I was sexually harassed. Just the other day. I know, I know, our bullshit societal gender roles dictate that I should to be telling this story to my buddies over a couple of beers while we high-five and back-slap. But it wasn’t cool. I felt completely disrespected by this person that I know and have always treated with kindness and professionalism. It was a normal day, business as usual, and then there it was, out of the blue with no warning. I actually did a cartoonish double-take/head-shake thing out of sheer dumbfoundedness. (I’m literally making up words here trying to describe how I felt in that moment.) The details aren’t important. Suffice to say, it went from your cookie-cutter Wednesday morning to NSFW in the blink of an eye. Hours later, I was still in shock. I was honestly a bit traumatized. I got home, the shock wore off and then I got mad. I started venting to Robin and she listened and empathized. She got mad with me and validated the way I was feeling. We talked about what I could do and sorted out the best game plan. Then like some elaborate Rube Goldberg machine I suddenly realized several things in very quick succession:
I’m 38 years old and this is the first time this has happened to me.
I have a voice…I can almost guarantee that people will listen and believe every detail that I share with them.
I am bigger than this person and never felt physically unsafe.
No one will wonder for a second what I was wearing, or made me feel that it was my fault in even the smallest way.
And for those and many other reasons, what just happened to me is just a tiny fraction of what it must feel like when this happens to a woman.
I’ve always thought that I was sensitive to the sexism and sexual harassment that the women in my life face on a daily basis. But this opened my eyes on a whole new level. We all need to experience that unique cocktail of emotions that comes when the veil is lifted and we see an new element of our own privilege for the first time. I hope that I never get so calloused by life that I let moments like this pass me by without grasping them. As I’ve shared before, Pema Chodron talks about how we can allow the things that happen in our lives to harden us or soften us. It’s a choice we make every day. We can let hate and fear shut us down and close us off to those around us. Or we can keep our hearts open and soft and push forward in life motivated out of love rather than fear.
So, to the women in my life…I love you and you are so much stronger than I can even begin to understand. That you deal with this constantly and remain openhearted is utterly amazing to me. I hope and pray that I can also stay openhearted and can be an advocate for you all. To all the men reading this…let’s do better.
Lastly, I need to acknowledge that even the very act of writing a blog post about this, that this event was newsworthy enough in the course of my life to make the cut, is a reflection of the privilege I hold as a man. I still struggle with how to engage with my privilege in a way that doesn’t perpetuate it.