By Ellen Snortland
“Back up,” I say. “I don’t want to burn you.” Crowded by an unwanted dinner guest who is now in my kitchen, I lean over to pull out a large roasting pan of six game hens from the super-hot oven in my 1920s-era cream and green gas stove. My huge kitchen is warm and inviting, and Mr. Groper had “tailed” me into the kitchen to stare at my tail.
Mr. Groper: “I had forgotten how beautiful you are.” He literally tailgated me, almost snuggling my back. Crackling oil hit my lower arm; I jumped, avoiding hitting Groper with grease. Now I wish I’d thrown the game hens at him. Or stuffed those birds, one by one, down his pants.
But wait, there’s more! After dinner, Groper asks me to show him where our bathroom is in our 5,000-square-foot restored Craftsman. As I reach for the light switch, he squeezes my breast. Stunned, I freeze. And then, he squashes the other one! I run from the bathroom and can’t look at him for the rest of the evening.
Every time I hear about Cuomo-like behavior from a man, I think about what I would have done had I been in the pumps of the woman being accosted. Touching is an invitation-only event. How I wish more women were trained to be like a hot burner: They only get touched once without permission, and snap, sizzle, pop! Lesson learned.
Most of us gal types have had run-ins with gropy, gross, handsy men who don’t give a crap about how they impact the gropees. We are confounded by behavior that is so contrary to gentility we’re stupefied in the moment. Borrowing from the work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, The “5 Stages of Sexual Misconduct” — aka “Good Grief! WTF?” — could be delineated as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
• Denial: These stages of good grief — more like “disgusted” grief — occur as an inner monologue for most of us. Me: “OMG, did he just honk my breast like I am a squeeze toy? It had to be a mistake. It had to be accidental. Who does something like that?”
• Anger: WTF? When our dinner guests leave, I am furious. Mr. Groper’s wife had been in the other room when he groped me in my own home! What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t pinch or hit him, because I was paralyzed with disbelief. And I was livid that he’d now given me information about him I didn’t know what to do with. Do I tell his wife? They had two young sons. Did I really want to possibly precipitate a breakup?
• Bargaining: My then-husband offers to call Mr. Groper and confront him. I plead with him not to. I appreciate the sentiment, but it was too chattel-style for me. I’m not a thing; I am an adult. This was before my training with IMPACT Personal Safety, and I was flummoxed as to what I could have done in the moment. I promise myself that I’ll never put myself in that kind of position again. I didn’t bargain with a higher power but with myself. What had I done to deserve his unwanted attention? Nothing. He planned and made moves he knew I wouldn’t be prepared for. In Cuomo’s case, who expects the governor of a major state to grope you?
• Depression: At the dinner party, I’d been looking forward to a good home-cooked meal with two other couples I wanted to know better. The two men of the couples were three sheets to the wind; the two women were already my good friends. I had to mourn the loss of closeness with them, because I couldn’t decide whether to tell them or not. I went into a slump. I’m guessing the women around Cuomo also had to deal with depression. Damned if they tell, damned if they don’t.
• Acceptance: I finally made peace with what happened. I ended up not saying anything until I was asked to contribute to an anthology about sexual harassment a few years later. The other contributors described different scenarios, yet we had all gone through the same stages of grief, almost always with someone we knew and expected better from. Ha! No one signs up for unwanted attention. A young woman in a gubernatorial campaign did not dream of having a position where she would have to fend off grabby hands.
So many things burn me up about workplace incidents like these. My dining room was not a workplace, but everyone at dinner was in the entertainment industry. Mr. Groper was a producer who could have hired me.
What really perplexes me is that paying out settlements and settling lawsuits with these jerks makes harassers cost-ineffective, yet it keeps happening. They impact the bottom line in corporations, institutions of higher learning, government and more. Of course, there is no logic here: These guys are not driven by reason but by entitlement. Hopefully, women loudly saying “back up, you will be burned!” will soon be more common.
Ellen Snortland has written commentary for decades. She also teaches creative writing and can be reached at: email@example.com.