Monday, November 13, 2017

The Jig Is Up

Each day, more victims come forward to name celebrities, politicians, and other public figures as sexual predators. Some of these perpetrators are being dropped like hot potatoes from their contracts. I have a feeling that more of these revelations will surface in the coming months, especially considering that some of the incidents happened decades ago.

I’ve read enough celebrity memoirs to know that the sexist behavior described is not only common, it is “expected.”  Some rock stars admitted (bragged?) about their underage conquests. Women to these guys were things to use, often a different one each day, then forgotten, like used Kleenex.   None of that was surprising, and since women (and girls) threw themselves all over their idols, it was often believed to be “consensual”. 

Because of the magnitude of the abuses I went through as a child, I think I always tended to minimize the severity of anything less.  By that, I mean that if I was the object of an inappropriate comment or touch in my life, I thought little of it. Boys will be boys.  I learned that at my father's knee, that men can't help themselves, and will take what they want.  I just had to accept it. 
There were exceptions, however, that stick in the mind, and won’t go away.  Here’s just one:  I was 17 when one of my classmates, a young man I had grown up with in grade and high school, reached over to rub my crotch as I was bending over to grab some ice cream in our local convenience store.  

As I jumped up, holding the ice cream, he was leaving the store with friends, a big grin on his face, friends laughing, as if it were all a joke - and that he had the right to touch me that way.  All I felt was ashamed. I put the ice cream back.  I was no longer hungry. 

Yes, this stays with me, almost half a century later.  I don’t think that my classmate thought he did anything wrong. He was just having fun, at my expense.  It was “nothing”.   I am sure that many who are now being accused are scratching their heads – what did they do that was so bad?  They had no idea of the effect it had on those they had their actions would be remembered, and stored, like shameful secrets for their victims.

For those of us who are not in the spotlight, these incidents often happen at work.  Many of my jobs in adulthood included having at least one co-worker – usually in a position of power – behaving like a sexist bully towards myself or another co-worker.  Mostly, these guys were ignored by management – but there was one exception.

I was head floor supervisor a large thrift store in the mid-80s.  

I was responsible for two floors of employees, customers, and stock.  That job was the most interesting I think I’ve ever had, in part because of the odd characters that came through it.  For instance, we had dressing rooms on the lower floor, which were open on the top.  Whoever placed the dressing rooms there wasn’t thinking too straight, because if someone wanted to, they could look down into them from the upper floor, and watch people dressing and undressing. 

 Which is what a few perverts did.  I’d have to escort them out of the store, and tell them never return.  The one time I called the police on this behavior (the guy wouldn’t leave), the cops just told him what I’d told him, and let him go (since then, the dressing rooms have been moved to a more private spot).  
I had a co-supervisor, “Chuck”. He and I  got along, for the most part, but he was also a bit of a jerk.  He liked to hang around and joke with the cashiers.  I was busy dealing with the floor employees and jobs one day, when one of my female cashiers took me aside, and told me that Chuck was “hugging” her, and touching her breasts.  Another female cashier backed her up, and said that when I went home, Chuck took advantage of the cashiers, in what amounted to blatant sexual harassment.  They were afraid to confront Chuck, as they were worried about losing their jobs.  I told them that I would talk to Chuck about it, and also to our store manager, the next day.   
When I told our store manager, “Mick”, about the harassment, he called Chuck into his office.  I repeated the charges.  Mick gave Chuck a warning and a 3-day suspension.  The cashiers thanked me, and we went on with our business. 

The next day, one of my $600. “drops” was missing from the company safe.  “Drops” were the money collected in envelopes by the supervisors at the end of each shift. Each supervisor signed the envelope that they collected, then put into the safe.  

Only two supervisors and the manager had the keys to that safe.  Since it was my drop that was missing, I was called into the office, where I was told that I was suspended indefinitely, while an investigation went on. Of course, I didn’t take the money, and denied doing so, but knew that until the real culprit was found, my manager was following company policy. Interesting, though, that my suspected infraction cost me an "indefinite suspension", while Chuck's was for 3 days - I guess sexual harassment wasn't as important as the loss of money.

Three days later, I got a call from my manager.  They had found the culprit - it was Chuck.  After I had reported Chuck, he thought he’d get back at me by taking my drop.  He was actually caught stealing cash from Mick’s desk, and Mick chased him down, and had him arrested.  Chuck served some jail time for the thefts – apparently, he had spent the $600. drop money on cocaine.  I was asked to return, which I did for another year, but it was never the same.  I was a hero to the cashiers, but after that incident, my heart just wasn’t into the work, as it had been before.  

The sad thing is that in all of the years that I and others have been subject to these types of abuses, instead of receiving support, we were expected to just live with it, or worse, we paid for what was done to us – paying twice over. Speaking of pay, I never received pay for the days that I was suspended.  I did receive an apology, however, which was as good as it got - back then.   

In regards to the recent charges against these public figures, I do not assume that all accusations are the truth. Some are not, I am sure, so that we don't just take anyone's word for it.  Each case needs investigation. No innocents should be accused. False accusations hurt not only the accused - they hurt those of us who were genuinely abused.

That being said, I’m happy that victims – survivors – are now being listened to and believed when they tell the truth about their experiences.  This is how positive change occurs.  May this trend continue. 

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