As the “Me Too” movement sweeps the worldwide web, I am compelled to retell an experience that was particularly harrowing for me to endure a public school teacher. Almost exactly 2 years ago to the date, I was sexually harassed by a group of male students while walking to my car after staying late at school to grade papers. For me, it wasn’t so much the verbal abuse I suffered, so much as the way I was treated when I reported it [and by a woman no less!].
My supervisor Mrs. Jones*, a petite and attractive woman sat across from me in her office and leaned across the desk before speaking, “Are you sure Ms. Miller that the boys weren’t 9th graders?”
She paused waiting for me to respond, then continued “Because, well you know how these 9th graders are…”
Mrs. Jones paused again, then sighed before laboring on, “Look, I’ve been where you are Ms. Miller. It even continued to happen to me when I was pregnant! It’s just how these things are. Boys will be boys.”
Stunned, I am certain my face wore the look of shock and terror as I flatly retorted, “It doesn’t matter how old the boys were. What matters is what they said, how they said it, and to whom they said it. I want to make a report. These boys need to know this kind of behavior and language will not be tolerated and is wrong.”
“Well, Ms. Miller we can consult School Police” she said, “but since the boys who harassed you won’t admit who made the comments, we cannot punish them.”
“So, punish them all!” I firmly stated.
My administrator called the School Police officer into her office. The officer didn’t bother to sit down, shake my hand, nor introduce himself. Instantly, I felt like I was a burden and could sense his annoyance with being summoned to meet with me. I hurriedly rehashed my story. There was hardly a pause between when my story ended and the officer’s response, “Yea, so there isn’t anything we can do here since we cannot confirm the origin of the comments.”
“Again” I began, then continued, “Like I told Mrs. Jones I do not see why we cannot discipline all students involved. If anything this is an opportunity to educate these boys. I mean, is that not what we do here?!”
“I’m sorry, but that’s not how we do things, Ms. Miller” replied the officer, before turning his back to me and leaving.
I vividly recall that conversation and moment in time. I felt let down by the very systems I represent and uphold. I felt like as the victim, my claims were diminished and I was bothering the people to which I was attempting to report my harassment to. And yet even some few years later, I still cannot fully wrap my head around what happened or even why I didn’t speak up. Why didn’t I fight for myself and all those other women? Why did I allow this situation to be so grossly mismanaged?
All I can say and speak to is what I know, and what I know about survivors of abuse, sexual harassment, and rape is that we are failing these people—we make them feel like they are wrong. We shame the victims. We ask them what they were wearing, question their choices, and even say ridiculous things like “boys will be boys”. So, it’s no wonder people remain silent and quietly accept the abuse [or report it years later]. It’s no wonder that my newsfeed on social media is an outpouring of #METOO. We simply do not take sexual misconduct seriously and it disgusts me.
In an effort to bring further light to this issue, I am reminding you of my tale. Sadly, this is only one snapshot, an anecdote, a quick glimpse into my life and work…I have so many other stories to tell…
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the people mentioned in this piece
To Be a Woman: Originally posted on October 2, 2015
While working in the professional world I’ve learned that as a woman with a well-developed derrière and what society likes to call “curves,” I must not wear any sort of form-fitting clothing to work. Society has conditioned others to view my body as sexy when in reality my physical-self is just that; a shell that warehouses my mental, social, and emotional-self, but the world doesn’t see any of that. The world or shall I say men, only see a short girl with a fat ass and for some reason that’s carte blanche for men to comment, heckle, and harass me and other women alike.
While leaving campus today at around 4:15pm, I saw a group of young men congregating near the only exit available to me to leave. Throughout my years in education, I have become increasingly aware of my body and sadly uncomfortable by it. Walking the crowded halls of a campus through throngs of adolescent men has taught me to walk briskly, head down, and at all costs; avoid groups of young men if I want to minimize the onslaught of unwelcomed sexual advances, comments, and cat-calling. Today was no different.
Grab your phone.
Do not make eye contact.
Must get to car as fast as possible.
As I approached the circle of boys, I recognized a few faces from the halls but I didn’t know any of their names. A boy sharply shouted, “MIZZZZ MILLER!”
I pretended to ignore them as they weren’t my students and I didn’t know them.
Grab your phone.
Do not make eye contact.
Must get to car as fast as possible.
Finally, an anonymous male voice from the crowd:
“Look at all that booty.”
Immediately, the words accosted my ears. And right then and there every single fiber of my being tightened, my face reddened, and I felt naked and completely exposed. Time seemed to slow and halt in a stillness that felt like eons as I ruminated over my response and how to react.
I contemplated mouthing off to the boys, demanding who was responsible, and asserting my teacher-ness but alas, I did not. Instead, I felt intense shame for my body. I was embarrassed and hyper aware of my butt—was it jiggling? Can they see it? What are they thinking as they watch me walk to my car?
Was this really happening to me?! Again?!
Hot with shame, and feeling grossly exposed, I didn’t stand up for myself. I was paralyzed. My body and my mind couldn’t respond.
By the time I got to my car, I was crying. I opened my car door and sat sobbing in the stale warm air of my car while I replayed the incident in my head. I felt disgusted with myself, and my body all because I am a woman.
What the fuck has happened here?! How is it that as the victim of sexual harassment I am blaming myself?! Wrought with guilt for what may appear to someone as not a big deal, I skipped my workout, and cried the entire 20-minute drive back to my house.
There is something seriously wrong with how women are perceived in our culture. For years, I have made sure that I do not wear anything to work that alludes to my womanly figure because women with bodies are considered ‘voluptuous’, sexy, and temptresses. First off, that’s bullshit. Second, I work hard for my body. It’s lean, muscular, and something I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about. But when skinny, tall, and lanky women wear fitted clothes, they’re not seen as sex objects. I don’t get it. It really doesn’t make any sense to me—we emulate the model-like body in beauty magazines and Hollywood, but somehow a curvy woman’s physique is considered sensual??? Someone PLEASE explain this to me.
Here’s what I know: I am not letting what happened today on campus die with me.
My silence would only affirm that if women do not stand up and speak up for themselves, nothing is going to change. While I may not have spoken up for myself at the time, I refuse to stand idly by to misogyny and sexual harassment at my school or in society.
Together we must take a stand and speak out against such verbal assaults against women. And while I may have been silenced once by my own insecurities, I am stronger now.
I am ready.