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‘Me too’ movement must make sure its focus includes ordinary, workaday harassers

REUTERS/Marvin Gentry
While so very many actresses, journalists, state legislators, Olympic gymnasts and more everyday people are alleging they endured abuse and harassment inflicted by people occupying various levels of the mighty and famous scale, there is a lot more to this lava flow than the cruelty of the mighty and famous.

For those who have suffered sexual harassment and/or assault, the “me too” movement that erupted with supervolcano-fury following reports of sexual harassment and assault attributed to Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has hurled many of us who can say “me too” back to spaces we’d rather not visit.

Mary Stanik

And while so very many actresses, journalists, state legislators, Olympic gymnasts and more everyday people are alleging they endured abuse and harassment inflicted by people occupying various levels of the mighty and famous scale — including Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, Alabama Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, Minnesota state Sen. Dan Schoen, and Minnesota Rep. Tony Cornish —  there is a lot more to this lava flow than the cruelty of the mighty and famous. There is the bravery displayed by the victims in telling their stories, often at the risk of further destroying their careers and lives. We owe these individuals our feelings of pain and sympathy, along with immense thanks for bringing overdue attention to the scourges of sexual harassment and assault. But since more than a third of all employed U.S. women have said they were subjected to sexual harassment at work and one in four women (and one in six men) will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime, we have a lot more to consider.

It is beyond time that we extend our feelings of pain, sympathy and genuine help to those who may never have any day in court, will never receive any not completely healing large-figure settlements (such as the $100,000 actress Rose McGowan supposedly got from Weinstein in 1997), and can only dream of having their sufferings detailed on television and to millions on social media. These people labor as maids, farmworkers, custodial staff, nonmanagement office workers, retail staff, factory workers, maintenance/lawn care staff, and restaurant/bar employees. They do work a whole lot of us wouldn’t do and don’t want to think about too much.

While writing this piece, I thought about a female restaurant server I saw being harassed by a male manager just after the Weinstein eruptions. Almost anyone who has worked in the restaurant/bar industry (as I did when at university) knows it is a business that can contain some of the most revolting sexual harassment and assault imaginable, no matter if the place is a roadside diner or a Michelin-starred establishment.

Anyway, after watching the middle-aged manager follow the quite young server about like a dog on a sirloin steak wagon as she tried to work, and after hearing him castigate her because “you look like hell, I can see your zits, you aren’t wearing enough makeup, and your ass is too big,” I wondered if anyone else was offended enough to do anything. Plenty of appalled looks marked the faces of those around me but no one said anything. The server and the manager soon were back in the kitchen, where I assumed the harassment would continue, out of the sight and earshot of customers (as was true for most of the harassment I experienced or witnessed while in the business).

Maybe it is the fact that I’m now at an age where I don’t care if I make a scene or because the Weinstein revelations were so fresh, but I followed the server once she returned from the kitchen and handed her a much larger tip than I was planning to leave. She looked at me with very wide eyes and whispered barely audible thanks.

I then asked the host if I could speak to the manager and the owner, worrying that by doing so I might make things even worse for all of the servers. But both guys came out, bearing looks of dread mixed with hope. I told the owner that my mother and stepfather had been regulars for many years. He said he knew my mother and remembered my generous stepfather. I then told him his manager is not so much a manager but a pig. And that it isn’t wise to leave uncooked pork out in the open. Long story short, the manager sputtered excuses and the owner muttered, “I didn’t know.” I said, well, now you do. And that if I were to return, I wanted to patronize a place where employees aren’t abused. I can only hope I did some good. And that maybe there was more I should have done, or could have done.

The need all of us have to recognize those abused by the horribly ordinary made me think of words spoken by French philosopher Simone Weil: “Unless one has placed oneself on the side of the oppressed, to feel with them, one cannot understand.”

Because the day must come when more of the “me too” publicity doesn’t focus predominantly on the sins of the mighty and famous. The pain of those harassed, assaulted and oppressed by the merely evil also deserves our attention and understanding.

Too.

Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, formerly lived in St. Paul. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.” 

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