Fathers With Daughters

On my path, I found that it was the fathers with daughters that offered me the most support and empathy in dealing with sexual harassment and the retaliation that often comes with standing up against it.

Every time I mention this blog and my story to women, they immediately offer me feedback – mostly direct looks and affirming nods, some hugs, some thank you’s, and many share or simply acknowledge that they have their own stories. I gain strength from this solidarity. It affirms what I know to be true – that the problem is pervasive. With this solidarity comes knowledge that they know this, I know this and together we know this. With it, I have faith that this blog and my book are important.

However, it is because of the fathers with daughters, the ones that understand that what I went through their daughters could be going through too; and their wives. It is their feedback that gives me hope that this blog and my book will make an impact. That the problem can be solved. That beyond the victims, the bystanders and perhaps even the doers might choose to help make change happen.

Their feedback comes in a different form. They stand a little closer to their wives. They tell me stories about how their middle school or high school girls are learning to play sports and what they hope their girls will grow up to do one day. They tell me I am a role model for them. On the surface, they are just telling stories about the women in their lives. This seems benign until they purposely behave differently than the harasser. They do just enough to let me know they are my friend, but not enough to catch the perhaps vengeful attention of the harasser. They look me in the eye just a little bit longer after an incident, not for intimacy, but for strength. We all know that look. With their solidarity, and with their understanding and hope for a different life for their girls, I have faith that this blog and my book can make a difference.

I get it. Witnessing the harassment of a co-worker is one thing. Risking your career to intervene is quite another. Most people in the workplace have goals they are working towards – a house, a family, a mortgage, a promotion, the dream job, retirement. The crippling fear is that those goals become immediately jeopardized when you choose to get involved. So I don’t judge them for not getting involved. I understand. There are times when I made choices not to get involved. I get it. I do appreciate their quiet presence though.

There are chess players that can see 10 moves ahead in the game. Some, like me, can barely see one or two moves ahead, especially when going through a traumatic event. If you are a bystander of the game, as some of these fathers were, you can watch the game play out, from both sides. And hindsight is 20/20.

By watching me, they learned about the potential threats to the happiness of their daughters. As all things in life teach us and prepare us for future battles, watching me go through what I did, how I held my emotions (or not), how HR responded (or not), how long my working days became (and why)…all these observations helped teach them how to nip the sexual harassment in the bud… admittedly though, for the next woman, for the most part.

The great minds in human development and constructive learning theory (Piaget, Bruner, Brooks) tell us that the more often you play the game, the better you will get at it. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers stipulates the same thing…Do anything for 10,000 hours and you can become an expert at it.

Just think… if a woman suffers without resolution from sexual harassment (or retaliation) every workday for three years and there are on average 2080 work hours in a year… She is 2/3 of her way to being at expert in being harassed. Likewise, her harasser is 2/3 of the way to becoming an expert harasser, an expert bully.

Thinking of this another way…if a young man learned during college that the worst kind of ‘fraternity behavior’ was acceptable and then continued that behavior over the course of his first 3 years in the workforce, he could be an expert in sexual harassment by the time he was 25. If he persisted unimpeded, he could have the next 40 years in the workforce to practice this skill. Proportionately, his victims could have 40 years of collective trauma to recover from – emotionally and professionally.

There have to be a few women who bravely go forward first. Though I may have been the first to speak up in my office, I cannot say I was the first ever. It has been two generations since women went to college and entered the workforce on a large scale. The women who first braved the all-male colleges in the 70’s and then the business offices in the 80’s and 90’s are the wives of these fathers with daughters. Women like Anita Hill and Lilly Ledbetter, who publically, in front of a nation, stood up for themselves and demanded to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace. I am sure there are more examples, locally and nationally. These women are my role models. They paved the way.

The fathers that are in positions of power today are the men who witnessed their wives struggle with the evolution of women’s equality and now understand the struggle of their daughters. They are in a position to make the change, to note the ever-so-subtle nuances that make up what I call ‘white-collar’ sexual harassment and retaliation and to intervene with the right interventions, appropriate salaries, healthy shifts in office culture and positive support.

We have to know though, that if it takes 10,000 hours to be good at harassment and retaliation, getting good at appropriate workplace behavior will take at least 4 years, if we get it right the first time and give it all of our attention. But this change is worth the effort, no matter how long it takes.

 

I hope that just one, or even two, of these fathers with daughters will consider sponsoring a “The 5th is for Flowers Day” at work to just see how pervasive this issue is in their workplace. And then, get the best advice on how to change the behaviors, from the heart.

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