The first time it happened, I was about to graduate from journalism school, and I needed a favor from a professor. He invited me into his office, then closed and locked the door.
“Sit here, next to me,” he said, gesturing to a spot on the worn couch. For the next 15 minutes, while I explained what I needed and asked him to help me, he moved closer and closer to me, finally putting his hand on my leg. I jumped up from the couch and got out of there as fast as I could.
No, it wasn’t assault. He didn’t push me up against a wall and try to kiss me (the People magazine reporter) or reach his hand up my skirt while also touching my breasts (the female executive in the first class airline seat).
But it was inappropriate, and scary. This was the person who would decide if I would graduate on time. Who, exactly, would I tell about his behavior? What would I say?
Of course I told my girlfriends, and many of them were sympathetic – this guy had a well-honed reputation for this kind of thing among the women in my class.
That’s why what Michelle Obama’s words in her amazing speech in New Hampshire yesterday had such resonance for me. The national discussion of “locker room talk” and how the Republican nominee for president has used, degraded, and objectified women over many years has been painful, much more than I realized before I heard Michelle say the words yesterday.
It hurts to remember the times when perfect strangers on the street in New York where I lived early in my career touched me inappropriately, and how mute I remained each time it happened.
It hurts to think that the professor from my undergraduate days went on to make advances on other women, and I never spoke up.
It hurts that it took all this time, and a national debacle of a presidential candidate, to bring this kind of a discussion out in the open.
Michelle is right: Enough is enough. I will no longer be silent about men who take advantage of their position and power. I will teach the young people I know best – my teenage son and his friends – to respect all people, and especially to respect and encourage the power of women and girls.
It feels good to tell these stories, after years of ignoring them. I am only sorry it took me so long.