I am one of the many women you brushed up against in line. One whose waist felt your arm slither around and hold a bit too closely as you helped me into a vehicle. A female whose body you leaned into for a hug instead of a handshake, pressing your hand into my back so that my chest came into harder contact with yours. Those are my legs you ogled in a meeting because I dared to wear a pencil skirt. It’s my laugh you heard when you told me the racy joke. My big brown eyes that looked away over a lip-sticked smile when you made the flirtatious suggestion.
None of what you did was wanted.
None of it appreciated or invited.
But, like the Republican presidential candidate, I’m sure you believed one of two things: (1) she’s giving me cues that she wants this or (2) I can do this because I’m me and she’s her.
And did I kick up about it? Did I slap your face? Go to HR? Write a blog post, even? No. So that must mean I wanted it, right? Must mean I enjoyed it? Must mean you’re allowed to be this way.
No. Here’s what really happened:
You stared at my legs. I asked myself why I didn’t put on the slacks because I knew I had a meeting with men today. Then I berated myself for the idea of changing a completely acceptable wardrobe just because you can’t focus on business in a business meeting. Then I thought about moving to another seat, one that wouldn’t give you such a good view of my knees. Then I berated myself again for thinking of how to accommodate your ridiculous actions and how un-Sheryl Sandberg that is of me. Then I thought about just taking the bull by the horns and interrupting the entire meeting to say, “If you could stop staring at my legs, I’d appreciate it,” but then all the other men in the room would either think I was an ice queen or suddenly also become aware of my legs and the other women would withdraw from me, grateful it wasn’t them but eager to not be put in the ice queen territory, too. And then I needed to stop allowing myself to care that you were ogling me because I had valid contributions to make to this meeting that would be helpful to the project, so I turned away and worked.
Or let’s talk about how you do business hugs instead of handshakes – only with the women, of course, because you’re “a hugger.” So, you throw your big arm around my shoulders and pull me in, pressing my breasts against your chest and holding me there until you’ve gotten your fill, talking the whole time about how good it is to see me and how you’re looking forward to being a part of this project, blah blah. Since I didn’t slap your face, I must have “let” you, right?
While you were busy getting your cheap feel, here’s what I was thinking: If I say something right here, right now, will I lose my job? Will this project go south if I embarrass him and he quits? He matters more to this than me because he’s the one with the money/prestige. If he leaves, his funding leaves, too and then we’re back to square one on this. Does it really matter if he feels my breasts for a few seconds if, in the end, we get the project done and it makes a positive difference in the world? My comfort level isn’t as important as getting the job done. This is just part of it. Part of working in a male-dominated industry. You don’t want to be “that” woman who can’t work with men and get along or you’re done in this industry, Rebeca. Be a grown-up. Smile. Overlook it. Stay focused on the mission. Laugh.
I smiled. I laughed.
You took that as acceptance and possibly even encouragement.
It’s no wonder you are confused by the female outrage over that Trump video. You’ve been hugging and ogling for years and you know dang well that women are fine with it because none of them has ever objected and most of the time we smile and laugh right along with you, right?
Let me clear things up here.
I fake smile and fake laugh so I can do my job.
I fake smile and fake laugh so that I can be effective in my role.
I fake smile and fake laugh so that I don’t get fired.
I fake smile and fake laugh so that I have relationship capital.
I fake smile and fake laugh so that you’ll keep working on the task.
I fake smile and fake laugh so that I don’t slap you.
I fake smile and fake laugh so that I can be a team player.
I fake smile and fake laugh so that the situation will end and I can get back to business.
I fake smile and fake laugh.
And you see and hear acceptance, even invitation.
If Donald Trump becomes president, your belief system on this will be exemplified by the leader of the free world. Suddenly, the sexual innuendo, flirting, hugs, touches, and ogling will be even more acceptable because, hey, that’s how the president gets things done and it worked for him, right? Married to a topless model, living in the White House, millions in the bank – the guy is the epitome of Man of the World and what man doesn’t want to be that?
So I wanted to be clear right here, today. Make a declaration, even.
You touch me, you flirt with me, you treat me as a sexual being that you are entitled to access, you’re getting called out on it. It shouldn’t require me to sacrifice my career, but that’s a length to which I will go now. Why now? Because the threat level has risen with every defense of Trump’s behavior that I have read on Facebook and Twitter or listened to on the radio or watched on television since that video came out.
I don’t walk in a room and stare at your penis. I don’t crack jokes about its size or call it by derogatory names because I’m not thinking about it at all. I don’t picture how you would be in bed. I don’t try to determine if you want me. I do not even care that you are capable of sex. I’m not interested. At all. Ever. Even a little bit. No, not even that much. The door is closed. There is no crack in it. No window for you to climb through.
Your sexual nature is not wanted.
Not even if you’re famous.
Not even if you’re rich.
Not even if you’re the Republican party’s nominee for President of the United States.
You want to work together like two adults who are talented, intelligent, resourceful, and can get the job done? Bring it. Let’s do this thing. I am all over that like white on rice. You wanna joke and kid while we work? Absolutely. I love a fun workplace. You wanna explore ideas and brainstorm about how we can do this job better, how we can enrich the culture of this country with the stories we bring them? Holy heaven and hottest hell, yes, I am down for that.
But check the rest of it at the door. I’m not going to quit genuinely smiling just because you walk in the room and mistake it for sexual invitation. I’m not going to quit genuinely laughing because you find it sexually attractive. I like to smile. I like to laugh. That’s for me, not you. That’s me enjoying the amazing life I get to lead and the adventurous career I have – it isn’t an invitation for you to be a part of it in any way but a colleague.
Thanks for letting me set the record straight here. Whew, I feel lighter already, knowing I won’t have to have those internal debates anymore.
Now, let’s get to work.