Vail Daily column: Instill civility, decency
After a victorious soccer season, my dad’s team took its celebration to our house for beer and barbecue. I tried to stay out of the way but encountered the team coach in the hallway outside my bedroom. He pushed me against the wall, pressed his body into mine, and then tried to kiss me. I was 16. He was in his 40s. I escaped his clutches but was ashamed and embarrassed so I told no one what transpired, until now.
I kept quiet because I feared if I said anything I might be blamed or disbelieved. It was not the first or last time I was groped, harassed or assaulted by a man. Groping was endemic in my high school. Previously, I wrote in this paper about being pawed by a male coworker at my first summer job.
Aside from being blamed or not believed, perhaps as Donald Trump Jr. told Dori Monson on her radio show, I thought this behavior was a “fact of life.” To be fair, Trump Jr. was referring to his father’s penchant for bragging about sexual assault. I grew up at a time when the phrase “boys will be boys” was dogma, not irony. In my Catholic household we did not talk about such things. Thus, my mother never warned me that men might sexually harass me, so I had no strategies for confronting or combating it when they did.
Furthermore, the fear of not being believed is real. During my deployment during the first Gulf War I worked the night shift at my intelligence unit. I was a first lieutenant just three years out of college. A technical sergeant with 15 years service was assigned to work with me. Despite the fact that I was an officer and he was my subordinate he had no intention of taking orders from me, a female. When I related the sergeant’s insubordination to my superior he attributed the conflict to a personality clash and moved the sergeant to the day shift. Before long, the sergeant disrupted the day shift and attacked another enlisted man. He was court-martialed for the attack. My commanding officer never acknowledged my complaint was valid.
In several high-profile cases, women have come forward with their stories of assault. In so doing they have elevated the issue of sexual harassment and assault in the national conversation. For their efforts they have been called liars, fame-seekers and worse. Donald Trump has vowed to sue the women who have alleged he assaulted them. His fondness for litigation is legendary and his pockets are deep. Surely this was a ploy to silence any other women out there thinking of going public with dirty Trump stories of their own.
As awareness and outrage have grown, inevitably so too has pushback. Some people long for the “Mad Men” days when everyone in the boardroom was white and male except for the chick in a skirt serving coffee. In a 2013 interview on “The Opie and Anthony Show,” Donald Trump Jr. advised working women, “If you can’t handle some of the basic stuff that’s become a problem in the workforce today, then you don’t belong in the workforce … you should go maybe teach kindergarten.” Career advice from a trust-fund baby whose daddy owns the company — that’s rich.
I am not suggesting we dispense with the American judicial precept of innocent until proven guilty. However, as the adage goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Let’s do our level best to raise children who respect one another. Unlike my parent’s generation, I am talking to my children. In addition to periodically telling them no one has the right to touch them, I tell them if anyone does they need to speak up. In this case it is all right to tattle. More importantly, I assure them if anyone does assault or harass them, they are not to blame and they will be believed.
I want my daughter to know that civility and decency are not limited to the kindergarten classroom but are reasonable and minimal expectations of a civil society. At school and work everyone should be valued for their contributions, not harassed due to their genitalia.
Claire Noble can be found online at http://www.clairenoble.org and “Claire Noble Writer” on Facebook.