Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mothers, Teach Your Daughters about the Herman Cains of the World

As Herman Cain strives to rise above the sexual harassment allegations dogging his run for the presidency (and I do mean “dogging”), almost every woman out there is uncomfortably recalling some former teacher, boss or neighbor who did the same things to her.
I have no idea if Cain is innocent or not. I suspect not, since more than one woman has come forward. The important thing about these stories is that here's one of those golden teachable moments: every mother should educate her daughters about the Herman Cains of the world.
I have been in similar situations as Cain's accusers. Most of the men who touched me or said inappropriate things did not frighten me. But these events did make me feel sour and wretched afterward, as if I had somehow caused them to happen.
For starters, there was the neighbor I babysat for who offered me a raise if I “just touched him a little in the car.” I was fourteen at the time.
One college professor—Sociology of Religions, of all things—took me to lunch and promised me an A if I went to Bermuda with him. There was another, less playful chemistry professor who showed up at my apartment when I was home with the flu, under the pretense of bringing me a lab report I could revise. He then proceeded to try and rape me. Lucky for me, he was crying about his divorce at the time, so I was able to fight him off despite having a fever of 102.
Shall I go on? Sure. While putting myself through college, I worked as a waitress in a restaurant. The owner of that place was a notorious groper—not just me, but any waitress was in danger if she made the mistake of being alone in the kitchen with him. His wife was a hostess in the dining room, but none of us ever spoke up because we needed the tuition money.
In one of my first jobs after college, the vice president of the publishing company I worked for promised to make me an editor if I gave him a blow job. “I won't even come in your mouth,” he wheedled. “It'll only take a minute.”
Years later, I worked as a PR consultant in a school district. There, my boss loved to take me to lunch. He never tried to touch me, but constantly referred admiringly to my “shelf,” as he so delicately put it.
Shall I go on? Nah. You get the idea. In fact, if you're a woman reading this, you probably got the idea long ago. Like me, you were probably neither stunningly beautiful nor desperate for attention, yet various men in power seemed to think that it was perfectly legit to make sexually explicit suggestions or advances.
These incidents did not damage me, but that's only because I am one of those fortunate women who had a strong, independent mother as a role model. My mom was a Navy wife accustomed to fending for herself; she taught me early on that there was nothing a man can do for me on the job that I can't do for myself. I managed to sidestep these men and keep moving forward in my life without them.
I hope that I have successfully taught our two blonde, gorgeous daughters—one a newly minted college graduate, the other about to complete her degree--about the Herman Cains of the world. I want our girls to be confident enough about their own intelligence and abilities to know that, when certain men make advances or inappropriate remarks, they don't have to put up with it.
I didn't speak out when these things happened to me, but I wish that I had. I hope that my girls, and generations after them, will know that our voices give us power.

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