The recent allegations against Harvey Weinstein stirred up a lot of emotional outpourings on social media over the past week or so. As I read through posts, my initial reaction was, “So what? This is nothing new. Men always have preyed on women and always will.” We easily can rattle off the name of hundreds of other men – politicians, doctors, lawyers, athletes, businessmen, fathers, brothers, uncles, and others – who abuse their power (fame, fortune, position) to get whatever they want.
When I was a girl, I remember my grandmother saying in Yiddish, “ven der putz shtayt, der saychel leegt in drerd,” literally meaning, “when the penis ‘stands’ (is erect), the brain lies in the ground” (is dead). It sounded funny with her accent, but the message was serious…beware of a guy who wants “it.”
To illustrate her point, even the Talmud acknowledged that men couldn’t control their sexual urges. It therefore was incumbent upon a woman to take necessary precautions. She needed to avoid any and all potential situations in which she might inadvertently arouse a men (sexually); stay separated from men whenever possible; dress modestly; avoid speaking up or singing in public; and stay out of men’s business. All of these were part of common sense and good self-defense.
So, why are we upset about Weinstein or Cosby or Clinton or insert-your-name-of-choice?
Because enough is enough.
I was President of my synagogue. An elderly member of the Board of Trustees had fallen, hurt his back, and was unable to drive. Since he lived near me, I offered to transport the eighty-something-year-old to a few evening board meetings. Before one, he called to confirm. “When you pick me up, wear a dress,” he said in a creepy drawl. “I want to take you to a place you’ve never been.” I was sure I misheard or misunderstood him, so I laughed it off. I wore pants and the car ride was uneventful.
Then came a floral delivery to my home in thanks for the transportation. It was a bit over the top, but I shrugged it off. And then came a sexually explicit voicemail message. The slurred speech and lewd rant indicated a severely inebriated state. I no longer could deny the inappropriateness of what was going on and called the rabbi.
The rabbi and Executive Director stepped in. They spoke to the man. Not only did he deny everything, he actually told them that I was the one who made sexual advances. He then went further; calling and yelling at me to stay away from him. He threatened to tell my husband that I was trying to ruin his marriage and reputation. I calmly informed him that, if need be, I’d play his drunken recording for his wife. Fortunately, he withdrew his membership and left the congregation.
Given his advanced years, no one believed he was a real threat to me. But that wasn’t the point, was it?
* * *
That was just one story. I have others. There was a man in an elevator who said I looked good enough to rape. There was a customer who grabbed my knee under the meeting table. There was the boss who said he wouldn’t promote me because I was too pretty. There was another boss who was a misogynist. There was a donor who had a thing for my butt. There was a lay leader who grabbed me and kissed me on the lips. And the list goes on.
From the day I entered the working world, I have been subjected to sexual harassment or discrimination because I’m a woman. I’ll go further and concede that some of the above acts qualify as assault. I thank God I never was raped or forced to have sex with anyone…I know others who weren’t as lucky. But I never made a big deal over any of what did happen to me. I took the “that’s the way things are” attitude. Back in the day there wasn’t an HR department to go to and, truth be told, I’m not sure I would’ve reported these events even if there were.
So why am I and others talking now?
Lianna Brinded in her blog post, The unexpected, paradigm-shifting power of #MeToo, asks: “The bigger question is why we never spoke out [before], even when we knew deep down it was wrong?…[because] being a liberated, liberal, career-focused, empowered women, is to be tough…[so] we worked around it.”
Yes, I worked around it. And sometimes I used it to my advantage. But that doesn’t make any of it okay. And, in my never-ending pursuit of self-betterment, it’s time to confess and address this epidemic head-on.
Enough is enough. We’re pissed off.