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Bill Cosby

Hey Mister, My Eyes Are Up Here!

A lot has come out recently about women being sexually exploited in and out of the workplace. The incidents involving Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, and Harvey Weinstein have grabbed the headlines. Although these all involved the news or entertainment industry, almost any woman can tell you, you don’t have to be rich or famous or even attractive to undergo the same humiliation.

Over the course of my careers I have been groped, harassed, embarrassed, discriminated against, and patronized; all because I am a woman. As a young college grad teaching in high school I was only a few years older than my students and whenever I had a parent/teacher conference involving the dad some comment was usually made regarding my youth or appearance. Perhaps these were intended as complements but they also instantly downgraded my position to something less respectable. When a man called in the parents of a problem student, I’m sure the mother or father never commented on the man’s attractiveness, attire, or his ability to teach and manage a class. In a profession dominated by women for years the male teachers received more respect than the women, at least in my environment.

I went from a female dominated profession to an almost all male world of construction. I was a construction reporter and my duties were to interview architects, engineers, and contractors. One of the most important aspects of my job was to gain credibility. The men seemed to think a woman couldn’t understand the design, bidding, and construction process, therefore, many of the professionals decided to give me a crash course in Construction 101, even after I told them I knew it well. They would arrogantly lecture me until I would ask a question involving the knowledge they were patronizingly passing on to me. I would ask a technical question that was more of grad school quality which showed them I really knew what I was talking about. This approach usually shocked them into silence and it gained me the respect I needed to do the job.

Although this approach worked on an intellectual level it did not get passed the sexual innuendos and awkward proposals. One man didn’t want to be interviewed at his office but wanted to take a stroll through a park. I refused. Another greeted me with a very strange handshake which I’m sure had some kind of sexual intent which I’m still trying to figure out. I couldn’t get out of his office fast enough.

It was difficult walking the fine line of creating good rapport with these men but at the same time refusing their advances. However, my boss was another story. He was the only male in an office of eight women and he made crude and rude advances to all of us. I made it known I wasn’t playing his games and I was the only one he did not lean on, lean over, or rub against; but I paid the price. My work hours were changed so I had to work late into the evening—with the state parole board offices across the hall. I was given impossible workloads, especially just before the weekend or a vacation, causing me to work late in the night or during the weekend. I was told that while on vacation he double checked all of my reports and sources trying to find a slip-up. He didn’t find any.

He pleasured himself in the office and even had sex with a coworker during a Christmas party, in his office with very thin walls. I finally quit because of all the pressure and even took a lawyer to my exit interview with the district manager. At the interview the district manager told me I was, “a hell of a reporter,” and he would be glad to give me a letter of recommendation anytime. I asked for the letter right then and he said he would mail it to my house. It never came. I inquired about it and even went through HR at our headquarters in New York but the only thing I got was a run around. Six years of hard work and good reporting and in the end, I got nothing because I wouldn’t play along with the boss’s games and become a member of his harem.

After these incidents I began freelancing where I could set my own rules. I still encountered difficulties but the consequences weren’t as drastic. If I didn’t like a situation I could walk away. One of the most shocking incidents occurred at a state-wide church conference. I was sitting next to a judge and when we broke into discussion groups he suddenly slipped his hand under my skirt and right up my thigh. This happened very quickly and it took a moment for me to process what had happened; in addition, I had had back surgery which left some nerve damage and numbness in that leg and I didn’t immediately feel it. I was shocked and didn’t know how to react so I ignored it and did nothing. A few months later I was at a national conference and, much to my chagrin,  he and his wife were there and even on the same tour bus as mine. I was vigilant but there were no more problems. I was embarrassed and confused and very uncomfortable on the trip.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a discussion with a man and the whole time he talked to my chest. I have always wanted to say, “Mister, my eyes are up here,” but I haven’t had the nerve. No one ever taught us how to handle these situations. My generation usually ignored it and continued on in awkward silence. I’m glad the world is changing to the point that more women are approaching this topic and finding the nerve to publicly condemn their molesters.

It takes courage to bring this to light because society usually blames the woman. Were her clothes or actions provocative? Was she not capable of doing the job? Was she too emotional? Was she not respectful? Society wants to turn the situation around and make the woman the aggressor. She must have done something to invite the sexual advances or punishment she received after her refusals. Surely, she did something to invite these reactions from the men. After all, “boys will be boys. It’s just locker room talk.”

How many women’s careers have been ruined or derailed by refusing men’s advances? Women ask themselves when in these situations, “Are the consequences worth exposing their harassers?

It is time for the women to band together and report such transgressions. We then need to support the brave women who come forward. And, we need to teach our young girls it is not alright for men to talk about us in a sexual way. It is not alright for men to touch our bodies without permission. It is not alright to think of women as inferior. It is not alright to retaliate for rejected advances.

I am strong. I am woman.