I Hate Having to Say, “Me Too”

19 Oct

I hate having to say, “me too.”   It makes me a bit sick to my stomach to be honest. So many of us were harassed on the job or in school or just walking down the street in the 60s. 70s, 80s, and even today. I wish the culture would change. Perhaps it will.

I remember when my husband would watch, Mad Men. Sometime he would say something like, “I cannot believe they treated women like that. “ And I would respond. “Yes they did. And it was sometimes much worse.”

So I will relate my two worst encounters.   To be honest, I have a list of about ten incidents that impacted my life. But I was lucky. There always seemed to be an angel near by that saved me from the worst. As Fred Rogers would say, I always looked for the helpers. Here are the two worst work-related incidents and the angels who saved me.

I started working In the 70s.   When I was in high school and college, I worked at a grocery store in Monticello, NY. The Catskills my happy place. For five summers I worked at Shopwell. I actually loved my job. I worked behind the Deli counter. I knew the other worker, almost all men.   I made friends with some of the cashiers, almost all women.

For four years, I never had a problem.   I loved going to work. I hung out with my friends. I made two great friends over the summers and we looked forward to being together. Until the fifth year. The year I was 20, entering my junior year of college.

I admit I was adorable. And small. That is important. I did not look strong, but I was. I was raised to be independent. I had just returned from living in Israel for a year, and nothing frightened me. But the store hired a new manager of the deli. Eliot. He was young, perhaps 30; he was obnoxious; and he was after me in a not nice way.

It became an extremely unpleasant place to work. He would whisper horrible comments in my ear, and give me the most obnoxious jobs to do.   Victor, one of the long-term employees, who I had known for years, started standing next to me whenever he could.   I actually started keeping a giant butcher knife near me all the time. And once I threatened Eliot. I told him that if he touched me again, I would cut off his penis. And I meant it. He was insidious.

One day I went to eat lunch in the staff lounge, upstairs and away from everyone. Eliot followed me. He cornered me in the room and said something like, “IF I rape you right now no one would believe you.” I never had the chance to respond.

Out came my angels. Two of the cashiers, who I had known for years, were in the ladies’ room. They heard every thing. “How long has this been going on!” Anita demanded. They chased him out of the lounge. Held me and said, “We are going to the manager.” To be honest I was a bit afraid of losing my job. But no worries.

The manager was appalled.   He told me to call my grandfather to come and get me. (I did not have a car, and my grandfather often drove me to and from work.) When Grandpa got there, the manager and he had a talk.   We drove home basically in silence. I could tell he was upset, but did not know what to say. He had a talk with my Mom when I got home. My Mom and I had a short discussion.  When she found out he had not touched me or harmed me physically, she calmed down.   We never spoke about it again.  It was a part of life for women.

Two days later I went back to work. The manager told me that Eliot was fired and was not allowed on the Shopwell grounds. That if I was to see him there, I was to come to the manager immediately. Eliot never came back when I was there.

I was fortunate that I had people who protected me and kept me safe.

The next incident happened four years later. I was working on my master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri. I was also working part time at the Missouri School Boards Association. I loved working there. We had a great staff. I was in charge of the PR, newsletter and publications. I made great friends with the two secretaries, the other women in the office. Susan and I got especially close. The Executive Director and Assistant Executive Director were men, but really nice. It was great.

Once a year we would all go to Tan Tar A, near Lake of the Ozarks, for a convention. My job was to put out the convention newsletter and write the articles. I was worked about 16 hour days during the convention.

The first year, there was one school board president who was persistently bothering me. He was often drunk and unpleasant, middle aged and married.   I was 24 and engaged. I wanted nothing to do with him.

Luckily, Susan was with me the first time he tried something. She told me to never get on an elevator with him. In fact she and the other secretary would go down with me in the morning. One would come to the printing room at night to get me to my room safely. But they were going home a day before me.  That last night they would be gone. I was worried. So were they. This guy would not stop! NO! said emphatically did not deter him.

We finally told the Assistant ED.   At first he would not, could not believe it. But in the end he agreed to come to the printing room to walk me to my room that night. The drunk was already there when he arrived. My boss was really stunned.  I think somewhat ashamed. He walked me to my room. The next day, when the convention ended, he drove me back to Columbia, Missouri. We spoke about it briefly. His telling me that not all men were like that. But as a young woman in 1979, I knew the truth….more men were like that then he realized.

Again I was fortunate.   I had angels and helpers who kept me safe. But there are many women who are not as fortunate. Who suffer undo duress and pressure. My “Me Too” is small in comparison to the stories of others..

Honestly,  I think because of these incidents I looked for a safe place to work when I got my master’s degree.  I found that working for a Girl Scout Council.  No men.

As women, we never knew who would be safe and who would make unanticipated and unwanted advances. At work, at school, on the street, on a bus, in a store, in the bathroom, at a restaurant, in a bar! When I was younger, I was always on the watch.

My daughter once made fun of me. She and a friend traveled to Egypt together. I said, “Do not go to the bathroom by yourself. Always go together.” She laughed until her friend did go to the bathroom by herself and was assaulted by the male attendant, but luckily another woman came in before anything happened.

I hate having to say,  “Me Too”. I hope by the time I have granddaughters, the world will be safer.

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5 Responses to “I Hate Having to Say, “Me Too””

  1. Amy October 19, 2017 at 12:16 pm #

    Hard to “like” this, but it is an important and brave post so I am liking what you have done, not what was done to you. I am glad you were safe both times from physical harm, but there was nevertheless the psychological harm.

    I have been very fortunate in that no man has ever physically assaulted me or done anything more than whistle, catcall, or pester me when I refused to go out with them. I always found those encounters uncomfortable, but not really scary. When I look back on it, I think I was very naive. I just thought they were jerks and assumed they were not dangerous. Like I said, I was naive and very, very lucky.

    Of course, I faced discrimination—male lawyers who called me sweetie, colleagues who ignored what I said in meetings and then attributed my (obviously brilliant) contributions to a male colleague, lower pay for the same work, and so on. But I consider that something different from sexual harassment.

    Thanks for speaking out.

    • zicharon October 19, 2017 at 12:35 pm #

      I have never forgotten these incidents although almost 40 years have passed. So they definitely made an impact on me. They made me think about my surroundings at all times and to be careful in judging others. The comments rest in another category, but are still at times offensive. I am hoping with all that is coming out, people might change.

      • Amy October 19, 2017 at 1:02 pm #

        One can hope. I know that I had the same experience watching Mad Men as Jay—it was shocking to be reminded of how men used to treat and talk about women in such crude ways. They may still do that in private, but in almost 40 years of working in different places, no one was doing it as openly as they once might have.

  2. Ester Silvers October 19, 2017 at 10:30 pm #

    Very good article, Ellen

    • zicharon October 19, 2017 at 10:41 pm #

      Thank you. I am hoping the world changes for the better.

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