Friday, December 15, 2017

RHYS POSTS ON THE #METOO MOVEMENT

RHYS BOWEN: Usually on Jungle Red Writers we stay well clear of controversy. We are, after all, a welcoming and friendly community. But last week Time Magazine made those women who broke the silence about sexual abuse in the world-place people of the year and I felt I couldn't let this moment go by without commenting, based on my experience of writing historical novels.

It seems as if the flood gates have opened with the #metoo movement and the only thing that surprises me is that so many people (mostly men but not all) are surprised. 'This can't really be going on to this extent' is one comment I've heard. Those women are making it up for personal gain or revenge. I've heard that too.

But I think all of us who have ever been in the work place can think of at least one occasion when we were made uncomfortable by a man's comment, even if we weren't physically abused. I used to work in BBC drama and of course actors are terribly touchy-feely. It never really bothered me but then it wasn't the same as being put into an embarrassing position by a boss--one who had power and could terminate or damage a career.

Those who act surprised should realize there is a long history of men using power over women. In my Molly Murphy novels, set in early 1900s New York City women cannot vote. They can't own property. They can legally be beaten by their husbands and it only takes a husband plus one doctor's signature to have a woman committed to an insane asylum for life. (And one of the reasons for mental instability was listed as READING NOVELS, so beware!)

This was really long ago, you say and yet let's skip forward to the 1950s. A popular song was Wives and Lovers. The first verse went, Hey, little girl, fix your hair, fix your makeup. Soon he will open the door...."
And the second verse said, "Day after day there are girls at the office and men will always be men."

There are two things I'd like to point out about this. The first is that she's addressed as "Little girl". Not "Hey, grown woman, fix your hair...."  And the female employees are also "girls.'
But it's not Boys will always be boys.
It's "men will always be men."

And that's the excuse. The age-old excuse. Men will always be men. It's in their nature. If a man and a woman are in the same room the man will want to grab the woman. Nothing you can do about it. This has excused bad behavior for centuries. It's the same rationale that puts Muslim women into burkas... because the sight of them could inflame the passions of strange men.

So I hope this current awakening will change things. I hope men will be told "When you are at work you control your passions. You save them for a female who is interested in pursuing a relationship with you!

Will things really change now? Maybe they will if every woman, on every occasion, looks the man calmly in the face and says, "That is not an acceptable remark. That is not an acceptable action" And our girls are brought up to understand that they never, ever have to do anything they don't want to. That no means no. Calm and confident refusal is probably the biggest turn-off anyway! There is nothing more scary than a calm and confident woman.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this! Do you have stories you'd like to share?

59 comments:

  1. There have been so many stories . . . and it’s all so sad.
    If everyone treated every other person with respect and in the way they would like to be treated themselves, the reasons for conversations such as this wouldn’t exist.
    I hope our daughters and granddaughters find their workplaces more welcoming and kind.

    As for “one of the reasons for mental instability was listed as READING NOVELS” . . . what a stunningly idiotic idea.
    I might have had something more to say about it, but I was too busy reading a novel . . . .

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    1. it reminds me of the American Puritans saying that singing or was it dancing is the work of the devil.

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  2. Thank you, Rhys. Weren't those women incredibly brave?! When I saw Time's choice I cheered quite loudly. YES!!!

    For now, I'll simply say my #metoo experiences began when I was four years old (a supposed friend of our family) and continued into my 30s (in public, at parties, at work). They left me with what the late Robert B. Parker called "carnivorous rage," and have taken decades of work to deal with.

    My experiences have made me hyper-aware of situations around me, of what relationships are like between children and adults, etc., and I'll step in if I believe it's warranted.

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  3. I am, apparently, one of those "calm, confident" women, because I've never experienced the worst of the abuses at work, but in my early career I was often at odds with my most sexist bosses simply because I assumed I was a person with rights, and I was, therefore, often one of the first to get laid off. And I've certainly run into plenty of the petty stuff. I think every woman probably has a sliding scale to judge the severity of the offense by. There is stuff you file a complaint over, and stuff you just roll your eyes at, but there's almost always stuff of some sort from somebody. I'm very glad women are speaking out about this now, and readjusting our awareness on a national level. To use another mid-century pop culture reference, remember the advice from the musical "How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying": A Secretary is Not a Toy. Sexist power games have no place on the job.

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  4. I don't have stories that I am ready to share, but I will say that in the 1970s I worked as an executive secretary in New York City and we were referred to as "sexateries" by some of the executive staff and we were expected to laugh at the joke. The man I worked for was a wonderful, moral, family man who ran interference for me with the other executives so I was lucky, but that did not stop the invitations from others.

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    1. Reminds me of the Anita Hill - Clarence Thomas hearings. Someone told me that her father, an executive, is on several boards. Other executives threatened that if Clarence Thomas was NOT confirmed, then the board of directors would NOT hire women to work for their companies! Her father was shocked!

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  5. Although the floodgates have opened due to the #METOO movement, I doubt much will change in the workplace. Having worked in a largely male-dominated profession I certainly got to experience unwanted advances from co-workers from my very first work placements as a university student. I worked 30 years in both the federal government and university environments. Part of the problem was that there was not a clear policy/protocol on dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace in either of these large institutions. As a supervisor myself, it really was left up to me on what to use/how to orient new hires to the work environment. So more corporate leadership/direction and on-going training of employees is needed to teach/give a refresher on what is acceptable behaviour in the workplace.

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    1. And more women like you in supervisory positions!

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    2. Gigi, I retired from my federal government career in 2016. Managers/supervisors in both the federal government and academia have permanent positions for their entire career (called indeterminate in government, tenure-track in academia), so there is little incentive for changing bad/inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. I knew of only a handful of people who were either demoted or fired, and they had to have done something pretty bad (fraud/theft, plagiarism in academia).

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    3. If boys were allowed to cry instead of being told that boys are not allowed to cry and be tough, then perhaps this sexual harrassment stuff would not happen?

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  6. It's powerful stuff, when women are calm and confident and feel good enough about themselves to push back. I worked in a gas station in the seventies with two good men for boss and senior mechanic who were happy to share what they knew and be respectful. But when I went into an auto parts store or when the tool truck came into the station, I couldn't even get eye contact not to mention actual useful help.

    Along the lines of men calling women girls but themselves men, it's also pervasive that women are called by their first names and men by Mr. Soandso. Start listening.

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  7. Thank you for this post, Rhys. While I have no specific stories to share, as a woman the threat or potential of violence (of some kind along the spectrum) is ever present in my days. My eyes are always wide open, my mind alert, and my body ready to respond to attack (again, of some kind along the spectrum). Violence is a fact of life for women - it's that stark, it's that simple. Being alert - and being calm and confident, as you say, is my strategy for survival.
    This may sound stark and awful to some; to me, it simply makes sense. And for this reason, I love to read books about women who are strong in navigating their way down life's path. I am not interested in reading about women as victims rescued by men. We must be our own s/heroes in our own lives.

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    1. You are right about the constant awareness of violence, Amanda. I work in a fairly isolated building in a dodgy part of town. I hate to be there alone, and won't stay after dark by myself. Some of my male colleagues understand that. Others just know it's a line I won't cross, even though they're not sure why. They've all gotten used to the notion that, if I know in advance that I'll be there alone during the day, I'll bring one of my dogs.

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    2. A friend and I were discussing this point just the other night, Amanda. Perhaps less on outright violence, but on how for career women, even those of us fortunate not to suffer the worst offenses, constant vigilance was just part of our daily lives. Thinking ahead to where a situation might lead, ensuring that one didn't find herself alone with a male in any place or position that could be misconstrued.... It was the accepted price we paid to hold our own in what was undeniably a man's world. It was a layer of mental and physical exhaustion we all faced over and above the work stresses of our male counterparts.

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    3. Amanda, I REFUSE to read mystery novels where women are victims of a serial killer. I like reading about strong women. True that there is the potential of violence against women.

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  8. We’ve come a long way, baby, but we have long way to go. I think that’s what surprised me the most. I really thought we’d made more progress than we had - apparently. Sigh.

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  9. Thanks for highlighting this, Rhys, and to everyone for sharing their experiences and thoughts. I like to think that I'm one of the good guys, but knowing how I like to make a quick joke sometimes, I'm sure that there have been times when I've made a crack without thinking and made someone uncomfortable. I'm trying to be more aware and thoughtful these days, and I don't think I'm the only one. But there is obviously a lot more work to be done in many areas. I think one real need is having many more women in leadership positions in many places.

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    1. Jim, I think one of the problems is there is such a large gray area. It's okay to tell a woman she looks nice today in that outfit. I'd appreciate that. However if I was told it emphasized part of my figure then the line has been crossed.I'd be fine with a man putting a hand on my waist to escort me from the room first but not on my butt. Thys

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    2. I think men have no idea that women have to go through life assessing their situation... do I get into an elevator with this man? should I take a short cut through this dimly lit street? Ride in this train car? Rhys

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    3. That is so true, Rhys. It's exhausting, too.

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    4. Exhausting and also frequent enough that I'm sure we evaluate situations subconsciously.

      I look forward to a day when I'm surprised and not just saddened and angered that it happened yet again to another one of us.

      If you're someone reading this and not comfortable speaking up yet, that's okay, but just know that your experience is significant... No matter the details or how you think it compares (try not to make comparisons). And you are worth more than it may have felt in that moment.

      Thank you Rhys for bringing this up. It's a humanitarian conversation about dignity, decency & universal right vs. wrong... Only by having these conversations and bringing it to light can we hope to change things.

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    5. Rhys, I try to avoid riding in the elevator if possible.

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  11. Thanks for this post, Rhys. I'm thrilled that the world finally seems to be waking up to the abuse and mistreatment that women have endured for so long. However, I find myself incredibly frustrated that women not only have to suffer through it, but also have the burden of convincing others that it happened and the misery that goes along with that. I have suffered through sexual harassment on more than one occasion, and here's the question I struggle with: where are the men, the "allies" when this is going on? To expect a woman, who is generally in a less powerful position, to change this cultural norm all on her own is ridiculous. The good men amongst us need to start speaking up when their peers are inappropriate. If we saw a woman getting her purse snatched, I imagine some bystander would intervene (even if that just meant calling 911), but we don't do the same for women suffering harassment. In the purse snatching, we don't think, "well, she needs to learn how to keep track of her own bag. I'm not going to help her." And yet, people seem to think that if a woman is being harassed or abused she needs to just stand up for herself, problem solved. "Allies" need to act, not just send warm fuzzy thoughts. We're all in this together.

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    1. That attitude puts the onus on women, in every part of the situation, ignoring the fact that men should change THEIR behavior.

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    2. Ingrid, your comment reminded me of something. My father told me a long time ago that when he heard a man sexually harrassing a woman, he tried to help the woman. The woman got angry at my father and said it was a private discussion and that she did not need to be rescued. However, there was another story with a better outcome. My father was driving and saw a car full of men following a woman cyclist, riding her bicycle. He pulled over and called the police. Within minutes, the police approached the driver and arrested the driver.

      Diana

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  12. Teach our daughters, definitely, but teach our sons, too. I just read about some interesting research (with college-age students) that indicates young men often confuse 'desire' for 'consent' and this perception is compounded by the circumstances in which young men and women find themselves: at a frat party, at a bar, in the classroom, etc. So if a young woman is having a drink and talking to a guy at a party, he will often interpret this behavior on her part as something she does not intend. Research will be ongoing, but it suggests that teaching our boys and girls needs to start early and stay consistent on what 'consent' actually means.

    There is a great public service video on consent, put out by the British police (Thames Valley?, can't remember which). It uses the idea of having 'tea' in terms of consent. If anyone has missed it, look for it--I think the message is wonderfully clear.

    And I realize the issue of consent is not what we are talking about in terms of the scandals surfacing now--a young woman who 'consents' to the sexual advances of a powerful boss--that's not the same as consent given between two equal partners.

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    1. Flora, absolutely, yes. I started teaching my son about respecting women and boundaries before he hit his teens. His sisters and I have had many in-depth conversations with him, explaining the female point of view on some of the "harmless" things men do. Lately, we've been talking about "positive, enthusiastic consent" : kissing doesn't mean consent, flirting doesn't mean consent, falling asleep isn't consent and most importantly, the fact a man has an erection is not consent!

      He's a good kid, and I don't worry about him. But that's because we've been talking about these issues since he was twelve.

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    2. Flora, here's the link to the tea video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZwvrxVavnQ

      thanks for mentioning this, it's a great piece.

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  13. #metoo
    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/13/opinion/contributors/salma-hayek-harvey-weinstein.html?_r=0

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  14. The past year or so, with the topic of sexual abuse so often in the headlines, has been a roller coaster for me personally. The stories "trigger" feelings of shame while, at the same time, they are opening the door that has been closed too long. I put up a link in the earlier post -- Salma Hayek -- beautifully written and very candid.

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  15. Rhys, I really appreciated your post. I, too, have been surprised by the good men in my life who are surprised at how pervasive this problem is, and have trouble accepting it. Men I absolutely know to be above reproach in their own behavior and not the ones inclined to blame victims. They just can't seem to get their heads around how this has been a fact of our lives. Always.

    My sweet, wonderful husband and I got into a fairly contentious discussion when the John Conyers story broke. He heard Cokie Roberts say it was an open secret on the Hill that females shouldn't get on an elevator alone with Conyers, and he was upset that Roberts knew that and didn't use her position as a senior, respected reporter to have done something about it. I had the hardest time making him understand (and maybe never did) that up until this moment in time, there would have been no up side for her to trying to do so. It would have been denied, doubted, dismissed, and she would have lost some of her credibility. It would not have effected change. It would have been, essentially, tilting at windmills. And as I made these arguments, I could just tell he truly didn't get it. He didn't know that I and all my female friends just routinely take defensive measures throughout our days to avoid compromising situations. He didn't know that when older females had given a heads-up to younger females to stay out of elevators with Conyers, they felt they had done what they could do. He didn't know that this was a reality females lived with, every day, in pretty much every workplace in America.

    Sigh. I fear I'm ranting, so I'll stop here. But thanks, Rhys, for a great discussion starter.

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  16. Me too.

    I posted the name of my childhood molester on Facebook a few weeks ago. It got a bit of response (thank you Karen) but less than I would have liked to see. I think naming names is important in that it let's the abusers know that their anonymity is threatened. Not that it did much good with mine as he is long dead, but I hope some relative of his saw it and took note.

    All the years I was in nursing management, I dealt more with protecting the staff than dealing with assaults on myself. In most states, the manager/supervisor/boss/whatever becomes responsible as soon as any workplace abuse is brought to her attention. Then she must either stop it in its tracks or bump it upstairs to her boss. And document it all.

    You have no idea how abusive male doctors can be to nurses. It sickens me to remember it. I felt like a hall monitor much of the time. And once, in retaliation for my warning him off some nurse, a doctor reported me for sexual harassment. He was new, having issues with behavior, and I asked him to have a cup of coffee with me to work things out. He brought a complaint before the chief of the department. And the chief laughed him out of the room, saying "we all have coffee with Ann."

    I still don't know quite how to take that!

    Thank you TIME for making these the Women of the Year. About damn time, so to speak.

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  17. Me, too. From the many who exposed themselves to me over the years, beginning when I was a teenager (and what's with that, anyway? Do they expect a woman to climb on, or something?), to the guys in my office at Merrill Lynch who called me at home at night, threatening me to try to get me to do more work for them than for the other three guys I worked for.

    The worst, though, was the married broker (someone I did not work for, just another guy in the office) came to my apartment, in the middle of the night. He was drunk, or course, and fully expected me to let him in to have sex. Why? Because I was single. Full stop. When I asked what about his wife, he said, "What does she have to do with this?" Poor woman.

    A neighbor used to come on to me every single time we had a get-together on the street, sometimes within feet of his wife. Turned out, he was a serial womanizer, and other women also had trouble with him.

    I was also date-raped, in a situation I should have never allowed myself to get into in the first place. I lucked out, though: he ended up being impotent within seconds of penetration. And thanks to his embarrassment at that he was amenable to taking me home pretty quickly. Lesson learned. It could have been so much worse.

    Yes, thank you to TIME. It's about "time" our voices were heard, and as Ann said, the names of our abusers spoken out loud. They are the ones who should be shamed, not the women they abused.

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  18. Rhys, this is a very important issue to address. Thank you. I think that people who are really surprised by this #metoo are people who are very innocent or naive. They cannot believe people would behave that way. For example, I had a professor who really believed that Anita Hill lied about Clarence Thomas. I reminded him that some men are NOT gentlemen. My professor was born the same year as Princess Margaret and he always behaved like a gentleman. He really believed that other men would behave like he did. He went to Harvard then to graduate school at Oxford. He studied law with Maggie Thatcher. However, I remember one time he made a comment about JFK. He did not like the way JFK treated women.

    My professor and I did not agree on Anita Hill. I cannot put my finger on why I believed that Anita Hill was telling the truth. I was surprised because my professor always treated me with respect. Always treated women with respect. Because JFK's behavior was so well known, he knew that JFK's behavior was inappropriate. Clarence Thomas was not famous so less was known about him. I am only guessing why my professor would not believe Anita Hill.

    I loved the Bewitched episode where Samantha Stephens or was it Serena ? turned Jack Warner's character into a dog because he was behaving inappropriately towards Samantha.

    Just remembered another story from your books. Remember when Lady Georgie decides to work as a dinner companion and the fellow thinks she is a prostitute?

    It's time to speak up, especially now about this topic. It's overdue in my opinion. Thank you, TIME magazine.

    Diana

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  19. I'm fortunate in never having any harassment at a job - mostly because I've been in either a women-majority workplace or because I'm self-employed! But like every woman, I suffered through the daily questions when I was young - can I walk down this street? Is that man staring at me? Can I get drinks with my girlfriends here, or should we go someplace else?

    Looking back at my youth and talking with my daughters, I'm amazed how much I had internalized the idea that it's a woman's responsibility to avoid or prevent sexual abuse. A guy cornered you and kissed you? Shouldn't have gone into his dorm room. A guy follows you out of a bar yelling sexual come-ons? Shouldn't have worn a low-cut shirt. Wake up in bed with a guy you said no to? Shouldn't have drunk at that party.

    I'm so grateful their generation is saying, "No, it's not a woman's responsibility to prevent abuse. It's mens's responsibility not to abuse."

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  20. My response to this has been "It can't be going on to this extent - what is wrong with these men?" I am honestly flabbergasted by the number of men who obviously view this as appropriate behavior. I was raised to know this wasn't acceptable behavior. The fact that so many men obviously don't know this just shocks me.

    (Please note, I'm not doubting the women. My shock is that men truly behave in this disgusting manner.)

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    1. Mark, part of it is just the sheer amount of power these men wield--of course they know it's wrong--why else the threats, the coercion, the settlements with non-disclosure clauses? They know it's wrong, but they can get away with it and so they have continued to do so. And like Julia and Susan and others have mentioned, women do internalize the reality of being a woman in today's world. All of the decisions, the adjustments, the course-corrections we make on a daily basis as we navigate our world.

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  21. Me too. As a recent HS graduate, I landed a chambermaid's job at a local motel. The manager dropped by housekeeping as we started our shift, picking the prettiest to clean the lobby and his office. I knew it was wrong, but I needed a job. I cleaned 8 rooms a day, one every 1/2 hour. If the room was occupied while I cleaned it, I propped the door open with my cleaning cart. Many lessons learned, including how to shine up a bathroom in ten minutes flat.

    I talked to my daughters about sexual harassment when they entered sixth grade, and continued until they left for college. I also talked to my son at length about reading body language and respecting all women. He got the message.

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    1. I remember a story about Gloria Allred, the attorney. She was raped when she was working as a chambermaid when she was a teenager.

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  22. Thank you, Rhys, for posting this, and thank you, TIME, for honoring the women who have spoken out. It was brave of them and I admire them for it, especially as I'm still not comfortable talking about some of things that have happened to me. It's great to see this huge toxic culture brought into the open. But what really worries me is that things won't change much for women who don't have power. There are so many women who can't afford to speak up, can't afford to lose jobs that pay rent and feed children. Who is going to stand up for them?

    My first real job about of college I was bullied, demeaned, sexually harassed and sexually assaulted by my two bosses. (Two older men and me in an office.) They threatened to fire me if I didn't go along with them. It didn't take me long to quit. But I had that luxury because nobody depended on me and I had the safety net of parents who would help me out financially. But it's interesting that I never told my parents why I left the job, because I was ashamed!!!!!!! As if I had done something wrong!!!

    Julia, you've done such a great job with your kids. And you are all right--It's going to take parents talking not just to daughters but to sons.

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    1. Hugs! I remember when you addressed this issue in one of your books. It was the one with the London Olympics in 2012. I am so bad at remembering titles! That was my favorite book that you wrote.

      Diana

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    2. And in one of your future books, you can kill characters like these sexual harrassers.

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  23. #metoo. I haven’t told anyone about how abusive my first relationship was —in high school. I think that was one of the reasons when I left for college, I knew I would never go back to live in that town again. I was very lucky to have met my husband my senior year in college and we just celebrated our 36th year together. I knew he was a good man when I met him. I struggled with my early jobs with male supervisors, but luckily worked for a woman supervisor for 17 years. Only occasionally getting a few unwanted shoulder massages from the marketing guys. Why do men do that. This happened at another job, too. At one of my last jobs, the male manager was a first rate bully who would regularly rant and rave about everyone in the office. By then, I was too old to be a sexual target, but it didn’t stop him from being a complete boor, shouting insults about everyone in the company to everyone in the open office. So glad to be retired.

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  24. Thank you all...and yes, it's so enraging that the response from some executives is to insist they're shocked, shocked by it. Seriously?

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  25. Oh the tea video is wonderful! And tragic that it has to exist.

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    1. yes! I remember the tea video from facebook.

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  26. To those who say that there sure are a lot of women coming forward or these reports now seem to be coming out of the woodwork, I say, of course there are lots of reports because there was lots of abuse of power. And, yes, the abuses were pushed into the woodwork because that was part of the power wielded over those abused, to dismiss the bad behavior and not talk about it. That so many women have so many stories to tell now is simply in proportion to the amount of abuse suffered.

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  27. I love Rhys's simple advice. As Homer Simpson would say, "D'oh!"
    It's been fascinating to watch this unfold.

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  28. Critical mass, I think. After the election last year, and all the revelations about many men in power, the snowball effect has made an impact. Women are fed up, and we are so done with it.

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  29. Standing up for each other is huge -- the only time I ever hit someone was in response to a party crasher who didn't understand the word no. My ineffectual punch signaled everyone in the room that something was terribly wrong, and the masher and his pal were quickly encouraged to leave. Then we talked and discovered how many others he'd been harassing . . . women's liberation does not mean women free for the taking.
    Best advice I've read for women traveling solo is to turn to local women for help and advice. I once went on a raft to pick mangoes in Jamaica, after asking the mothers on the beach and being told, "Go. He is a good man." Then we gave mangoes to all the children . . . <3

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  30. Glad these jerks are getting their desserts but now that women have more power, we need to watch out there, too. Jeanne Cooper from The Young and the Restless had a chapter in her autobiography that described groping her male co-stars. Some of the guys laughed about it on her tribute show. I didn't think it was funny, and I'll bet some of the men groped didn't either. On the other hand, let's not outlaw all hugs, pats, and human contact. As someone with few close relatives, I appreciate that some people hug me. Just make sure hugs are welcomed and don't push.

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    1. was the groping part of her tv character or was the groping behind the scenes? If it was behind the scenes, then I really feel bad for her son because it sets a bad example for her son.

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    2. This was the actress Jeanne Cooper and not her soap opera character. Her real son Corbin Bernsen was on the show as Paul's brother, as priest. She had another son and daughter.

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  31. I posted earlier but I don’t see it here - blogger being fussy - argh! No matter, you’ve all covered it nicely. These days the saying that runs through my head most often is - Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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