Sexual Harassment

Some years ago, just out of college, I took a reporting job with mid-sized daily newspaper.

The newspaper office was across the street from a car dealership. Occasionally I would walk downtown to the bank or the post office. This walk took me past the dealership’s service center.

After a few months, every time I walked past the service center, there would come a bunch of wolf whistles and rude shouts. It annoyed me.

I turned to an older woman who worked with me and expressed my frustration. She had a busy job and a family, and she suggested, gently, that I should let go of my frustration because, after all, there were many people out there with real problems. Which was true.

So I tried not to pay attention. The whistles and shouts continued.

After another month, I went into the dealership and spoke briefly with the manager. I explained the situation and, without making a big deal about it, said I found it annoying.

“I’m sure the guys are just trying to flatter you,” he ventured.

“Maybe so,” I said, “but I wish it would stop.”

The next time I walked past the service center on my way to the bank, I was greeted by an even louder chorus — this time of boos and crude remarks.

After that, I took a different, longer route, detouring around the car dealership, when I walked downtown. I never walked past the car dealership again.

—–

During that same period, I drove home late one Sunday night after a weekend visit with a friend who lived several hours away. As I pulled up onto the street near my apartment, I realized that a stranger in another car had followed me from downtown.

After I parked, he stopped his car alongside. He motioned to me to get into his car. He seemed to think that this was an acceptable way to pick up women. I shook my head.

Then I pushed my car’s horn button and kept it on. He drove away. I waited a few more minutes and then ran to my apartment.

—–

A few months later, some creep figured out my phone number. He would call and say pornographic, lewd, terrible things. I learned to recognize his voice and hung up the phone as soon as I heard it. But he kept calling back. Finally I canceled the service.

—–

These things happened in a period of less than two years, at a time when I was young and more easily shocked. Sadly, I have seen much worse since then.

—–

I did not grow up in an age of chaperoned tea dances and church socials. As time passed, I moved in more professional circles and sometimes attended parties with rich people, powerful politicians and sports celebrities.

I saw women fighting with each other to get close to rich guys, old men grabbing at scantily dressed young women, politicians taking up with women not their wives — all the run-of-the-mill vulgarity that is part of our common culture.

Now we have an election coming up. Every day we hear about the lecherous candidate who harassed women. For 30 years, we have heard how the other candidate enabled the possibly worse behavior of her own husband.

Neither of these candidates strikes me as admirable in the treatment-of-women department.

But as my older colleague counseled all those years ago, there are bigger problems to be faced. The country needs better schools, a faster-growing economy, a well-managed government and a thoughtful foreign policy.

All the sanctimonious talk about women and their rights has led to more heat than light.

I can’t wait till it’s over. Whoever wins, the next four years are going to be dismal. Sexual harassment, bad as it is, will be the least of our problems.

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