars, sharing a summer beach house with Sports Illustrated reporters.
There were myriad flirtations but mostly professionalism and genuine camaraderie. I rarely felt uncomfortable.
Yet… women always have bad memories they don’t forget. For me, those moments include the time a University of Minnesota sports director slapped me on the butt in a crowded press box as I picked up a stats sheet.
“Just wanted to see you bend over, honey,” he said loudly.
I didn’t know what to do. The men around me didn’t either. Perhaps to alleviate the embarrassment, one of them whispered to me, “He’s a drinker.”
It was a short moment in a sea of moments with male colleagues that involved nothing of the sort. But you don’t forget it.
Going back to 6th grade, a teenage boy I did not know, showing off to a buddy, made a suggestive comment in a public swimming pool. It was a terrible age to be afraid that my body, my gender, could provoke unwanted attention if I wasn’t careful.
That unknown boy with his tiny moment has stuck in my mind for four decades, which is an intrusion I wish I could eject. Shame sticks, even when you’re not the one who should feel it.
Just as, further back, I will always remember the teenage boy babysitter who masturbated over my bed while I pretended to sleep. I was seven: too young to understand but so ashamed that I didn’t tell my parents until I was in my 30s.
Even more seriously, I was sexually assaulted in college by a news coworker. I loved my job and didn’t want it to feel awkward and so told no one for years.
There was the former New York City police officer who tried to lure me to his Long Island home on a journalistic pretense. After I turned down his offer to see the documents he kept on the infamous “Dirty 30” precinct he’d been involved with, an acquaintance who knew both of us told me, “Good. I wouldn’t trust him.”
What sticks with me: Would he have said anything to me to dissuade me from going? Was it up to me, a woman who knew dozens of men who were not predators, to figure out the con? Why is that not a community process?
As someone who believes in the Attainable We of community, I have questions to raise about next steps. Without conscious conversations — rather than simply debates about who should be fired and who should not — my concern is that our society will get used to head-swiveling around the accusations and tweets that flood us every day, every week, without making any deeper changes. Like mass shootings we seem unable to do anything about, and locker room bravado elected to the White House, and our roots in racism and nationalism.
- As we’re learning about our state legislature, women do sometimes whisper to each other about whom to watch out for. How many men feel empowered to join them? If we see a young woman approached by a man she should not trust, do we intervene? Are we afraid to? What if the man finds out and gets angry? Is it only her business to judge? We’ve had this conversation regarding drunk drivers: Is society responsible for safety of others — or only the intoxicated person stepping into the car?
- Shaming those who have shamed us in the past is fair play. Yet the vast majority of exploitative and power-grabby men who think they have rights or sexiness that they do not are not famous. If we topple a few of them — the more famous the men, the heavier some of them fall — what does that do for the vast majority of women who have experienced unwanted advances by average badly behaved men? Doesn’t that give a pass to those who are not well known? Are our standards different based on celebrity?
- Despite myself being preyed upon numerous times, I tend to feel that culture allowed those men to feel it was OK and that it does me no good to shame them now. From this point forward, however, women are standing up loudly and collectively to say it is not OK. Better-behaved men are realizing the pervasiveness and can stand up as well. Men who behaved badly in the past can become part of the solution. What are we going to do with butt and breast gropers from now on? Which companies (and Catholic dioceses and future voters) will take victimization reports seriously and transparently? How will we vet accusations beyond social media? Who can we trust to advocate with us?
What happens when these cases happen now? Let’s have discussions about that.