My name is Tisha.
I’m currently a postdoc in biomedical sciences. My #MeToo story is slightly different because I, fortunately, have never been blatantly sexually harassed or assaulted within academia. Nevertheless, I think my story is important because it highlights the many many barriers and obstacles that women have to constantly face while trying to navigate life to build their education and careers, not just inside academia but within our society as a whole. It starts before we even get to grad school, before we even get to undergrad. While I have experienced countless events of sexual harassment and assault from strangers randomly pulling my shirt down from behind me to reveal my bare breasts to the world to close romantic partners continually trying to push things sexually that I have repeatedly said “NO” to and everything in between, it is hard to quantify how all these experiences combined have affected me. However, there is undoubtedly one experience that I can point to and say, yes, that absolutely negatively impacted my life and education.
Warning: the story is going to be long because I want people who haven’t experienced this to see how it works so I’m going details here people. I want you to see how those in positions of power use that power to get what they want, keep their power and use it to punish people who don’t give them what they want. This is how it works in academia too.
I was about 19, working at a restaurant that I had been at for over a year, putting myself through classes at city college with the plan to transfer to a 4-year university. One night I was out with work friends at a downtown bar/restaurant when unexpectedly, at least to me, our much older than I general manager showed up at closing time. He bought us a round of tequila shots and insisted we all take them. Not about to say no to the boss-man who dictates my schedule, thus my tips, and thus my livelihood, I put it down the hatch. We then preceded to my friend’s apartment where I hung out not long before announcing I’d be walking home since I had to work the opening shift the following morning.
My manager immediately proclaimed that he would be walking me home for my safety. Not interested in being alone with this person, I had heard rumors that he had hooked up with a couple of employees and had no interest in being one of them, I repeatedly insisted, that I was perfectly fine, that it was only a short distance and I was not in need of his assistance. He began following me home anyway as I left, despite my continuing verbal resistance. The walk is a little fuzzy, I was mostly focused on getting home and a locked door between us, but I vaguely remember him making some comments alluding to something happening between us and me expressing that I was absolutely not interested.
We finally arrive at my front door. As I awkwardly try to say thanks for walking me home and goodnight, while actually just feeling really weirded out, he asks, at my shock and horror, if he can come in and take a shower because he lives “far” and wants to sober up before driving home. Though I couldn’t imagine he was very drunk since he had been working up until the tequila shot and I had left my friends house before anyone had time to finish a drink, what do you say to your BOSS who controls your livelihood and asks that of you? Maybe I would know how to react now, maybe not, but at 19 I was perplexed.
Unfortunately, my roommate was staying at her boyfriend’s, so I didn’t think to use her being there as an excuse. I also couldn’t think of another split second excuse to not let him in that wouldn’t put me in potentially bad graces with this person who controlled my financial stability. So, begrudgingly, I let him in, gave him a towel, pointed him in the direction of the bathroom and told him I was “going to bed, goodnight.” I went into the bedroom, shut the door (no lock, damn) turned off the light and got into bed, hoping with all my might that that would be the end of this. I was wrong.
Upon finishing his shower, he comes into my room, lights still off, with only the towel wrapped around his waste and asks for some lotion. Annoyed, confused, and growing more terrified, I do my best to seem like I’m trying to sleep and point him in the direction of my night stand. Instead of grabbing the lotion and leaving the room, as I naively hoped he would, he proceeded to sit down on my bed and started rubbing me with the lotion. I don’t remember what I said to him at that point, it was something along the lines of “what are you doing?” but, I do very clearly remember him asking me after, “am I making you nervous?” in a kind of mischievous, joyful, flirtatious and thoroughly creepy way, in retrospect making it obvious he knew he was making me uncomfortable and enjoying it. I said, truthfully, “yes,” hoping he would back off.
He proceeded to stand up only for his silhouette, back-lit from the light in the hallway, to reveal that he had removed the towel and was fully erect.
Towering over me in the darkness of the room, with several inches of height and several lbs of pure muscle on me, he made it clear that physically he would win, that he planned to proceed no matter what I said, was actually enjoying that I was scared and expected my submission. At that moment, all I could think of was to say, “If you don’t leave me alone right now, I will scream as loud as I possibly can and these walls are paper thin. I can hear my neighbors conversations fully. They WILL call the police.”
To my relief he sulked away, but only four feet to my roommates bed, where he laid down and presumably fell asleep as I laid awake, scared, tired, and feeling helpless. He eventually left at some point early in the morning, as I pretended to sleep. I waited til I heard the front door close and hurriedly got up to lock it. Not til then did I sleep.
About an hour before my shift started, he called me to say that he thought I might be tired so I didn’t have to come in (I can’t remember if it was until a later shift or that day altogether, I was undoubtedly tired).
I’m not sure what his original motivation was for calling me that first morning, but it marked the start of similar calls off shifts and bad scheduling that slowly caused the death of my financial security. It started off so slow in fact, that I didn’t fully see it coming until it was too late. My lack of shifts exponentially increased as the months went on until one month rent was due and I couldn’t pay it.
I even did initially tell the assistant manager whom I had a friendly working relationship and was fairly comfortable with. But, all that amounted to was this person finding it funny to mimic flashing me from time to time when he’d catch me coming around a corner. Undoubtedly, the joke turned into rumors that lead to my assaulter being aware that I had spoken up. And thus, my slow decline into financial ruin continued, which eventually caused me to have to drop out of school and move back home.