A woman I knew in the ’80s had a boss who chased her around the desk — yes, exactly like the cocktail-napkin / Playboy magazine cartoon — day after day. She told people about it. Nothing was done to him; he was too high on the totem pole.
A woman I know was taking a makeup test in a professor’s office when he stuck his hand down the front of her shirt. She screamed and ran out. I know she told someone, but I don’t recall him leaving the university. He had tenure, after all.
Another professor at the same university did the same thing to young men, grabbing and kissing and so forth. Nothing done.
You can read Laura Lippman’s story about being one of Bob Greene’s marks — she said no — way back in the day. He did suffer consequences, but it went on for years and years before someone finally called him on it. To be sure, these weren’t co-workers, so sexual-harassment laws wouldn’t apply. They were only young women. Very young women, although the stories about his downfall were careful to note that the young woman in question was “under 18, but over the age of consent.” Good to know!
A friend of mine worked for Esquire at the time, which ran Greene’s columns. He hit on her while he was on tour for “Good Morning Merry Sunshine,” his tender memoir of the first year of his daughter’s life. A friend of a friend pranked a college-student intern in his Tribune Tower office, sending her what he thought was an obviously fake letter on fake Bob Greene letterhead, offering to show her around the newsroom. She fell for it and went up to Greene’s office, waving the letter in his face and all how-dare-you. He swore he didn’t do it and convinced her he was telling the truth. She calmed down. Then he hit on her.
There are more stories, let me think a minute. Oh, OK, there’s this one: An influential man once spoke admiringly of a European TV journalist, a woman, who openly boasted of having gotten to her high station by fucking the right men, strategically. She wasn’t ashamed, she saw it as a use of her particular power, and she wished American women would stop whining about men pressuring them for sex and just get with the program. He related this story approvingly.
Comic relief: A co-worker was working late one night when a janitor, who usually drank on the job, grabbed her foot and started kissing it. She screamed, hit him on the head and reported him to the security guard. He said, “Don’t mind him, he’s just drunk.” The next day she told the editor. Both the security guard and the janitor were fired, so something was done! Yay! Do note, however, that night-shift security guards and janitors are about the two lowest rungs in any power structure.
Another editor I knew was gently pushed out of academia because, it was said, he creeped out the female students by paying them weird compliments. “You have beautiful teeth,” for instance. So yeah, something was done there. Progress.
A young reporter I worked with was very pretty. She often brown-bagged her lunch and ate at her desk. One day she brought a banana. A male reporter ran to another sleaze’s desk and said, “M—— is eating a banana!” They scurried to a vantage point and avidly watched her do so. (Kirk told me that one.)
And yet, when I look back on my career, I don’t think sexual harassment was all that bad, for me or the people around me. These incidents were just like static in the background, stuff that happened. We didn’t even have a phrase to describe it for a while, but like how we stopped looking away from black eyes and started saying “domestic violence” right out loud — another thing we used to see on cocktail napkins; “to the moon, Alice!” — we caught up.
But when the movie was made with the issue at its core, it starred Demi Moore. As the perp.
I post this to let you all know I for one am not ignoring the Harvey Weinstein story. In fact, it has sent me down Memory Lane. Carry on.