By now you’ve seen dozens of people in your network posting “Me too” on social media. For those unfamiliar with the movement, the “Me too” refers to women who have experienced sexual assault or harassment. The movement is meant to give a sense of the magnitude of the situation. Understanding that sexual misconduct goes beyond penetration without consent and that almost all women (if not all women) experience some form of harassment in their lives.
I too shared some of my stories about sexual harassment over the years.
I’ve been touched without my consent.
I’ve been followed.
I’ve been cornered by a man who said to his friends, “I found her.”
I’ve been told to smile.
I’ve been leered at.
I’ve seen more than one man fondle himself in my presence (in public).
I’ve had a man follow a friend and I as we tried to get away from him only to come up in front of us, take a photo, smile lecherously and walk away.
I’ve been told to lighten up when I expressed my disdain for catcalling.
I’ve been grabbed from behind on the street with my arms pinned against my sides until I screamed and thankfully got released.
And that’s all I can stand to share for now, so yeah, Me too.
THIS ISN’T ABOUT SEX, IT’S ABOUT POWER
Rarely is this harassment just about sex. So often it’s about the power dynamic. People needing to feel dominate in a situation. I can say from personal experience that I’ve stood there in stunned silence before while an older, larger, stronger man made me feel intensely uncomfortable. I’ve mentally calculated the risk of saying something or physically reacting to a situation and whether or not that was more likely to result in my being assaulted. Like it said, this is usually about power. When you strip someone of their power, they can react violently.
I’ve had people say to me, “I would’ve beaten his ass if I were there.”
I appreciate the sentiment, but there’s a deeper issue here. It’s that if a situation does turn physical, I’m often physically outmatched. Therefore, I need to either accept defeat or figure out how to attempt to extract myself in some other manner. You don’t think I’d love to be able to physically handle a situation in which a man has me nearly cornered and says to his friends, “I found her.” Hell, I would love to pull some Wonder Woman/Lara Croft/GI Jane/V for Vendetta/Atomic Blonde level moves and high-kick, junk punch, and back flip my way out. But that’s not my reality.
And of course there are times in which men are made to feel uncomfortable. Perhaps there are catcalls or gross comments. But the difference in many cases is the feeling of vulnerability. How are you matched against a potential threat? Could you physically get out of the situation?
THIS IS WHY MONEY MATTERS
A disturbing number of these stories are tied to women who have been harassed at work. Women stay silent out of fear about losing their jobs. Losing a promotion. Not being believed. Hoping to avoid causing more of a problem. Feeling shame. Or rationalizing the situation by saying, “it’s just what happens.”
So often victims of sexual harassment either aren’t in a financial position to leave or slog through the innuendos/inappropriate touching/assault in the hopes of one day making it to a position of power herself within a company.
This is just one more reason the F*ck Off Fund is a crucial part of a financial plan.
I shared my own story of sexual harassment in a post I wrote about F*ck Off Funds early in 2016.
I moved to New York to work as a page for The Late Show with David Letterman, a fun job, but not one that paid particularly well. Determined to show my parents they raised me well by not asking them for financial support, I dove headfirst into finding other sources of income.
Like the twenty-something, suburban bred, white girls before me – I decided to be a babysitter to the over-privileged youth of Manhattan. I also snagged an exhausting job at Starbucks.
A three-job work schedule exhausted me, even with the energy of a 22-year-old fresh to the Big Apple, but it felt so good to stand on my own two feet and continue building my savings. Tips from Starbucks, unexpected cab fare from babysitting and a portion from each Letterman check got dumped into savings (or literally stuffed into an envelope).
A year passed and my tenure at Letterman only had a few weeks remaining, so I scrambled to find another source of primary income. Feeling comforted by my nest egg and several babysitting gigs – I liked having the luxury of being selective with my next job. Then, one fateful night put my most lucrative babysitting gig on the line.
In a movie-level cliché, the drunken Manhattan dad stumbles into the apartment (wife still gone). He asks the babysitter how much he owes her, but before handing over the money, he proceeds to first tell the 20-something babysitter that she should leave her boyfriend, with the air of a come on, and then confesses that he routinely has affairs and even occasionally visits prostitutes.
Horrified, I left the apartment and texted the wife the next morning that I had found a full-time job and could no longer balance babysitting in my schedule. A lie, but I had enough money to cut both that babysitting gig and lecherous man out of my life. His wife must have told him about my quitting, because later that day he called me (we’d only interacted via text when he’d let me know what time to expect them back home or asking if I could stay later). I sent the call to voicemail and never spoke with the family again.
Another factor is just how much can someone be making in order to stay in a toxic culture. Golden handcuffs usual refer to staying in job that works you to the bone, but pays well. It’s also true that women can stay in terribly toxic work environments because the compensation feels too good to walk away or the prestige is just too high.
THIS ISN’T A PERFECT CAMPAIGN
There is already backlash to the #MeToo campaign from outside and within the feminist movement itself. There is no perfect protest or campaign. Not all women will feel comfortable coming forward. It doesn’t really spur any action or change. And it continues to put the burden on the victims to make changes instead of the perpetrators (or potential perpetrators).
THIS ISN’T PERFECT FINANCIAL ADVICE
The persistent advice to have an emergency savings fund is also far from perfect. I know this.
As I said in my original F*ck Off Fund post: I recognize that I’ve been able to build my F— Off Fund thanks to many privileges. Those privileges include financially literate parents who taught me about money at an early age. A financially secure household that enabled me to completely focus on being a child, never fear money, and ultimately grow into a woman able to avoid debt while building a positive net worth and a healthy relationship with finances.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Speak up when you hear inappropriate talk, whether women are present or not.
Ask questions. If you’re confused on what is appropriate or inappropriate or how you can help, ask a woman in your life.
Listen. If a woman is expressing that she’s feeling belittled or harassed, then you need to listen. Don’t justify someone else’s actions or your own. Don’t ask what took her so long to say something? Don’t ask her what she may have done to “deserve” or “provoke” the aggressor’s behavior. Just listen first.
Empathize. You may not understand. You may not even agree with everything I’ve outlined here. But one of the biggest action steps you can take is to empathize with what millions of women deal every day. It’s not hyperbole. Millions of women around the world experience inappropriate cat calling, innuendos, assault, harassment and oppression daily. Take some time to reflect what it must feel like to constantly be on a low-level alert. To wonder if the person walking too close behind you is just on his phone unaware of the proximity or has nefarious intent. To receive unsolicited dick pics just because you wanted to try and date online. To question if a man is just being friendly or if one wrong smile or gesture or laugh will give him the wrong idea. To be meet with aggression when you politely rejected someone’s advances. Just try a little empathy.