Growing Up Prey in America

Growing Up Prey in America

Here is a letter that appeared in the New York Times this weekend.

To the Editor

I understand the upwelling of negative reaction to Harvey Weinstein’s behavior. I feel the same way, absolutely disgusted. But I also believe that those famous actresses who are now stepping forward to condemn him should shoulder some of the blame. If they did not step forward and bring it to light when it happened, they are culpable in allowing it to happen to the next person, and should be ashamed of themselves.

I suspect they were not willing to risk their careers, and that cowardice did great harm to those who followed.

DONALD HAUSAM
COLORADO SPRINGS

I’ve been fuming about this letter since I first read it. I have developed a cold hatred for Donald Hausam of Colorado Springs. I have fantasized about tracking him down and confronting him. I was not surprised to see such a letter come out of Colorado Springs, home to the Air Force Academy, a place with a shameful history of glossing over sexual assault and blaming the victims. (For more on that, read Lynn Hall’s poignant memoir Caged Eyes.) But I know better than to confront a strange man. So I’ll just say this: Of course these women weren’t willing to risk their careers. That’s not cowardice; it’s self-preservation. What would you risk your career for, Donald Hausam? Think about it. What would cause you to throw away all of your future earning potential at age 18 or 20 or 25? Tell me, Mr. Hausam, how much would you sacrifice? And for how little? Here is what these women knew. They knew that reporting would do no good. We have evidence of that. The DA turned a blind eye even when he had a taped confession. No woman is surprised by that news.

I’ve talked about my own sexual harassment experience before and I’m tired of recounting it, but here’s the short version. Straight out of college I got a job as a newspaper reporter in Mississippi. In my first week of work, the publisher called me into his office and laid out the details of his open marriage, told me I was attractive, made some weird comments about my reproductive system, and invited me to lunch. For the next year, I tried to be very busy when lunchtime rolled around, often hiding out in the darkroom until I was sure he’d left the office. Sometimes I misjudged and I had to share a meal with him. He never lunged at me or backed me into a corner, but he touched me too often—his hand on my back, my leg, my arm. At one point, he accused me of hiding from him and said, “You should remember who signs your paycheck.” I complained once to the newspaper’s executive editor. He smiled and told me the boss was just friendly like that. He said I shouldn’t be so sensitive. That was the end of the line. There was no HR department. And anyway what would I report? What had he done, really? I quit that job as soon as I could. The Clarence Thomas hearings were in full swing and I saw how they treated Anita Hill. I wasn’t going to be her.

Women learn early that speaking up against powerful men usually results in backlash, not action. We get labeled as troublemakers or liars. The men keep right on doing what they’ve always done. It is not at all surprising that women in any profession would keep their mouths shut about a man like Weinstein. It’s what we are taught to do. That Mr. Hausam places the blame squarely on the victims only reinforces that message. When we speak up, we get criticized for waiting too long or for telling the wrong person or for being too angry and vindictive, or for putting ourselves in harm’s way. It’s not a winnable situation.

Weinstein notably committed his acts against women before they were famous, a fact Mr. Hausam blithely omits from his letter. Most predatory men understand that it’s best to choose victims who are young and vulnerable. Women are at fault in the same way a deer is at fault for wandering into a clearing to taste the corn some hunter has scattered there. And men like Hausam claim to be disgusted with these predators, but mostly he blames the women for being too hungry and too curious and too ambitious. It’s unseemly. Women aren’t supposed to want so much.

We get it, Donald Hausam. We’ve been hearing this same message from men like you our whole lives. You pat yourself on the back, because you’re not one of the bad guys like Weinstein. But I have news for you; you are definitely not one of the good guys.

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Tiffany Quay Tyson

THE PAST IS NEVER, a southern gothic novel steeped in local lore, is available now. The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance deemed it an Okra Pick. Tyson's debut novel THREE RIVERS was a finalist for both the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction. She was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi and now lives, writes, and teaches in Denver, Colorado.
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