We’re All Complicit: I Was a Reckless Young Woman, Too

Things aren’t always black and white, and that woman will figure it out.

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The author in a 2002 publicity photo by Russell Baer.

With the exception of the Golden Globes broadcast, the press and the public have gone fairly silent about sexual harassment after three credible women, in a press conference and subsequent interviews, recounted personal stories of Donald Trump’s shocking, predatory behavior. After more than a dozen others have come forth, after Trump bragged to an Access Hollywood host (who lost his job when the recorded 2005 incident became public in 2016) that he could grab women by the pussy and he kissed them against their will…he’s still looming in the hallways of the White House, shoveling Big Macs into his lying pie hole. But Al Franken is gone, as are Garrison Keillor and Leonard Lopate. I feel safer now. I also feel a bit disappointed and sad about the Globes show. Overall, I was gratified at the air of dignity the show had, from the red carpet on, in comparison to the frat-boy shit shows of the past. I fell even more under the spell of Michelle Williams, who I watched on the red carpet as she spoke so warmly about her Globes date, Tarana Burke, who created the Me Too movement over ten years ago. I loved that the Hollywood ladies brought activist companions. However not one woman thanked Rose McGowan on the broadcast, and in retrospect I’m sad that so many women of color who’ve been fighting for years to be seen and heard needed to be accompanied to the event by white women. I also wonder if Time’s Up has a bit of “we’ve got it from here, don’t worry” in it. I hope women of all races — and ages — will truly embrace each other and move forward together. It’s not easy work. It takes a fearless moral inventory.

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A few months back, when the sexual harassment exposé was in full swing (and before Franken’s woes), I was at the wedding of a good friend, sitting next to a woman around my age. A lifelong military wife and medical professional, she was really wise, earthy and funny, and not a Trump supporter. We were seated across from an earnest younger woman in her 30s who became enraged when the Army gal mentioned that sometimes she felt that women had to take some responsibility for harassment. She hadn’t said “take responsibility for getting raped or sexually abused.” Actually, she didn’t get a chance to explain herself at all because the young woman started yelling at her — again, at a wedding of friends:

How dare you blame the victim! How dare you!

The Army gal, possessed of mid-20th-century manners, decided to need more chicken from the buffet to defuse the situation. I followed her casually, and as we both rolled our eyes, I knew what she meant:

Things aren’t always black and white, and she’ll figure that out.

This incident started me thinking about accusations of witch-hunts and what I think of as sexual harassment. I also thought a lot about what I was like as a young 20-something living in NYC and traveling solo around the US, first as a sales rep, then as an entertainer.

Then I read Katelyn Simon’s post on The Clyde Fitch Report about the intriguing classical virtuoso Yuja Wang, and the relative importance of wardrobe in that rarified world. “It’s impossible to deny the power of image in any performance,” wrote Simon. Indeed it is. According to sources, Wang wears what makes her “comfortable,” and apparently her choices, which can be as flamboyant and brief as those of a pop star, make some others uncomfortable. Modern women have always had the advantage of wearing interesting and colorful clothing, or whatever they damn well please, unlike men. We can “work it” to support whatever our process or end goal is. In Simon’s article she includes a question posed by The Washington Post’s Anne Midgette: Should critics review the dress? My answer is, yes! Of course. It’s part of the act, believe me.

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While Simon’s article didn’t deal directly with sexual harassment, it provoked me. It made me think: some people wear clothing that makes them comfortable; some people wear clothing they feel makes them attractive. They’re looking to attract. Some take it further, and are provocative, and then they successfully provoke. I think women should take some responsibility for inciting certain behaviors, just like white women (like me, for instance) need to take responsibility for their passive racism. To pretend we’re not part of the problem is disingenuous. That doesn’t mean men or women should take a sexy wardrobe as an invitation for sexual abuse. And, in fact, the myth that a sexy wardrobe causes rape has been busted over and over again.

I was a reckless young woman for reasons I’m currently working out in therapy. I often dressed provocatively, not only on stage, but in my off-stage life. This frequently got me more than I bargained for. Or did it? What was I thinking when I wore translucent gauze skirts with flimsy underwear, and see-through tops with no bra? What did I expect would happen when I wore an unlined black lace dress with a nude body stocking to the theater? The entire balcony nearly fell out of their seats when I walked down the aisle in that ensemble. I was thinking I was sexy and I wanted to look that way, that it would be titillating. It was. If I put my boobs out nearly naked, why should it surprise me if someone tries to touch them? Why should I be so shocked and offended when many people were probably also offended by my bouncing breasts? Of course, none of this explains the good ol’ boy in Alabama who followed me to my hotel room after breakfast because he wanted to get some from a young woman in a very conservative suit.

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If one perceives that they’re being threatened, or their livelihood is threatened because they won’t submit to unpleasant or abusive behavior, that’s a very different thing than flirtatious games. I would never dream of narc-ing on someone who put his “hand on my back” (the stated reason that Keillor was fired, which must be bullshit), or who had a picture taken of me while pretending to touch my breasts while I was (supposedly) sleeping in a parachute rig on a comedy tour. I’m familiar with dressing room banter and ass-grabs, which I both received and gave — just like what we saw with Leeann Tweeden, Franken’s original accuser. I don’t think she’s a slut because she played those games; I think she’s a liar. I also don’t think Franken is a sexual predator; I merely think he didn’t consider that he’d be in politics and certain behaviors wouldn’t be deemed acceptable and would come back to bite him on the ass (Trump, ahem). If behavior like that really bugs you when it happens, you tell someone to stop.

As I move on in 2018 I’ll continue delivering on the pledge I made on Nov. 9, 2017 to become a better citizen. This requires honesty, fairness and looking inward with humility, because we are so deeply fucked.

So, young woman at the wedding, I hope you sort things out, too, and that you don’t pay a very painful price for any of it.