REPRESENTATIVE ESTY PLAYED A CRITICAL ROLE IN PERPETUATING WORKPLACE HARRASSMENT
I remember being a young newbie to the business world. Everything seemed so full of potential and I was eager to get involved in all of it. I took relationships at face value, naive to someone else’s intentions. This all changed for me one afternoon when I was in a meeting with my manager. I was standing next to him; answering some question he had asked me when I felt his hands up my skirt. He had grabbed my pussy. I froze, not really understanding what was going on. I made some excuse to leave and went back to my desk. I sat their shaking, wondering where I had gone wrong. He is a nice guy, married with kids so it must be me. No matter how I approached him or kept my distance from him, he would find ways to get close to me, to grab me and caress me in the most private places. This was not the first time that something like this had happened to me. I’d been a victim of sexual harassment and assault before. But I saw myself as the problem. This wasn’t just my own thinking, but the messages I’d been receiving from my communities through my childhood. Women dress and do things that turn men into monsters. It’s our fault, not theirs. I kept quiet and endured his actions until I couldn’t. Then I left. I loved that company and the people around me. I’m still friends with some of my colleagues. But I’ve never spoken of this to them. I’ve always felt a sense of shame over it. Disgusted that it happened and ashamed that I didn’t tell anyone. But then again, who was going to listen? How many young women were victims to his grabby hands? How many people knew about it but kept quiet? Did he every brag about it or suggest that I was an eager participant. Some kinds of sexual deviant who enjoyed elicit ‘manhandling’ throughout the day?
Flash forward to the news about a young female staff member in Representative Esty’s office who was experiencing her own kind of hell at work. Esty’s lack or response and empathy for the perpetrator made me lash out in anger. I am one of the voices calling for her resignation. I still stand by my reaction. Now what might not know is that I am a co-organizer of Women’s March CT. I am lucky to be surrounded by an amazing group of intelligent, competent and well-spoken women. Our diversity and combined experience in politics, activism as well as our academic and professional interests creates a space for many deep conversations and learning opportunities. Our group struggled with this Esty’s response, or lack thereof. This is not because we believe she did nothing wrong. It’s because she’s ultimately a part of the same misogynistic system that is pervasive in our society. My brilliant colleague and friend, Jillian Gilchrest wrote this informative op-ed on how systems don’t effectively address workplace harassment. It is one that puts perpetrators before victims. It is one that always has had empathy for men and blamed women. In this case Esty is taking the blame. She is, in some way, also a victim. I get that. We need more women in positions of power so we can turn the tide on this. We need to create systems that support women and don’t silence them. But this goes beyond politics for me. It goes beyond systems. Systems are made to silence and silence those who don’t co-operate. They are made to keep the patriarchal machine rolling forever. Unfortunately she has become part of that system by taking these two voluntary actions:
She gave him a stellar recommendation. His behavior in the workplace and towards women was never mentioned. This was not an isolated incident. Other women had complained about violent nature. But this part of his history was masked, to easily move to another position in another organization and create more victims, who would have no idea that they weren’t the only ones. Maybe they too would be silenced. Can you see how this repeats itself, leaving many female victims in its wake? He was given more empathy than his victim. THAT IS THE SYSTEM;
He was recommended to work for an organization dedicated to ending violence. Women in the US are 16x more likely to be shot and killed than in any other developed country. America is a dangerous country for women. This is a serious issue. How unconscionable it seems to encourage a violent man to work for an anti-violence group. Men have always been marketed as our saviors, and yet they are the one’s that also hurt us. They are the one’s who have made the rules in order to keep us at bay, easy prey. SHE DIDN’T HAVE TO BE PART OF THIS MACHINE.
I cannot speak to what happened in her office when all of this was going on. But what I can speak to is being a young victim of sexual assault in the workplace. I can speak to how vulnerable and isolated I felt. I can speak to how that experience impacted me physically, psychologically and emotionally. I can speak to how leaving that position impacted me economically. I can speak to how I wish someone else had stood up for me. Someone who had more power. Someone who would be believed. Someone who could change the tide for me. That didn’t happen. It’s still not happening. No matter the situation, at the very least (and I mean the very least) she didn’t have to give him a great recommendation. She could have started there. In that action, it was not the system protecting him it was she.