–a guest post by Janna Benge
Charlie Rose? My head is reeling. The “Me Too” movement is engulfing men I have looked up to as leaders in their fields.
Every new instance brought into the light of day makes me incredibly angry. Angry on behalf of all of the young women who are going to work today – not just to do a job that they worked very hard to qualify for: getting good grades in high school, signing up for community service credits, sitting up late to write essays, graduating to college where they and their families often eek out just enough money to put them through a 4 or 5-year degree because it will be worth it in the end. They will have a good job, make good money, be able to pay back the student loans. They hone their resume, buy a professional outfit for the interview and land an entry level job in their chosen field. Then wham. Some old creep, who himself climbed the corporate ladder 40 years ago, in large part due to male entitlement, corners her in a supply cupboard, or asks for a back massage when he should be asking for a file, or needs an assistant to accompany him on an overnight stay and then insists she have late night drinks with him.
This is why I am mad. How many thousands, hundreds of thousands, of excellently qualified, capable young women have fled their jobs because of sexual harassment in the work place? I believe we are just starting to hear their voices. Not only are they sexually harassed and they and their partners have to bear the trauma of that; but they are repulsed and even blacklisted from the career they have spent a lifetime planning and paying for. Where is justice for these women? We are putting an emotional value on sexual harassment in the work place; it’s time we put a monetary value on it too. This is not “hush money,” this is compensation for damage done to careers. It’s time women spoke up. “Charlie Rose’s behavior (insert any number of names) made me give up my career path, or take a less ambitious one. I estimate I have lost over $xxxx because of this. I still owe $xxx in student loans for a job I no longer have the stomach for because of his behavior.”
It is not fair that young women are routinely put in this position. It is not fair that they can do everything “right” and still not be judged by the same standards of young men who, for the most part, are not required to endure these things. How many potentially spectacular careers have been cut down by a furtive squeeze on the knee, the “jokes” about a woman’s body, or some sleazy old man requiring a young woman to listen to his sexual dreams and fantasies?
Up until now I’ve cringed when another man is named as a workplace sexual harrasser, especially when it’s someone I admire professionally, but from now on I am going to cheer. It’s out in the open. No more women will suffer in silence thinking they are the only one he’s done this to, or that no one will believe them over him. Yes, he might lose his job, his marriage, his future earnings – but now many young women has he already taken those very things from?
Janna Benge is originally from New Zealand. She is president of the Kerouac Project of Orlando and a local writer. She’s a wife, mom and grandma. Janna did not pursue her first career choice because the man she worked for kept leaning over her closely, confiding in her about his marital sex woes and resting his hand on hers. At sixteen she felt threatened and vulnerable. She never told anyone why she declined the job.