Me too. In my adult life. Here in Israel. On more than one occasion.
It happened in a former work place. In two different positions. Two different men. A couple of years apart. I was already married, wearing a head covering.
The first time, a man from a different office came by and kissed my colleague. He then kissed me. I asked him to please not do it again.
My colleague told me that a woman who had held my position previously told him the same thing. And he used to chase her around the office.
I decided to report it to my boss before it happened again.
And then it happened again. And then again.
And then it stopped.
Fast forward two years.
I don’t remember how long after I came back from maternity leave.
A man I worked with. He was in his sixties.
He said something too disgusting and inappropriate to repeat.
I blamed myself
I felt sick and dirty. I couldn’t concentrate for the rest of the day. And on my way home. I cried. And cried.
I blamed myself. For somehow giving him the idea that he could speak to me that way.
I didn’t know how I was going to tell my husband. I didn’t know that I wanted to tell him.
My husband came home late that night.
“You know, it’s really difficult being a woman in Israel,” I blurted.
“What happened?” he asked.
He knew something major had happened. I could tell from his voice. Maybe the same we he could tell from mine.
He pulled my words, forcing them out. I didn’t want to tell him. I was so ashamed that this could have happened to me.
He grabbed the phone.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Calling your work.”
“It’s almost 11pm.”
“Somebody’s there. I’m telling them you’re done.”
He had the conversation with whoever picked up the phone. He told them that I wouldn’t be coming back to work and he set a meeting for the next morning.
After it was clear that my place of work was not going to take responsibility for this. We talked about taking it to court.
I was scared. I wasn’t sure the judge would believe me. It was my word against theirs. [Note: theirs because we decided to sue both harassers as well as my place of employment, because there was clearly a harassing culture at work and nobody was taking responsibility].
Possibly the most trying thing I have ever had to do
My husband got in touch with Dr. Orit Kamir, who played a major role in all stages of the enactment of the sexual harassment law in Israel. She spent an hour on the phone with me.
She told me how brave I was. And that it is the judge’s job to know who is telling the truth.
My husband and I decided we were going to do this. I knew that with him by my side. I was strong. I also knew that I owed it to other women. No woman deserved to go through what I went through.
It was a difficult process. Probably one of the most, if not the most trying thing I have ever had to do. Eventually when it got to a pre-trial the judge heard me and she heard my harassers. It was clear that she believed me, because she told all of them – the harassers and my place of work, that they’d be wise to reach a settlement of agreement.
It’s our job to teach our boys how they may and may not treat women
Two men sexually harassed me. But one man encouraged me to fight and stood firmly by my side.
We raise boys who will one day become men. It’s our job, as their mothers, to teach them how they may and may not treat women.
My husband is possibly the biggest feminist I know.
I am not exaggerating.
And I believe it has a lot to do with his mother z”l.
At a young age, his mother gave him an iron and said “I am not your maid.”
She taught her sons to iron.
“I am not your maid,” may sound harsh.
But it is very clear to my husband that I was not created to serve him.
Yes, I love him dearly and I will do whatever I can to help him in anyway I can, but.
My job is not to serve him.
Of course there’s more than just one element or experience that shaped my husband into who he is. Of course his father had something to do with it. And of course his mother’s upbringing was not so simplistic that it can be reduced to just one sentence.
My point is, that we have to raise boys right. If we teach them to respect women and stand up for them, they will.
The unprecedented global discussion that has ensued on sexual harassment and sexual assault using the ‘me too’ hashtag is something we should all be encouraged by.
‘Me too’ is a bold statement. Women are finally saying ‘this happened to me and it’s not ok.’ They’re finally saying, ‘we need to talk about this and we need to change it.’
The first step in dealing with any problem is shedding light on it and calling it to attention.
I didn’t want to tell my husband what had happened. But had I not told him, had I not said “me too,” I would have forever remained just a victim instead of an active player in my own life.