I am not famous or beautiful. I am not adored and desired around the world. But as a woman beginning my career in the 1990s in an office in New York, I was sexually harassed almost constantly.
Men touched me as they “squeezed” past me on the coffee line. I was groped (and worse) on subways. I received sexually inappropriate and unsolicited emails, comments, and interoffice notes from male colleagues who commented on my clothes, parts of my body and sordid fantasies. If I questioned their behavior, they said they were just kidding. Some of the men got the hint; others did not. Almost every woman I know has stories like these.
It’s a man’s world. Men know they are protected by the corporate culture, and women know they are not.
When I was growing up in Rockville Centre, my mother, Meg O’Regan, was an attorney who ran the Center for Women’s Rights, a nonprofit legal-assistance agency in Mineola. In 1981, she and others worked to change New York’s rape law — specifically, to repeal a provision that stipulated that for a rapist to be convicted, the victim had to prove that she “earnestly resisted” the act. This provision favored the perpetrators because all they had to say was the sex was consensual. However, the provision could also put a victim’s life in danger if she was required to resist. The provision was repealed by the legislature and Gov. Hugh Carey in 1982.
While the repeal illuminated rape as an act of violence and crime rather than of sex, it was not enough to prevent the act itself.
It was not enough when a man forced himself on me when I was a college student in Boston in 1990. Even though I was the daughter of a woman who fought for a significant change in state law, I did not tell anyone. What happened to my voice? Why couldn’t I stand up for myself and tell the police?
I was ashamed. I felt powerless over the act. I felt as if I had provoked it. I had been drinking. It was during a date, and I wore an attractive dress. Did I want to explain all that in open court with my parents and friends there? What would everyone think? I was petrified.
It is 2018, and people still question what a woman was wearing.
Fear is a powerful paralytic. While I no longer carry the shame of my own acquaintance rape, I understand why it took so long for anyone to speak up against film magnate Harvey Weinstein. The fish rots from the head, right? So who was going to report sexual harassment or rape to Harvey Weinstein when he allegedly perpetrated it? When he held careers in his hands? I didn’t even report it in my quiet life as a college student.
You lose your voice when you live in fear and shame.
There are men who quietly support women in this much-needed crusade to hold other men accountable for their actions. They must feel bad that their own kind acted so deplorably. Luckily, I know far too many good, decent and respectable men to discount all men for the acts of a few.
Wherever one person abuses power over another, from the school bully to a pedophile with authority over a child, to a rapist with your livelihood in his hands, it’s wrong. It is never too late to speak out against an injustice — whatever form it takes and however long it takes.
So yes, for anyone who harasses, bullies or rapes, time’s up!
Reader Maureen H. Cronin lives in Long Beach.