This is the first time that I am saying this in a semi-public space: I have endured harassment for a significant time during my adult life.
I don’t want to get into the specifics of it right now, but this experience and talking about it with people has brought up issues that have convinced me that there might be some deeply rooted misconceptions about harassment that need some busting.
1. If you read the first lines and thought to yourself, “wow, she must be cute/pretty” you are captive to the first myth that sexual harassment has something to do with the person’s sexual appeal. All harassment is ultimately about power and control and has little to do with that person’s “appeal” to the harasser. That’s just the language used to justify the harasser’s degrading behaviors towards the person they are harassing. [“Oh, I couldn’t resist. S/he’s just too cute!” “S/he’s just so attractive. I just had to say something.”]
2. The second myth is that the harassed did not stand up enough against the harasser. If you think of the fact that harassment stems from a control issue, you would come to realize that the harassed might have said “no” in many ways, but this was not heeded. This totally makes sense since harassment is the game of “I don’t like that you won’t yield to my power so I am going to find a way to get you to submit” (from the harasser’s perspective). Then, dismissing or downplaying what that person says would suddenly become key to that game because, well, if the harasser listens to that request, then the game ends with the harassed “winning”! And this, in a way, is one way to spot true “harassment” and “harassing” behavior as opposed to simple cluelessness.
People are surprised when I tell them I was harassed particularly for such a long time (on and off for seven years) because I don’t fit the characterization of who they think is “likely to be harassed,” I guess. I am, as one person said, “a no BS kind of a person.” That’s right. I generally don’t sit around pretending nothing is wrong if I see something.
I am also not easily threatened by people and not especially threatened by men either. And I suspect this is one of the reasons I was such an attractive target for the harasser. It was all in the challenge of, How and when can I get her to submit? The answer was never, but I’ve paid for it in the trajectory my career has taken. And I would say, that sucks big time, but that I am also far from alone.