This article was originally published in October 2017 on the Our Voice blog on Medium and has been removed to focus their content due to their reorganization as a 501c3. I will republish certain articles that I contributed to that platform here on Undercovered Magazine.
In response to the harassment, assault, and rape allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, a beautiful thing has happened. Women have found their voice and are using it all over social media. The pot has boiled over and scalding hot tales of every day abuse are going viral in a massive, unified cry to end America’s rape culture. More predators are being outed such as Andy Signore and James Toback. Even Barstool Sports for its oppressive employment clause intended to silence claims of harassment.
Thousands of women screaming “me too!”
The loudest voice presently belongs to Rose McGowan.
I knew Rose. It was a long time ago at Hollywood High School for only a fleeting moment. We both only attended for our sophomore year. I didn’t know her well, but rather as an acquaintance, a fellow classmate. We were enrolled in the Performing Arts Magnet program attending classes together such as drama, dance, and choir. It was a small program that was fairly isolated from the rest of the student body. Only a few dozen of us attended several classes together and sat on the steps of the library during morning breaks and lunches.
The library building also housed two classrooms, occupied by various drama teachers, and included a couple of small stages. It was rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a former school employee named Olivia who famously would turn the lights off when she felt the teachers had overworked the students. The lights in the building would sometimes mysteriously shut off near the end of our rehearsals.
I don’t remember much of Rose other than she often spoke of acting prospects and her agent. To me, as a young, self-centered teen, she came across as pretentious and off-putting. Conversely, I was unfocused, but energetic; flaky, but passionate. I was more interested in teenage stuff like ditching afternoon classes to sneak off to the Depeche Mode signing at Tower Records in Beverly Hills. Yes, a handful of friends and I were in the thick of the Depeche Mode riot, but that’s a story for another day.
In hindsight, I realize Rose was very driven whereas my head was in the clouds. Therefore, my perception of her was probably unfair. She really was just another kid in class with big ambitions.
However, her recent bravery to speak out against Harvey Weinstein has inspired me to share as well. Since the initial New York Times bombshell, almost 50 women have come forward with horror stories of Weinstein’s abuse. I hope that I can help bring this societal problem to light with a handful of my stories, not to be construed as the full collection as I have many more tales to tell. Sometimes it takes more than just one voice. And so, I hereby join the chorus and bring with me stories from other women who have been victimized.
Men Who Prey on Teens
Hollywood High was the first place where I experienced unwanted, inappropriate touching. Of all the personal stories I’m sharing in this article, this incident is causing me the most anxiety. I spent some time reading comments in Hollywood High alumni groups and came across some former students who had fond admiration and nostalgic feelings for this teacher. That only makes this more difficult to put pen to paper.
I was 15 years old and reading my lines for a play on stage at the Hollywood High auditorium; the big stage. Our class had only recently received the script, and this was an early read through. No blocking (movement for the scene) had been established. My male drama teacher asked me to stand on a certain spot next to him with my back facing the wall. All my classmates were in front of me and unable to see behind me.
He put his hand on my bottom and held it the entire time I read the scene. I was frozen in fear and disbelief. His instructions to me just before hand were not to move (which didn’t make any sense because we didn’t have blocking yet).
Everyone was in front of me and there had been no sign of suspicious or creepy behavior from him prior to this incident. It was surreal, and I barely believed it was happening. So how would my classmates react if I said something?
My mind was shutting down; I was pretending it wasn’t happening. As soon as the scene was done, I walked five paces away. I kept a safe distance from him from then on and fortunately transferred out of Hollywood High at the end of the year.
You never know where sexual harassment will strike or what coffee table conversations it will leave you. In my early 20s, I went to see some band friends play at a local club in Lake Forest, CA. I knew probably a dozen or more people in attendance that night. The club was packed, and the music was very loud.
An ominous bouncer with dark blonde hair standing roughly 6’6″ in height took a liking to me. I’ll never forget his face. There was evil lurking behind his cold blue eyes. No, he didn’t rape me, but whenever I hear Sublime’s Date Rape, I envision this bouncer.
He offered to buy me a drink. I turned him down. He followed me around the club and was constantly lurking in my peripheral vision. I did my best to ignore him and stay close to my friends. As the band performed, I stood next to a close friend in front of the right side of the stage. It was a packed house with wall-to-wall people. The bouncer tapped me on my shoulder and started hitting on me again. I was far more direct this time and told him to please leave me alone as I was not interested.
At this point, he turned violent. It happened very quickly and in the confusion of so many people, nobody intervened, not even my friends. He shoved me hard on the shoulders repeatedly, pushing me right out the door. I was barely able to keep from falling over in my platform boots.
Once I was thrown outside he yelled “you’re 86ed!!”
It took a while for my friends to find me. Since I was there with the band, the manager asked me to speak with him in his office. In tears, I explained what happened and told the manager that his employee was a dangerous predator to women.
He didn’t believe me.
The bouncer had told the manager that I slapped him across the face. The manager was inclined to believe his employee over me.
Often, people are unable to discern between personal and professional behavior. It can result in a lack of respect for others that may escalate into harassment and a hostile working environment. Over the course of my career, I was interviewed as a witness in three separate harassment incidents.
The first was an HR investigation at a large corporation where I was hired into a sales position. The position started with 12 weeks of sales and technical training. I was seated in the front row with an exceptionally large box monitor on the desk only about 10 inches from my face. There was one other student sitting at my table.
Shortly after training ended and I was in my new telesales role, a representative from the HR department called me in to an interview. I was asked if I had observed the student sitting next to me, who was male, making any sort of faces at the female trainer. Did I notice the student linger after class to talk to the female trainer?
It pains me that I had nothing to offer. The class configuration was as such that my only focus was on the computer screen. I was very unhelpful and tremendously sorry that I couldn’t corroborate her story. Whether related or not, the trainer resigned soon after the investigation was complete.
The second investigation was years later. I worked for a company with a very young staff; most who were fresh out of college. One of the members of my team was pregnant, as were a few other women in our building. There was some discussion about converting an unused office into a breast-feeding and pumping room since these women would all be new mothers soon.
A few of my team members who were seated near the vacant office began to loudly complain and say some rather vulgar and inappropriate things about what would happen in that office. There was an HR investigation. I was interviewed as a witness. As far as I know, nothing of consequence happened. One of the individuals involved was even promoted shortly thereafter.
The third investigation was into a blatantly offensive incident, once again attacking the pregnant team member. She was speaking with a male coworker about a client when he blurted out “the turkey’s done” upon observing her full, pregnant breasts. I heard the whole thing and was once again interviewed by the HR department. And once again, nothing of consequence appeared to happen.
He remained on staff to commit one final offense, for which I was not present for as a witness. He allegedly threw an open condom at her during an offsite lunch and was finally terminated.
Consider, my pregnant teammate endured at least three acts of harassment in a professional office setting, on the job, before anyone was fired.
Men in Power
Many predators, like Harvey Weinstein, use their position of power to abuse women. Jenny, a photographer and mother, shares her story:
When I was 18, I was sexually harassed by my 62-year-old director at my job. Weeks of harassment finally led to my breaking point. He followed me in the woman’s restroom and pinned me to the wall. I fought him off and told him to back away before I started screaming.
The next day shaken, I went to the VP who was female. I thought she would help.
Turns out they were friends and she didn’t believe me. I had my hours cut and was still subjected to work with my harasser who now made my life a living hell and punishing me for every turn I made.
Dejected, I ended up quitting.
My parents taught me to respect everybody no matter what position they are in that included myself which gave me the ability to not buckle under this higher positioned man. I’m not sure how we can fix this problem that is so prevalent because I wish this was my only incident but, I have many stories like this with different men.
I can tell you this, I’m going to teach my boys about consent and respect for all and I hope you will teach your kids the same.
Oh, and by the way f*&# this guy
Like my friend, I’ve reported to two different male managers who sexually harassed female employees. They were both roughly aged 50+ (I’m being generous) in a work environment with many women in their 20s. They both were inappropriately flirtatious at after-hours work events.
The first manager had a difficult time keeping his eyes off female employees’ breasts, mine included, when conversing in the office.
The second often came to work either intoxicated or hung over. He also accosted me one day in the grocery store near my home. Fresh off a business trip with rosy red checks and glassy eyes, this manager bumped into me while he was purchasing a gallon jug of cheap table wine. Insisting that I meet his family, he asked me to follow him to his car. Introductions were short and quick, but I couldn’t pull myself away before he flung open the door to the back seat where his four-year-old daughter was strapped into the car seat completely naked. He told me she hates wearing clothes.
Given that I had reported several other incidents of my boss’ inappropriate behavior related to drinking and since I was moving out of state in only two weeks, I didn’t report this particular after-hours incident.
I was not privy to the events that resulted in either of my managers’ terminations.
Even those we love and trust have injured us. I was in a seven-year relationship with an alcoholic. He was very smart and funny, but had a tremendously dark side too. Most of his abuse came in the form of toddler-like screaming, puffing himself up, and flinging ugly insults. This was especially bad when he was awoken while intoxicated.
There were two occasions when he shoved me so hard I was lifted off the ground and thrown into a wall. Another time when he slammed my head against the nightstand. And another when he was so intoxicated that he fell asleep on my living room couch while naked from the waist down after urinating all over my kitchen floor.
The love was completely gone for at least the entire last year we together. He had gotten a DUI and so my family and I helped him get back on his feet by driving him to and from work and letting him continue to live with me.
However, he wouldn’t stop drinking.
On our final night together, he had taken my son (who was 17 at the time) and me to a concert. He was angry from the moment we stepped in line and had probably already started drinking at home before we left. Throughout the night, he went through wild mood swings of anger to crazed humor. At one point, he was standing, staring into space while arching so far back that it looked as if he would pass out while standing up.
Occasionally, he would walk up behind me and grope me. This was not out of sexual attraction or love; this was purposely to humiliate me in public. To dominate me. To violate me.
When we walked back to my car, he was still complaining about the concert, about me, about everything. He threw a fit and stormed off, so we left him there.
He had to call a cab to come back to my house. By the time he arrived, I had barricaded the door to my bedroom. He tried to kick it down. Fortunately, my son was already a big boy standing 6’ tall. My ex-boyfriend realized he had no choice but to sleep on the couch.
I promptly evicted him the next morning.
Men Aren’t the Only Offenders
My first real job as an adult was as a stylist’s assistant at an upscale salon in Bel Air, CA. It was an exciting and important opportunity for me at 18-years-old. So much so that I commuted 140+ miles round trip each day for this minimum wage position.
I was only there for a few weeks when it started. The senior assistant to the owner of the salon was responsible for training all the other assistants, including me. I reported directly to a stylist but had dotted line reporting to the senior assistant. She apparently found me attractive. First it was innocently placing her hand on my back while my hands were occupied working on a client. Then shoulder massages. Finally escalating to touching my bottom.
I resigned without a word. It was clear to me that had I said anything, I would’ve been accused of homophobia. She had been planting seeds for that narrative, calling me uptight, among other things, in front of the staff.
Oddly enough, I’ve had a fair few incidents of harassment from women, but not nearly as many as I’ve had from men.
Many men like hiding behind a computer screen. The lack of audible tone gives them the ability to cast doubt on their victims as misinterpreting their comments or reacting neurotically. This is illustrated in Figure 5, which is a comment I received when discussing a news topic on a friend’s Facebook wall.
Facebook, as well as Twitter, doesn’t have an option to report misogynistic comments. Had this individual replaced the words “woman” and “sweetheart” with descriptors such as “homosexual” or “cripple” or a comparable derogatory term for “sweetheart,” or targeted any person of color in that sentence, the comment most likely would have broken the Terms of Service. But it didn’t, because Facebook, Twitter, and frankly our entire society, has accepted that it’s okay to devalue, patronize, and dehumanize women.
However, I’ve received far worse comments than this in the past, including from men who have been in my direct acquaintance for many years. Men who perpetuate a culture of silence and insist that we should “keep it real” and not report abuse to message board administration. Men who believe they are feminists while at the same time spewing the most vulgar profanities and derogatory words for female anatomy. Men who believe they have superior philosophy, aptitude, and intelligence who are unwilling to value the knowledge of their female peers. Men who openly perform these abuses against women online and are still embraced by many of my acquaintances.
This attitude is helped along by media personalities like Bill Maher, Fox News, and many others who scoff at our claims of inequality and insensitivity and by telling us to accept non-PC humor.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration.” Furthermore, the CDC states that “approximately 1 in 20 women and men (5.6% and 5.3%, respectively) experienced sexual violence other than rape, such as being made to penetrate someone else, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, or non-contact unwanted sexual experiences, in the 12 months prior to the survey.”
“42.2% of female rape victims were first raped before age 18.”
Despite all the harassment described above, everything I’ve experienced and observed over my life is trivial compared to what Natasha endured:
Here is my story. When I was 10 years old, my grandparents came for a visit and stayed with us for six months.
This is what I remember about it.
My grandfather said to me “your mom asked me to look at you to see when you are going to get your period and become a woman.” I didn’t think much of it. After all, he did deliver all nine of his kids.
That’s where it started. He would touch me and tell me he needed to help me to get my period and become a woman. I didn’t understand what he meant.
Every opportunity he had that we were alone it would happen. I even remember him shoving my hand down his pants. I felt disgusted and pulled my hand back out. I remember him on top of me. I got upset, pushed him off me, and ran outside.
I know that I don’t remember everything. However, I am ok with that. I do remember the moment I realized what my grandfather had done to me was wrong. I was in class and we were watching a cartoon movie about a mouse whose uncle touched her under her bathing suit. All the kids in the class laughed. I remember thinking that was me. Still didn’t want to tell.
I told my mom when I was 12 because was put in a mental hospital. My mom thought I had behavioral issues. I was in group therapy. I soon realized I had something in common with some of these kids. I felt that I had to tell my mom first. So, when she came to visit. I told her.
She didn’t want to believe it but asked me not to tell anybody what I told her especially my dad. Because he would kill my grandfather.
When I was 14, I decided to tell my dad. His eyes nearly popped out of his head. A few years later when we could talk about it he said to me that it explained my behavior on a night that he couldn’t understand. He said that my mom, grandma and he had gone to take my dog for a walk. I came running after them very upset and crying why did you leave me there?
My dad had been puzzled they didn’t leave me alone. I was with my grandfather.
Now he understood.
You Are Hurting Us All
Politicians and pundits think it’s quite clever to weaponize allegations of abuse for smear campaigns. Let me be clear that our pain is not your political strategy. You are hurting us every single time you use claims of harassment or assault to sink a candidate or other political opposition. You are the reason victims are blamed. You are the reason victims are doubted. You and your nefarious and politically motivated attacks are hurting us, and it needs to stop.
Every time you knew and looked the other way, you are hurting us.
Every time you suggest there was something we could’ve done to prevent the harassment or abuse, you are hurting us.
Every time you try to legislate our bodies, you hurt us. Every time you try to control us by taking away healthcare options, you hurt us.
Every time you act to protect your own interests rather than do the right thing, you are hurting us.
How dare you withhold vital information about a candidate’s character until one month or even just a few days before an election? How dare you seek attention and fame by devaluing the claims of others? How dare you attempt to ruin people for your political gain? How dare you flippantly defend a predator when there’s money on the line?
You are nothing but opportunists. Evil, soulless sociopaths. You are the reason a misogynist and alleged rapist occupies the White House. You are the reason the other choice was a woman who attacks victims and enables predators.
CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and all mainstream media outlets, how dare you decide which victims we should believe based on your political leanings? How dare you contribute to the nonsense that suppresses women with real claims?
Every single time you sit on allegations of sexual abuse for your October surprise, you hurt us. Do you think we were all born yesterday and are unable to read a calendar? Do you think we don’t know your sources for these bombshells are only a safe degree of plausible deniability away from the opposing campaigns?
Stop trivializing our pain.
Where Do We Go From Here?
- We need to start with the men in our lives, especially the boys, and teach them what consent is. Teaching boys and girls about consent needs to be a part of all sexual education classes. This is the most important lesson they will learn.
- More challenging will be changing societal attitudes. An easy way to act is to boycott media that promotes gender stereotypes and insensitive humor or opinion editorials (Op Eds). Stop feeding the beast with your valuable viewing statistics. Let’s stop glorifying oppressive humor and commentary.
- Volunteer at a charitable organization to help victims of abuse. There is a comprehensive list by State on Wikipedia.
- Check your own behavior.
- Ask your friends and family if they’ve been hurt. Actively listen to victims of harassment and assault, don’t advise or second guess. Be there and be ready to help.
- Don’t condone bad behavior in family, friends, politicians, and celebrities simple because you admire something else about that person. Be real about their faults and insist they change and face consequences. Don’t enable toxic and hurtful behavior.
- Don’t tell us that you don’t want this to happen to your daughter, sister, etc., tell us that you don’t want it to happen to anyone.
- Call your State and Local representatives and tell them to continue funding for women’s health coverage. Being a woman shouldn’t be a pre-existing condition.
- Support Medicare for All proposals at the State and National level to ensure victims have full health coverage including mental health.
- There must be more severe consequences for sexual assault. The sentencing for these crimes is an absolute joke and a reflection of how legislators in this country couldn’t care less about women.
After reading the Weinstein allegations and learning of the abuse Rose endured, I reached out to her on Facebook to tell her that I admired her bravery. It probably went straight to her spam folder, but nonetheless I wanted her to know that I remembered her, and she affected me in a positive way. Some may say that by including Rose in this article I have exploited the small acquaintance that I had. Perhaps I have. Nevertheless, I think Rose would appreciate the reason why. In sharing my stories and the stories of my friends who were willing to be a part of this article, we have officially joined the #RoseArmy.
And just maybe the positive influence isn’t only one-sided. I like to fancy that I may have influenced Rose too. She buzzed her hair a couple years back apparently to obtain a more androgynous, less sexual look.
Kinda reminds me of someone, but it’s probably just a coincidence. I doubt she remembers me.