I remember the first time it happened to me. The man who signed my paycheck sent me to look for some supplies in his office. But when I opened the bottom drawer, it was a stack of pornographic magazines greeting me instead of the payroll ledger he’d requested.
I whirled around at the sound of his voice, the door softly closing behind him. “You like what you see?” he asked.
I was embarrassed, ashamed, confused. So I did what I’ve always done when I’m nervous. I laughed it off.
Because humor is how I deal with all the tough stuff. It’s my armor, my sword and shield, my sanity saver.
I giggled like a fool and scurried around him and out of the office. Later, I discovered that was a typical hazing of a new female employee. It was just accepted as normal. The other women in the office laughed it off as No Big Deal. But it didn’t feel normal. It felt dirty. I felt dirty. Decades later, I still feel dirty.
There would be plenty of similar incidents over the years. During an interview with an actor, one I had respected and researched for my job as a film reporter, I suddenly felt his bare foot cruising up my leg as we sat at a waterside table for the interview.
He looked at me, a dot of cocktail sauce clinging to his lip. “I want to taste you,” he said simply. The very first thought I had was that I had done something to encourage this. But what? It was a straightforward interview, no flirting, just questions about his career goals and some lunch chatter about the beauty of the Intracoastal Waterway. What signal had I given this man that I was ready for a romp? That I would even tolerate being talked to like that? What had I done?
The answer, of course, was nothing. He said it almost casually. In fact, I thought I had misheard it. So he repeated it, leering. What did I do? I finished my interview questions, smiled warmly at him and thanked him for his time.
In the years since, I’ve imagined a better response but when you’re an immature 32-year-old, you lack the life experience and self-confidence to do what I should’ve done that day: I should’ve stood up, told him I was leaving and why and then reminded him he had daughters.
More recently, the harassment has come from internet trolls who don’t like my politics and clutter up my inbox with charmers like “You’re too ugly to screw.”
No woman I know is surprised by the Harvey Weinstein firestorm. It’s naive to think his behavior is something unusual. We have all known that men who believe they have power over you, even in the tiniest way, feel entitled to talk to you, treat you, in any demeaning way they choose. There are thousands of Harvey Weinstein’s out there. We’ve been dealing with them our whole lives. No joke.
Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and humor columnist who frequently writes about politics. Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.