I like to poke fun at my mom when she’s upset about something and says, “I just don’t understand…” I usually laugh and interrupt with, “Yes, you do.”
At 79 years of age, as well traveled and hard working as my mom is, there isn’t much she hasn’t seen or experienced, and too much of it has been bad. She may not always understand how to use her cell phone, but the human condition? Yeah. I’d say she’s got a good bead on things.
I tease her because she fusses too much, and I’m trying to gently point out that, look, old lady. You’re complaining. Get some real problems. But that phrase, “I just don’t understand…” has been floating through my mind on and off all day long.
I think two pieces of news triggered it. One involved a very large survey. It’s conclusion? That women in leadership positions suffer even more sexual harassment than women lower on the career ladder. Please don’t misunderstand. My reaction wasn’t focused on, why is one group suffering so much over another? No woman – or man for that matter – should have to endure sexual harassment in the workplace. But the fact that female leaders have it worse kind of blew me away.
It’s like, lemme get this straight. I have to struggle up the career ladder, knocking down obstacles like a champion archer/wrestler/marksman, in some cases, smiling and walking a tightrope all the way. Then, once I ascend a rung or two, I have to deal with even more pressure – unrelated to the job, mind you – via deliberate and disgusting attempts to knock me off my square.
The article discussing the survey was brief, but it offered a telling summation on why this occurs. One reason is not surprisingly, lust. Women in power are appealing on more levels than one, I guess. Ew. Another reason was jealousy, and this, I think, is related to the third reason: Female leaders suffer more sexual harassment because their abusers want to equalize status. Meaning, how dare you? I will bring you back down to where I think you should be.
The other piece of news that triggered me was on the Guardian. A black male musician was recounting a story about a recent train ride. He described sitting at his ease when a white man came and sat next to him – despite the fact that there were many other open seats – then began to elbow him quite aggressively. When he asked the man to stop, another passenger jumped to the harasser’s defense and said, no, he should be the one to leave the train car.
I thought, damn. Here we go again. A black body can’t even sit quietly on a train without being targeted for physical and emotional harassment.
Emphasis on the emotional harassment part. The storyteller, Soweto Kinch, made a point of stating that experiencing this kind of thing is emotionally exhausting. I concur. There have been many similar incidents that I’ve read about, witnessed or experienced that made me so very tired.
I mean, shoulders drooping, head hanging on the neck, wondering about my place in the world type tired. Thankfully, that feeling is fleeting for me. I’m the type of person who insists on captaining her own ship. Meaning, if I’m going to get tired, it will be my choice, not someone else’s.
Then I realized what these two articles have in common – they each involve predators. Both of the antagonists, the sexual harassers who have special interest in female leaders, and the train racist with the psycho elbows, could be identified as predators. Both deliberately sought out another person they perceived as weaker and did their best to cause harm.
Another thing these news bits share is, though the harassment is different, the bad guys share some level of mental derangement. What else are we to think, right? A person who’s all there upstairs doesn’t willfully target people who aren’t bothering them for abuse.
I wish there were laws – readily and happily and often enforced laws – to nip this kind of behavior in the bud. But too often the victims of these exhausting crimes bear the burden of proof. Or, we think, erroneously, it’s not a big deal. Just deal with it. But we shouldn’t have to just deal with predatory behavior.
My heart hurts for those who can’t or won’t fight back in any situation against a predator. I want to cry out, don’t be a victim! No one should have to take abuse. Period. Figure out a way to beat your harasser that will vanquish the enemy and won’t bring harm to you. At least, no more harm than you are prepared to handle.
But I have to remind myself: Everyone’s not as tough as you, Kellye. And who’s to say I won’t find myself – though I sincerely pray not – in a similar boat at some point down the road? I’m a tough cookie, yeah, but there’s always someone tougher out there.
Predatory people who harass others, whether motived by sexual interest or racism, should be stopped. How is the kicker. Obviously there are laws, as well as social capital or finance related punishments that can be as detrimental as a criminal record.
I wouldn’t presume to suggest any one strategy. Every situation, no matter how distasteful, has nuance. But I do believe my suppositions about predatory behavior and mental derangement have legs. If you can see some other reasonable explanation for the kind of behavior I’ve described here, please let me know because right now? I’m like, “I just don’t understand…”