A Modern Mother's Me Too
It was the fall of 1989, and I was a 22-year-old recent college graduate and a reporter for the Arkansas Gazette, assigned to the newspaper’s bureau in the southwest quadrant of the state. One of the ongoing stories I covered was the Malvern School District’s violations of open meetings laws. After one of my stories ran, the superintendent, an older, balding, fat white guy, summoned me to his office. I thought it was for a follow-up interview. He intended it to be a scolding.
I sat in a chair across his desk from him, with my slim reporter’s notebook on my knee, pen poised above. I was taken aback when he proceeded to berate me about my coverage and saying that “if you were my daughter, I would put you over my knee and spank you.”
Mortified, I got out of there. I complained to my editors, who did nothing, as I recall. Then I reported the superintendent’s behavior to the chair of the school board. He apologized profusely – although the superintendent certainly never did – and the chair sent me flowers a few days later, which was sort of creepy. I guess women who are insulted while merely trying to do their jobs can be mollified by flowers. A public censure, a sincere apology and sexual harassment training would have meant a hell of a lot more.
Like many women, I seem to have spent the last couple of weeks combing my personal and professional memories of interactions with men, men in power, in particular. Fortunately, my experiences have never bordered on assault. Mostly insult. I wasn’t emotionally scarred. Mostly pissed.
These days, the harassment I seem to experience is less overt. It’s the car salesman who asks my adult daughter and me if there’s “anyone else who will be involved in the decision” to buy a car that day. Then he touches my arm to guide me to another part of the showroom. Or, it’s the tech guy in my office who mansplains data projectors to me – as I am completing a master’s degree in communication. Or the former boss who leans back in his chair, props his feet up on his desk and plants his hands behind his head, elbows outstretched, and demands to know how my newest project would benefit him. Clearly, it’s sexism, a far cry from sexual assault.
Perhaps it’s my age, but I’m more comfortable calling men out on these petty actions than I was in my 20s. But I worry about my daughter who is the same age I was when the superintendent threatened me. She’s entering the male-dominated field of forestry and recreation. After being injured on the job this past summer, she filed a worker’s comp claim with the state. Several weeks ago, she was talking on the phone with a male case worker trying to get information on her pending claim. Complaining about a heavy caseload, the man grew increasingly combative and impatient.
As he raised his voice, my daughter told him that he was making her feel insignificant and that he wasn’t explaining himself clearly. Then she hung up, just before her voice trembled. Then, she emailed his boss to report his behavior.
She was unafraid of the possible consequences for reporting the case worker to his supervisor – that he might sabotage her case. She was pissed. And I was proud.