First published in New York Newsday
I am not famous or beautiful. I am not adored and desired by men and women around the world. I was raised in Rockville Centre by parents who worked tirelessly to provide for my siblings and I. But as a 20-something woman beginning my career in the 90s in New York, I was sexually harassed almost constantly.
Men would touch me as they “squeezed” past me on the coffee line. I was groped (and worse) on subways. I received sexually inappropriate, unsolicited emails and comments, and interoffice notes from male colleagues who commented on my clothes, parts of my body, and sordid fantasies. It was all said ‘in jest,’ and I reacted by laughing it off. Some of the men got the hint; others did not. Every woman I know has stories like these.
It’s a man’s world. Men know they are protected and women know they are not.
In 1981, my mother, Meg O’Regan, an attorney who ran the Center for Women’s Rights in Mineola, NY, worked to change the rape law – specifically, to repeal the “earnest resistance” provision which stipulated that the victim had to prove that she “earnestly resisted” the act. This provision favored the perpetrators because all they had to say was the sex was consensual. My mother and three other women lobbied for this weekly until it was passed into law in 1982.
While this law illuminated rape as an act of violence and crime rather than sex, and it changed the face of rape as we know it, it was not enough to prevent the act itself. It was not enough when a man forced himself on me when I was a college student. I am the daughter of the woman who implemented great change in rape laws, and I did not tell anyone. What happened to my voice? Why couldn’t I stand up for myself and tell the police? I was ashamed. I felt powerless over the act itself. I felt as if I had provoked it. I had been drinking. It was a date and I wore something that looked good. Did I want to explain all that in open court with my parents and friends there? What would everyone think? I was pertrified.
It is 2018 and a woman is still questioned about what she was wearing in a rape case.
Fear is a powerful paralytic. While I no longer carry the shame of my own acquaintance rape with me, I understand why it took so long for anyone to speak up against Harvey Weinstein. The fish rots from the head, right? So who was going to report sexual harassment and rape to Harvey Weinstein when he perpetuated it? When he held careers and scandal in his hand? I didn’t even report it in my non-famous life as a college student.
You lose your voice when you live in fear and shame.
There are men who quietly support women in this much needed crusade to hold other men accountable for their actions. They must feel bad as a race; that their own kind acted so deplorably. Luckily I know far too many good, decent, and respectable men to discount all men by the act of a few.
Wherever one person abuses their power over another, from the school bully to an offense against a child, to a rapist with your livelihood in his hand, it’s wrong. It is never too late to speak out against an injustice – whatever form it takes and however long it takes.
So yes, it’s about time.