Ha­rass­ment? I hear my sis­ters’ voices

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - JAMES WALKER

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.

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