I was an intern at a local newspaper.
Fresh out of college, working in my field, and beaming with joy at the opportunities that I believed were before me. The historic 2008 election imbued the community and our small office with a sense of hope.
My managing editor, a male 30 years my senior, took a liking to me. He would routinely call me into his office to give me assignments, share stories from his past, and would occasionally comment on my appearance.
One day, while we were in his office – I was seated in the chair across from his desk. He routinely leaned against the front of his desk when having conversations. This particular day, I wore my hair pulled back in a ponytail. He commented on how nice my hair looked and I thanked him. I started talking about work again, but he hadn’t moved on from his comment.
He leaned forward and walked toward me, staring at my hair the entire time, which was creepy. Before I could act, he’d caressed my ponytail and pulled it. “You really have beautiful hair! What [nationality] are your parents?” he asked.
Shocked, embarrassed, and uncomfortable, I replied to him rather than commenting on his misconduct. As the only woman in the news room, I wanted to be a part of the team. I didn’t want to ruffle any so-called feathers, but I also didn’t want to feel uncomfortable again.
This went on for months.
Times when I styled my hair so that he could not grab it, he still touched it or rubbed it. Other times, I’d maneuver my head so that he was not able to touch it. He would laugh, thinking it was a game. Finally, I got the courage to say, “stop” in my quivering voice one day before we went to print. He responded, “I’m just messin’ with ya,” dismissively.
I left the paper – he’d spread rumors to our publisher about me and was trying to get me fired at the time – still not reporting his behavior. Thinking back, I don’t know why I was so afraid of him or why I didn’t feel I had any allies in my colleagues or our publisher.
A few years passed and the publisher’s niece became the new intern. I was told that the editor was still misbehaving. He’d under estimated the publisher’s niece and her close bond with her uncle. Within a month’s time, the editor resigned citing new challenges and new experiences as his reason for leaving the company.
Though I was happy to see him leave, I wish I’d been stronger when I worked there. I knew his actions made me feel uncomfortable and that I did not welcome his unwanted touching, but I also had internal struggle. He was just pulling my ponytail. It wasn't as if he was groping me, or exposing himself, or other horrible things. I’d rationalized that his behavior was tolerable because it wasn’t as bad as other stories I'd heard. I'd negated my feelings due to a technicality.
I wish I’d had the inner strength to speak up for myself and to take my experiences to the head of the company.
Then, maybe, the publisher’s niece would have been spared a #MeToo moment.