This is a story about fear, silence, and a deep-seated feeling that men’s voices bellow from the rooftops while women’s voices get lost in the woods. It’s a story that many woman know too well. It’s a story of unwanted sexual conduct and the frozen shame that follows. It’s a story that’s meant to address the question of why women wait years, even decades, before revealing what was done to them by a man with power. A man like Donald Trump, or Bill Cosby. A man who has lawyers, press people and media contacts at his fingertips.
In the 70s I had a meeting with a record executive, hoping that he would place a few of my songs with some of his recording artists. I should have been suspicious when he scheduled our meeting for after conventional business hours — I believe it was around six in the evening. I should have bolted when he started snorting coke in front of me. I should have yelled No! and gotten out of there when he moved from the desk to the couch where I was sitting and began groping me. It’s the “shoulds” that haunt all of us who have been in a similar situation. I never said yes, but I never said no either. I just lay there and waited for it to end. Then I got up and left. I never heard from him again, and I never told anyone. I’ve never mentioned it at all until now.
When I listened to Jessica Leeds describe Donald Trump’s advances on a plane flight nearly 40 years ago, I thought of that night and how embarrassed I felt, how helpless. When she pointed out that it was the 70’s, and it never occurred to her to report it or tell anyone, I identified completely. What’s been interesting for me is how my mind went back and forth about whether or not to write this now. I’m not going to name the man, I don’t even know if he’s still an executive, but the shame of even mentioning the experience is as fresh as it was decades ago. So is the feeling that he was an important man, well-connected, and I wouldn’t be believed. That’s the part I hope people will pay attention to. Good, decent men are now expressing shock that situations like this are so commonplace. They didn’t know…because women so often don’t say anything. The disparaging questions about why the women who have come forward now regarding Donald Trump waited so long will only drive other women deeper into silence.
There is, I think, another factor to our reticence. History runs through the veins of every human being on this earth. Whether it’s African-Americans carrying with them the history of slavery and unconscionable abuse, or women carrying the weight of female ancestors who had few rights and who were treated as property. The phrase “rule of thumb” came from British Law, which stated that a man could beat his wife with impunity as long as the stick used to beat her was no thicker than the width of his thumb. Americans left many things British behind when declaring their independence, but that idea — at least briefly — crossed the pond with them.
What we’re seeing right now with the women describing their experiences with Donald Trump is a bigger story than this election. It’s a window into who we are as a society, a glimpse into how powerful men treat women when they feel they can get away with it. It reveals a callousness, a disrespect, and an objectification of one gender toward the other. Not across the board — there are many men who are appalled by what they’re hearing — but it’s prevalent enough that this should be a wake-up call.
My father used to have a funny expression when he was about to put in his contact lenses. He’d say, “I have to go put in my eyes.” We need to — collectively — put in our eyes. Look at the women who gained courage from other women coming forward. Look at Jessica Leeds, now 74, who produced pictures of herself nearly 40 years ago because she knew her appearance would be mocked (and it has been by Donald Trump) and she felt the need to prove that she was very attractive in the 70s. That should be heartbreaking to anyone hearing it. Look at who we are as a country and think about who we ought to be, who we are capable of being. I don’t believe that men who blatantly and callously thrust themselves at women for quick sexual gratification are in the majority, but I do think that, at the moment, they’re getting away with it far too often.