I was as excited as you could imagine a 16-year-old being about having their first job. I’d finally be making my own money, which meant I could spend it however I wanted without needing permission. Win! I didn’t have your typical first-day-on-the-job jitters because one of my older friends who I’d known throughout my childhood would be there with me. I was getting closer to independence, which meant everything to my teenage self.
The harassment began almost immediately. I was used to being ogled at by teenage boys but these were grown men. Like my daddy’s age grown men.
If you’re active on social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, I’m sure by now you’ve read about or heard about the viral hashtag, #MeToo. Following all the sexual harassment and assault allegations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, women and men took to social media to share their own stories. The movement’s foundation was laid over 10 years ago by activist Tarana Burke, who created it to give young women of color who were victims a voice.
Just like many of the people who shared their stories, I’ve also experienced sexual harassment on more occasions than I can even recall completely. As I began earlier in the post, it started when I got my first job. The men who worked there and the men who came in as customers often made sexually explicit jokes and statements toward me. I remember one man in particular offering me money to sleep with him (while his wife and children were waiting for him at their table) and another touching my leg before he took his usual seat at the bar.
It didn’t stop there.
I remember visiting a radio station for a job interview and having my leg rubbed as I sat discussing the details of the position with the owner. Needless to say, I declined the job.
I guess the kicker of my experiences is that they were never in private. Every single one of them happened in public with someone else, or multiple people around. No one ever defended me. No one ever told them that it was inappropriate. I can remember some women telling the men to stop or shut up, but no one said that it was wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated. Therefore it just became a part of the normal routine for me. I learned to ignore it because “they didn’t really mean anything by it.”
Now that I’m older, more mature and unafraid to speak up for myself, I would never allow someone to harass me and get away with it. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to our children to change this culture that is causing so much damage to so many people.