#MeToo: Proud of speaking out
Through the years, as each prominent person has been exposed as an adulterer or a sexual provocateur, I wind up reliving many of those horrendous instances – the despicable, shameful memories of a young girl, a teenager, a young woman. And they don’t go away. Ever.
Bill Clinton’s affairs, Weiner’s juvenile idiocies, Cosby’s perversions, Trump’s sexual braggadocio. The reports continue on and on, almost daily. And how about that Harvey Weinstein? Wouldn’t his mother be proud? The problem is, they have no shame, none of them.
And, shame on me, all I’ve ever done is nod and occasionally rail among close friends about these egotistical jerks. Finally, this Weinstein mess has pushed me over the edge. Senior citizen that I am, I’m ready to add my “#MeToo” to the list of millions who’ve fought off years of unwanted advances from men with no common sense and the social graces of a baboon.
Weinstein’s sordid career was a little too close to home for me to ignore. Let me go back and tell you why, but from the beginning.
The first encounter – which of course I never thought of as sexual harassment, began at age eight. My piano teacher was a plump, soft little man with thick glasses and sausage fingers. At least those were the first things I noticed about him. Sharing my piano bench with him was uncomfortable as we sat hip to hip, breathing his cigarette halitosis on to me. Every Thursday night my braids smelled like Camels when I went to bed. When he put his squishy hands over mine to spread my fingers over the octave, they lingered. I didn’t know why. Within a few months he put his arm around me for the whole half hour.
My mother had made it clear to me that the lessons and the piano payments were expensive. When he stayed over an extra five, then ten, then fifteen minutes, I got nervous. I finally spoke to him that we couldn’t afford the extra time and he assured me that he stayed because I was such a good little girl and he wanted to see me progress.
By the end of the first year I hated my beautiful piano. But I never told my Mom because she was working so hard to make it happen. I lied to her that I was practicing every day. I wanted to be so musically inept, so bad that he would go away.
By the second year he had his hands all over me . . . up my skirt between my thighs, unbuttoning my plaid dress at the back of my neck “because you seem so warm.” Then stroking my naked back beneath my undershirt. I was often in tears which he thought should be consoled with “just a tiny kiss.” I’d push away and occasionally say don’t, but he was the adult and in my childhood that meant he was in charge and I was the powerless kid. The angel on my shoulder finally saved me – in a very strange way.
I pedaled my big-girl bicycle five blocks to school every morning. One morning the barber who lived on the first block, ran the stop sign. He was accelerating when he hit me broadside, knocking me airborne about thirty feet down the street. The first driver coming the other way stopped to scoop me up. Luckily, I was mostly road rashed, cut and bruised with my right hand taking the brunt of the heavy injury. “Aha!” I remember thinking on the way to the doctor’s office, “I can’t play piano now – I’m finally out of that mess.”
My mother didn’t understand my turning my back on the music she so desperately wanted me to have but by the time I was fully healed she accepted it. When at last I told her many years later, she was upset that I hadn’t confided in her. But, like most kids, I thought I had done something wrong. I also knew that if I’d ratted him out she would have gone after him with her temper, her words and perhaps even fists. She was a mother bear with a cub and God help any aggressor. Add her protectiveness to exhaustion from two full-time jobs, and that puffy little pianoman would have played his last sonata.
By the time I was sixteen and working at my first real job, I knew the fault wasn’t mine when I ran into trouble.
I was doing well as an after-school and weekend cashier at the newest supermarket in town. Within a few months, I noticed that the Assistant Manager seemed to be present when I punched in and checked the cash charts from the day before. He always had a ready compliment and occasionally put his arm on my back or around my shoulder. I was no raving beauty, just an athletic teenager fighting forehead acne. Unfortunately I had boobs bigger than the average field hockey goalie.
He persisted, and I got more uncomfortable. One Friday night when his wife came through my line with her grocery order, I made a mistake. The bundle boy was a friend and classmate and as he and I were packing up the order, I whispered to him, “Too bad her husband can’t keep his hands to himself.” But she heard it, reported it to her husband and he fired me when I punched out.
The store manager, Mr. Bowman, was upset because I was his best performing cashier. But he explained to my raging mother that teenage cashiers were a dime a dozen relative to what he would have to do to replace an assistant manager.
Oh, and then he said something like, “Men will be men – I know it is not right but I’m sure you understand.” Oh, she understood all right. A tall, attractive redhead, my mother fought her own demonical hierarchy in the workplace. The decades to come were to prove Mr. Bowman right. “It’s not right, but I’m sure you understand” and “Boys will be boys.” The litany of excuses that we swallowed because there was no choice. They held the jobs, the money, the top rung on the power ladder.
College boys were, for the most part, not a problem for me. In those days, most of the young men I dated were gentlemen. I lived in the middle of fraternity row at Boston University and got to know a lot of the guys as just friends. An only child, I can say that it helped me. Plus, I didn’t drink much, drugs were not available, and I’d learned by then how to stay out of compromising situations.
Working as a stewardess was a different matter entirely.
American Airlines hired one out of every 21 qualified candidates. A qualified candidate, minimum age 20, had to have the right educational/work experience, fall within specific height and weight parameters, have no visible scars, no acne, no glasses, excellent vision and hearing plus her own teeth. She needed to be attractive – beautiful was not important – but mostly, she must have a ready smile, a winning personality and look like the girl next door. America didn’t do sultry. Wholesomeness was prized. Frankly with all those attributes being stressed constantly, I naively thought that sexual harassment wouldn’t be an issue. I thought, with stars in my eyes, only about the sophisticated wide world I was entering, the opportunities that lay ahead. What a fool I was.
Most of the flying public then was fairly urbane – both well-dressed and well-mannered. In that golden era of aviation, only 20 percent of the American public had ever flown and they were mostly businessmen or affluent leisure travelers. The day-to-day relationships between stewardesses and travelers were fun and eye-opening; I learned a lot about the world, made many fascinating acquaintances and the professional atmosphere fostered mutual respect between flight crews and passengers. Except when it didn’t.
There was the nationally known head of the California State Assembly who pawed me every trip up the aisle before I finally told him to stop. An hour later he told me that he was too important to be embarrassed by a mere stewardess as he tried to physically force me into the lavatory.
There was the advertising CEO who backed me into the galley when I couldn’t serve him a third drink demanding a “more intoxicating” treat. The salesman that kept asking for blankets and pillows in the overhead rack so he could run his hands up my thighs and butt – in front of everyone. The department store mogul from Buffalo who paid for the Bills charter flight to Houston to play the Oilers. He thought he’d bought everything on the plane including us. Not only could he not keep his hands to himself, he insisted we would all be available to come to his hotel room that night. We each received his drunken profane phone calls after not showing up.
And it went on and on.
A top-ten recording star, a children’s radio and television hero, a basketball star plus all the everyday salesmen, jocks, engineers and clerks who thought that being away from home was a license to be a jerk. We were their nearest targets. Many assumed we were willing to be debased by virtue of just being there. We must be loose women – we’re traveling the world and in the early days, we were all single. “You must get lonely being so far away from home.” Seriously?
In later years, when they asked for my phone number “so we can continue this ‘relationship,'” I gave it to them. The number was the suicide prevention bureau or the humane society.
At first I was embarrassed and often felt like I must have been doing something inappropriate, knowing full well I wasn’t. But then I gradually became cynical. We all did. We spoke in shorthand to each other about “the lecher in 17A” or “The great I am – self-appointed hero” in 21C.
The worst were the Hollywood types in 2A or 3B – first class. They all assumed we were movie wannabes and treated us demandingly – crude and rude from coast to coast. The producers were the worst. I get this Weinstein pervert completely. He even looks like his counterparts of 40 and 50 years ago – scruffy, unkempt and slimy.
Don’t get me wrong – I loved my job. The harassment didn’t happen everyday and 99 percent of my passengers were terrific. But the more I think about what we put up with on an ongoing basis. . ..
I’m proud of these women who are speaking out. “Me too.” And “No more.” We didn’t have the guts or the self-assuredness. We were too busy being the wholesome girls next door that American wanted us to be and making sure that well-crafted image was not sullied. Experience and growing seniority eventually allowed me to right a few wrongs as they happened, but that self-assuredness came slowly. It was years before I realized how much it affected my life, my opinions, my relationships.
I thank God that I had wonderful men in my personal life. But, sadly, they had to prove to me that they were worth being there. They did not know about my quiet scrutiny nor did I ever tell them. After marriage and children, aging and weight gain and now advanced senior status, men’s sexual advances are in my distant past. But the anger, the worthlessness, the fear, the shame and the anxiety that I lived with for two-thirds of my life sit deep inside, never really going away.
Thank you, Ashley Judd and the millions of women coming forward. We who put up with this garbage, plus the millions of women and children – yes, children – who came before us and who suffered silently, all because we thought we had to. Baloney. We’re not going to sit on the bottom rung of the power ladder being grabbed and fondled and stroked from above. No more. Me too.
Marcy O’Brien may be reached at Moby.firstname.lastname@example.org.