Christmas was swell. Thank you to everyone who helped make it bright and shiny this year. And now, as we ease into the new year, I have decided to add my bit to the raging sexual harassment conversation.
I have had a lot of bosses in my life—my first editor, Jan, who taught an innocent intern some choice swear words; Pat, who coached me through my divorce; Erle, who threw things at us when he was displeased; Bill, who worried about everything, and Tom, who worried about nothing. But I will never forget Chuck.
I was 23, newly married and newly graduated from journalism school. It was the age of long hair and short skirts. Chuck, probably in his 50s, published a trade newspaper for the appliance and electronics industries. I didn’t have great interest in those subjects, but I needed a job. I showed up in my best mini-dress, and he hired me immediately as his editor. I would be the only employee. In addition to writing articles, taking photos, proofing ads, and delivering copies of the paper to our advertisers, I would also be expected to attend evening events with him. I was so excited about the editor part I glossed over the rest.
Our first event was in San Francisco. I rode with Chuck in his Buick. I was supposed to take pictures and write a story. We walked into a cocktail party full of men in suits. Chuck slipped his arm around my waist and introduced me to his friends. Then he led me to the bar and asked what I wanted to drink. “Water,” I said. I was on a diabetic diet and not drinking at all. Besides, we were working. He narrowed his eyes, then sent me off to take a picture. I had trouble with the dim lighting and the unfamiliar camera with its huge flash attachment. As I struggled to get my shots and write peoples’ names on my steno pad, Chuck waltzed over, exchanged a laugh with his cronies about his new assistant and handed me a glass. I took a sip. Vodka. I set it back on the bar and walked away. He scowled at me.
Chuck hung close to me all evening, often touching, making it appear to his friends that I was his date, while I kept trying to do my job. The event was the kickoff for a new brand of recording tape. The topic was dull and incomprehensible to me, but I took notes, took pictures, and tried to form a story in my head. Chuck was trying to form a different kind of story.
He took me to a restaurant afterward. I sat in the bench seat opposite him. He got up and sat next to me, so close we were thigh to thigh. “I’m hard of hearing,” he said. I moved away; he moved closer. I have no idea what we ate. I don’t think I was hungry. I do know that I protested the vodka stunt and that he spent most of the meal lecturing me about how I needed a better attitude, that I would not get full pay until my attitude improved.
“I just want to keep this professional,” I said. “I’m married. I just want to do my job.”
I worked hard. Most days, Chuck wasn’t in the office. Instead he left cassette tapes on which he had dictated instructions and stories for me to type up. I could hear the clinking of his glass in the background. His speech would become increasingly slurred until I could barely understand him. I diligently did my editorial tasks and continued to insist I was not interested in a personal relationship. I loved my husband. Chuck was old, ugly, and a drunk. After that first time, I insisted on driving myself in my beat-up VW to interviews and events. Chuck did not like that.
I never did get full pay. After five months, Chuck walked in one day after lunch and fired me. Officially he had decided he needed a secretary more than an editor. But we both knew the real reason.
It was the ‘70s. I didn’t know how to file an abuse claim. He didn’t physically harm me. I moved on to a much better job.
Every woman who worked in those days had to put up with sleazy bosses and co-workers with sex on their minds. I have had men come on to me during interviews and while I was walking down the street. I’ve had men try to get me drunk and try to get me naked. It was “normal” behavior and male bosses would side with their male employees if we complained.
Now, women are coming forward, exposing what men did to them in the past. I applaud their courage. Wrongs are finally being righted. Call me politically incorrect, but I also grieve for the otherwise wonderful men whose lives are being ruined over their horny transgressions of the past.
At this point, I wouldn’t go after Chuck or any of the other men who acted improperly in the past. I managed to dodge and joke my way through relatively unscathed. Chuck is probably dead now anyway. But as the crusade goes on, I do want to add my voice and say, “Me too.”
How about you?
Let’s hope that in 2018 men and women finally learn how to respect each other.
I wish you all a year full of peace and blessings.