Why Didn’t She Say Something?

{This Ain’t No Bandwagon Part III}

A few weeks ago, I decided I needed to go all in with #MeToo. Not necessarily for me. I’ll get nothing out of this except maybe a feeling of catharsis. But … my daughters might need to understand why I feel so strongly about it.

Did you miss me? The holidays struck, I fell and buggered up my wrist, had to go out of town a time or two for work, and doctored pneumonia and bronchitis. At last, I’m resurfacing. Happy New Year!

Greeneville

And now: The News

When the Harvey Weinstein thing broke – really broke and wasn’t just covered over again – my husband said: That man is a pig.

I thought to myself: You say that like he’s atypical. As though he’s the exception. “Harvey Weinstein” has been the symbolic casting couch archetype for half a century.

He was one of the most powerful men in the Hollywood scene. If you wanted to be in movies, if you wanted to be a star, he could make it happen.

Weinstein

Of course he thought he could get a little extra something something on the side.

Here’s what I’m having trouble understanding: What is it about these men (or people in power, but you have to admit that it seems to mostly be men in “positions of power”) that they feel compelled to somehow exercise their dominance? Do they know they can’t get laid legitimately, so they have to utilize whatever leverage they think they have?

And then there are people like me who let them. Who, at that point in their lives, honestly do not know how to not let them.

Hell, my first job at The Burger Chef had the shift manager assigning me my uniform, and telling me I had to french kiss him before he could give it to me. I was seventeen! A fast food shift manager!

I had not even found anyone I enjoyed kissing – much less kissing a perfect stranger for fun and profit. Was there a way to talk myself out of this? We were alone in a closet and it was before hours. Even if there had been other people around, no one could’ve seen us. I thought I had to kiss him. One kiss, no biggie, right?

I thought I’d messed up somewhere in the application process. I wouldn’t make that mistake again. I could fix this. Whatever it was. I’d figure it out between college and my next job.

Once college graduation was behind me, I felt the pressure to get a job and be on my own. A friend asked if I wanted to move in with her and share rent. I said sure. My parents had just gone through a messy divorce, I didn’t really want to stay with either of them, but I was still in town and had that safety net. I worked at a radio station on weekends so sharing rent and groceries would be no problem on minimum wage, right?

Nope. After a couple of months, I’d gone through all of my paychecks and all of my savings, and had to make hard decisions like was I going to pay my half of the rent, or help pay for groceries, or live off GrapeNuts™ again like I had in the dorm.

Rent usually won out. But I liked eating, too. It forced me to take another part-time job through the week filing at the courthouse. Then the radio station made me an offer. Would I be the weekend news anchor and the fill-in reporter for nightly meetings?

Of course I would.

I had a world to change!

Once I got noticed for my amazing news and editorial skills on an AM Radio station in middle Appalachia, I’d move on to television and then before long it’d be NBC.

And if I’d had a mentor in the field, instead of an unprincipled, immoral, depraved, lying, two-faced hypocrite … Who knows?

You’d describe him is short, dumpy, mild. Inoffensive. Harmless. His father-in-law was a preacher. He had three little girls under the age of five. He didn’t even go by his real name but an innocuous nickname which added to his modesty and wholesomeness. I was fresh and shiny from my charmed college life and my bright future of dreams. I was irrepressible. What could he do besides help me on my way to new, lofty heights?

First, he would come in with his eldest daughter and leave her in the studio for me to look after while he puttered away in his office. Despite the fact that it was my shift, and I was on the air.

Even then I knew it was insulting. I just didn’t have a word for it.

She didn’t even like me.

He called me “babydoll.” His babydoll. Like it was an accusation: Why do you have to be such a babydoll?

Somehow, it became my fault.

Him:     There’s three meetings this week. They’re yours if you want them. I know you could use the money.

Me:    All right! Where at?

Him:     First things first, babydoll. One story, one breast. Two stories, both. And for all three, I get to touch them.

I laughed. I thought he must be joking. This was a professional broadcaster, known in news and sports over much of the state; news director for the town I lived in. I was starry-eyed from my sparkly college career. Who did he think he was?

So my paycheck that month did not allow me to buy groceries. I went to Mom’s and ate chicken sandwiches.

Well, hell. In my naiveté, I thought maybe if I just showed my breasts (which were nothing to ogle, I assure you, as I was still a pre-babies A cup) then he would laugh, and I would laugh, and we’d go about our lives like the professionals we were.

Pretty soon, breasts just weren’t enough.

The height of my disgust came when he started buzzing me to come and see him in his office. (Yes, this was back when offices had legit buzzers.) And it was still on the weekend so there wasn’t anyone else in the studios. I’d put on an extra long song so I could get my week’s assignments, or fix edits before the next news break, to find him buck naked. And he’d hand me a bottle of lotion.

I thought I would vomit then and there.

And it kept happening.

No one will believe me.

That’s what kept me up at nights. I was gullible and unchallenged and I couldn’t think of one person I could go to, who would believe a single charge I made against this warped and pudgy douchebag.

And he knew it.

I despised the feeling of being utterly trapped.

My “self” hadn’t grown much, buried beneath the College Imposter. Still an awkward, insecure, self-doubting, uncertain girl who’d led some sort of charmed college existence. Seriously. I was seriously lucky.

This #MeToo “tweet” says it all:

61e

He was the first person I remember hating.

There was never anything that would be considered assault. There was coercion, intimidation, bullying, harassment. He was positively brilliant at getting in my head. It went without saying but he knew that I knew that he knew he was untouchable.

I played through scenarios in my mind:

I’d go to the station manager. And I’d get fired. Couldn’t have some fresh-faced intern casting shade on his respectable radio station and the upstanding renowned and well-liked news director. Or worse, I’d get called in with the news director so we could work out this “misunderstanding” like the professionals we were.

I’d go to the police. Surely this was illegal, somehow. No, now I was an adult. He would plead consensual.

My mother? She was up to her neck in her own neuroses. My dad? Brother? Possibly. But I was more afraid the jerk would end up missing or dead and they’d be indicted.

My friends? I risked it and a couple believed me. Enough that when they could, they would come to spend time at the station with me when I had to work, so I wouldn’t get harassed when he came in. Which was every weekend.

Until he told the station manager that I wasn’t taking my on-air position seriously because when he would “happen by” the station on weekends, he would find my friends there, too. I was told I couldn’t have anyone else with me during my shifts.

I didn’t tell my friends at the radio station. They were all his friends.

Nobody had ever come on to me. I had no idea how to handle it. Obviously!

I didn’t tell my roommate. I was afraid she’d think I was being conceited; vain; bragging. Bragging! That this dumpy, twisted asswipe was coming on to me!

What if I had? What if I had said something to somebody?

My friend said to me more than once: You could own that little one-horse station.

But that was only feasible if anyone believed me. And that wasn’t going to happen. Not then. Not there. Not with him. He was very, very good in his duplicity. Besides, the station was tainted now. I didn’t want it.

I loved my job. Loved it. Loved getting on the air, loved cutting commercials, loved working with the other on-air guys, loved being recognized for news stories. No, I wasn’t making a good living at it, but I was getting by with the courthouse filing option.

But apparently someone was noticing. Though I had no idea who or why or what to do with it. I was offered a fast-track to weekday noon news anchor. That was huge. It was. Second only to being the director of something.

I would’ve been fabulous.

I just couldn’t stand the thought of working with him on a daily basis. He would’ve been my boss daily. Not just weekends. It’s depressing to recall I had no way of knowing how I should have risen to the occasion; made the opportunity; turned all of this around. This was way before the internet exploded, and I only had a sheltered farm life and a charmed college career to call on for no help whatsoever.

I compromised myself and my hopes and dreams. Again.

And again.

And again.

I convinced myself that I needed a “real job” (my dad’s words), one that had weekends off, I could pay rent and buy groceries in the same month, promotions weren’t dependent on the rate of minimum wage or the perkiness of my breasts.

That was the American dream, right? That was really out there somewhere, right?

I told the station manager I’d think about the offer he was making. It was a good one, honestly. I think I could’ve learned to love it. But I settled. Obviously I’d – somehow, somewhere, once again – made a serious error in judgement early in this broadcasting career that brought on his type of debauchery. I wouldn’t do that again. I could fix this. So I interviewed at television stations in the larger towns nearby. I sent applications all over the place. For everything.

I was offered a job at a television station in Knoxville.

I was offered a job with the government.

The Federal Government!

No one could touch me!

They wouldn’t dare.

Right?

Seg

{ Next week: “Sexual Harassment: A Study in 25 years” }

Advertisements

The Background

{This Ain’t no Bandwagon – part II}

Last week, I decided I needed to go all in with #MeToo. Not necessarily for me. I’ll get nothing out of this except maybe a feeling of catharsis. But … my daughters might need to understand why I feel so strongly about it

I was the youngest, and a daughter, born to a dairy and tobacco farmer. I enjoyed daydreaming in front of the television and reading and fishing.

51ifhzJzEsL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

I was good at school and swimming. I played the piano because it was a solitary pursuit and it got me away from the farm for at least one evening a week. And that was about it. I always felt like I had to do certain things, be a certain way, follow the right course, in order to be valued and appreciated. I was not raised to ask for help, was not raised to need help. That was weakness, and weakness was failure, and if you failed, you failed alone. I was not raised to find my own way, or make my own path. I was raised to conform.

I assure you, I sucked at it. But I tried.

Reading was what lazy people did. And Dad was not going to be accused of raising lazy children; not even ‘the girl.’ If you wanted to be someone, you went to the garden on weekends and pulled weeds or dug potatoes. In the summer, you picked corn and broke beans and canned tomatoes, and later on you helped plant tobacco. For fun,

IMG_1065-600x399

you pulled taffy, baked fried pies, and picked bushels of apples off the ground for apple butter. After school in the winter, you spent long hours in the barn with your feet absolutely freezing no matter how many socks you wore, pulling tobacco leaves and hanging sticks. There was a radio going, but the buzzing of the tin space heaters were so loud you couldn’t hear anything.

Processed by: Helicon Filter;

Once my cousin and I (I didn’t have any sisters, neither did my younger cousin so we were together a lot) were on the back of the tobacco setter, making the endless, tedious rounds, water dripping to make the red clay muddy, and our fingernails so dark with dirt

tobacco hands

 

it wasn’t until they were cut that they were clean. And we sang.  Each new round of plants and water, we had another song from school or off of the radio that we sang with each other.

We were not allowed to set plants together after that. We were obviously just goofing off, if we were singing and enjoying each other’s company as well as the work.

Somewhere around this time, my sarcasm and passive aggressiveness were given life.

I became very good at them.

But enough about my defense mechanisms and super powers. Here’s the deal. I wasn’t pretty, I never did get the hang of fixing my hair so it looked like I knew what I was doing, and I certainly wasn’t ‘cool.’ I was a pubescent girl, not at home on the farm or in the “city school” where I went. Nothing says “outcast” quite like rolling up to the front steps of middle school in a beat up pickup truck, metal pipes on the bed, welded together to make the homemade bars which held in terrified calves Dad was taking to the stock pen after he dropped you off.

baa58fab34fd6d2e4fc7b61732c0b1f2--cattle-trailers-truck-camper

Don’t get me wrong: I love my parents, they loved me, and I am not ashamed of this background. Even then, I wasn’t embarrassed. Not really. I was, however, an awkward, pubescent, backward, insecure, self-doubting, uncertain girl who felt out of place and conspicuous for all the wrong middle school reasons.

 

So after eighth grade, I left.

I went to high school in the county with kids from my district (because we don’t have neighborhoods in the county), and I knew I didn’t like whoever I had been, so I reinvented someone new I wanted to be. She was sharp, smart, friendly, confident, blasé, and proud of who she was and who she was going to be.

images

It worked.

For about four years actually it worked out quite well.

I could almost believe it myself.

I was in the drama club, I graduated with honors, I had friends, I had best friends, I had the most fabulous boyfriend, and I’d been accepted to a four-year college majoring in science – mainly because it drove my dad crazy. Both the college and the science.

I wish I could make this stuff up. My dad’s advice, given in utmost authenticity, was that I didn’t need college. I was a girl. I needed to stay in town. Yes, I needed to be self-sufficient and not rely on anyone else to pay my bills, but what I needed to go to school for was a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary.

Now, I am not good with kids. Of any age.

Needles and blood either make me ill or lightheaded.

And I have no head for business or organization. None. Nada.

I could write, a lot and well. And I loved all things really, really old and buried. And I was passive aggressive and had successfully found “imposter syndrome” (before it was a thing) to be quite cozy. I had no reason to believe that college wasn’t going to go just as well for me.

I tricked myself into thinking it had. After a couple more attempts at different majors, my sweet spot was in Mass Communications. I wrote and produced scripts. I took care to learn all of the equipment in the studio and then long hours filming and editing.

tvc puppet theatre as fx studio 450p

I lost my fabulous boyfriend, but I found new friends. Amazing friends.

I found I had actual talent in something besides words.

I discovered I was technically minded and seeing and then doing was the same as mastering. I could support myself without being a secretary.

I got a job.

Things were amazing and my future was bright. I found I not only liked tequila, but I could shoot it with the best of them. My friends were guys and I trusted that they would have my back. And they did.

I now know it was a charmed existence. Seriously. I was seriously lucky.

But I was still in there somewhere. My “Self” hadn’t grown much, buried now beneath this Imposter I was becoming oh-so-proud-of. Who’d never been considered pretty before. Who’d dated only one or two people. Still an awkward, insecure, self-doubting, uncertain girl who felt out of place and conspicuous for all the right college reasons.

I graduated. With honors. With job offers. I’d made it. I was free and off the farm. Myself and this Imposter were going to change the world. You know how it goes.

I got an apartment.

I got promoted.

And then. Things began a long, sustained crumbling process from there.

The Fear

{ Next week: “Why didn’t she say something?” }