Harassment? I hear my sisters’ voices
Sexual harassment is a big story in the media these days.
Women are sharing stories of decades of stark and disturbing sexual harassment and outing the men who abused them. The accusations are coming from every walk of life: arts, sports, business and law enforcement.
Men who entertain us, enforce our laws and decide what we will watch in the theaters or the athletes we will cheer at the Olympics have been caught with their pants down.
But sexual harassment is not something I ever thought my sisters had to deal with.
Mainly, this is because they’re like my female mirror — opinionated, with decided ideas and unafraid to stand up for what they believe. I have five of them. You don’t grow up fighting and loving five sisters who steal your sweat socks, wear your sweatshirts, tell you off, embarrass you in public, and don’t learn to respect women.
There were only two of us boys. Throw in a single mother and you do the math as to who really ruled the house.
I talk about them frequently in the newsroom, which is easy to do. We are close-knit and they are always doing something that is hilarious that is worth telling.
So, when I decided to write about sexual harassment, I reached out to the women I know best to get their thoughts. After all, I have spent every year I have been here on Earth with them and I know they don’t get pushed around by men.
But I was wrong — and quite frankly, unprepared for their words.
Nor did I know how being the objects of what my sister Chimene Taylor called “whispered filth,” affected their lives — or the difference in how it affected each of them.
But they set me straight — and I have decided to allow them to speak unedited.
Here is what my sister Chimene told me:
“Sexual harassment, where do I start? From the time I was 12, I’ve been aware of sexual harassment. Whether it was the unwanted stare of the old man at the corner grocery store, or the 13-year-old boy who would try to grab me in the elevator in the projects or whisper filth when I passed by, it’s always been a part of my life ...
“It’s embarrassing, humiliating, and until you’re old enough and know better, you think it’s something you’ve caused. I remember thinking, what could I have done to make them behave that way toward me (nothing, as it turns out). I felt violated and then uncomfortable with myself . ... We didn’t talk about those things with mommy. I never told anyone because I was ashamed, I didn’t have a defense for it and that made me angry. It is still, all these years later, hurtful.”
My sister Jackie Walker reminded me of an incident I had long buried in that graveyard of childhood memories.
“I can remember when I was about 9 years old, a neighbor’s boyfriend approached me in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable. Even at that age, I knew something was wrong when he tried to wedge me into a corner. When he realized I felt uncomfortable, he handed me four quarters. I remember running away to find mommy and I told her what happened.”
If you’re supposed to be a “big” brother, some words land like a hard punch in the gut.
I have always recognized my sisters as women, of course, but never thought in terms of them being subjected to unwanted touches, sexual sneers and unwanted advancements.
Sexual harassment really slams home when it is affecting the women you love — in this case, my sisters.
I grew up with their voices. I have heard those voices laugh, cry and rejoice. I know when those voices are happy, when they’re sad, when they’re angry, when they’re in pain — and when they are hurt.
It was hurt that I heard in my sisters’ words.
It sickens me they can’t walk down the street without the “whispered filth.”
It angers me to think that any man would feel it is OK to touch them in places where no unwanted hands should be.
It pains me because I know there was so much more done to them that I don’t know and never will because we all have those moments in life we just don’t talk about.
And it shames me that they have had no choice but to become unwanted legacies to man’s lust and ego — and a tradition that had long been unwelcome but silenced.
Celebrities and athletes have brought sexual harassment roaring out of the closet and the landscape is changing.
But as my sisters have attested, women don’t need the glamour of Hollywood or the backdrop of the Olympics to experience men at their worst.
Women have come a long way — but some men are still caged in the stone age. My sisters are tough. But in the end, being tough wasn’t enough to keep them from being violated.
Most men will admit the best advice they ever received came from their mothers, who always remind their sons they are women.
Why is it that we listen, cherish and respect that voice as the treasure it is — but then turn on women when they reach puberty?
Harassment? I hear my sisters’ voices — and I hope other men are listening, too.