by Carmita Wood
What does it feel like to be a controversial figure? What happens when you become a public figure involved in an issue that has only been whispered about? I can only speak for myself. I've been there--and it's rough.
When I came forward and started to fight against sexual harassment, I was alone. Even though I found a group of wonderful women who were willing to support me in this issue, especially the two women who were my witnesses, I was still alone.
Inside myself there was fear, self-doubt, and insecurity. I asked myself if I really had the courage to go through with it. Would it affect my family and friends? Would people look at me with disgust and scorn? Would they think I had made the whole thing up for some obscure reason of my own? Would it affect any future employment I might try to get? Would anyone else support me in this issue except my closest friends and the immediate group of women I was already working with?
The answer to all of these questions is yes.
I found that I did have the courage to go through with it. Yes, there were and are people who scorn me. Some think I had a collossal nerve to even bring up the issue. Yes, there are people (some of whom I admired and trusted) who think I made the whole thing up. Yes, it has affected my family. My little boy had to defend me in school when some of the other children had heard the opinions of their parents. Yes, it certainly has affected job interviews that I have recently been on. I was told by one group that they were conservative people and they couldn't afford to hire anyone involved in this kind of controversy.
But there are rewards. About 275 women attended a speak out on this issue. Dozens of women called me and voiced their support of both me and the issue. Men have stopped me on the streets and in restaurants and congratulated me for my courage. One man told me about his wife having to quit a job because of the same thing. In fact, I was really gratified by the number of men who were in support of the whole issue.
I was surprised, however, by the attitude of some of the women I encountered. They seemed threatened by my exposing this problem, and some were very hostile. I find it difficult to understand why.
However, I feel that I've accomplished something. It felt good to be able to stand up and say, "Damn it, that's enough! I'm a human being and I will no longer tolerate these indignities." I hope that, because of my action, there will be some men who will give it a second thought before they pat or pinch a female employee. Maybe women, too, will realize that they don't have to put up with unwanted advances at work.
I have now received another job, again at Cornell. Many people have helped me both emotionally and financially. The great lesson that I have learned is that no one can go through this world alone--everyone needs other people.
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