Why I Call Bullshit: My Story On Being Sexually Harassed

Why I Call Bullshit- My Story On Being Sexually Harassed | Femme & Fortune.jpg

It was a Thursday in June that I first came home with a pit in my stomach. As was my custom, I found my mother and spewed the entire account to her. I told her about feeling pressured to go out for drinks with my boss and about how he quickly and unnaturally steered the conversation toward my sex life. I was embarrassed and uncomfortable. The shame at having answered questions that deserved no response was eclipsed only by the overwhelming wish that it had never happened. I don’t know what I wanted her to say, but I wanted her to remove the pit from my stomach. She suggested I brush off the comments and chalk them up to him just talking to me like one of the guys. I accepted that advice all too quickly and continued to ignore my own instincts, sweeping under the rug his increasingly inappropriate and frequent comments, the invitations to his home for dinner and for the night, the pressure to drink, the constant innuendos and references to my appearance, and the suggestions that if I was truly committed to my job I would make time for him outside of business hours. I did it because I didn’t want to cause a stir. I did it because I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. I was ashamed. I didn’t want anyone to view me as a victim, and I didn’t want to view myself as a victim. I wanted to be one of the strong female professionals I looked up to in law school.

I was raised as a good Christian, midwestern girl. My family embodied the modern puritan ideology by calling sex “beautiful” but then talking about it in hushed tones or not at all. That made me totally uncomfortable talking about sex and that, combined with learning the deceptively harmful skills of being accommodating and avoiding conflict at all costs, made me the perfect victim of sexual harassment. I wasn’t sure how to respond to someone like the Dean of Northern Illinois University College of Law, who was an Obama appointee, had almost the full alphabet behind his last name, graduated from an Ivy League school, and had traveled the world. I assumed wrongly that he had my best interest in mind. I trusted him, my parents, and the people who fell all over themselves to praise him. I substituted their judgment for my own.

I wish I had trusted my intuition. I wish I had run. I wish I had stood up for myself and told him that it was none of his business when I first had sex, how often I have sex, or whether I experimented with females.

It wasn’t until I learned that a co-worker and fellow NIU College of Law alum was experiencing the same thing that I knew I had to come forward. I realized that, as a female and a member of the universe, I didn’t have the luxury of sticking my head in the sand. My silence might enable him to do the same thing to someone in the future. I decided to call bullshit and break the silence.

My silence might enable him to do the same thing to someone in the future. I decided to call bullshit and break the silence.

I decided to take it a few steps further because after struggling through the process and being judged and blamed by family and friends, I learned that the problem is more widespread and systemic than just one creep at one law school in Illinois. I am sharing my story because I’d like to change the way society views sexual harassment. We need to take away the stigma from victims by facilitating real conversations about it. We need to take a more practical approach to sexual harassment education by having victims give real-life examples (after all, we all sit through those classes with the awkward roleplay, but do we actually learn anything?).

I’d also like to start an important conversation about the challenges facing young professionals, especially young female professionals. How are young people supposed to trust their instincts, set boundaries, and stand up for themselves when our entire system of work and education tells them to act contrary to those instincts? Women are told that their feminine instincts and tendencies are weak and should be first mocked and then starved. All of us are told to work when we need rest, remain stoic when we want to laugh, to laugh when we want to cry, and pretend we know what we’re doing when we decidedly do not. We also need to train young people to be comfortable making people feel uncomfortable when necessary. All relationships—personal, professional, and casual—should be on your terms and should be peaceful and voluntary. And more than anything, girls need to learn when to call bullshit and trust their instincts, even when it means going against their parents and those they respect.  


 
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Bailey Standish is a “recovering attorney,” seeker of excellence, logophile, knowledge glutton, and lover of reason. She is passionate about starting a productive conversation about sexual harassment and rationally addressing the unique challenges faced by young female professionals. 

 
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