There are many, many stories circulating this election cycle. Here is mine.
I was a young (age 25), divorced mother trying to get established in my chosen career of advertising when my boss told me he’d promote me if I had sex with him. Gross, right? But I guess you want the details.
A recent college graduate with an honors degree in advertising, I started a job as clerical support for the TV/broadcast section of a major retailer. In the interview, my boss Mark asked about my goals. I explained that I wanted to write and produce TV commercials and he encouraged me. If I was able to complete my clerical duties, there was no reason I couldn’t learn the creative side of the business. That’s what happened. In competition with staff writers, I actually wrote two commercials that were produced and aired. But I had to wait until a writing position opened up to move to the next level. One finally did.
When everybody else was out to lunch, Mark stopped by my desk and said, “How badly do you want that job?” Embarrassed, I tried to laugh it off with, “Ha, I wish it was that easy.” His response: “It is.”
I waited. A different woman got that job. But then another writing position opened up and I knew. I knew that I had another shot…I also knew I couldn’t do it. I was the sole support of my daughter, but I chose to quit.
Decades later, when Trump’s Access Hollywood recording (among other interviews, etc.) saturated the news cycle, it occurred to me to check whether or not Mark had a Facebook profile. He does. I looked at his photos, at Mark’s smiling, older face. And I wondered whether I should “out” him. I decided to get feedback from my Facebook friends and you know what happened? Lots of people responded, most with condolences. But a few of them advised me not to do it: “What would it accomplish?”
That response got me thinking about the habit of silence that surrounds women’s issues like rape, abortion, domestic violence, sexual abuse and sexual harassment. We avoid talking about these devastating personal issues, but our silence has enabled the perpetuation of behavior that is demeaning and often violent toward women. Accountability is missing and women are diminished. It’s psychologically destructive.
I struggled to find another job after I quit working for Mark. When I finally did, I took a similar clerical position at an advertising agency. Months later, in conversation with a writer, I learned that everyone in the department assumed I got the job (a clerical job!) because I was having sex with the Creative Director. In time he departed and another guy became Creative Director. I was finally promoted to writer. Again, a different colleague said he assumed I got promoted because I screwed the boss. Imagine how that colleague, and the rest of the gossipy staff assessed my work, the lack of respect no matter what I accomplished.
Yes, advertising has a very provocative, “Mad Men” reputation. But many years and many jobs later while I was working in state government, men in positions of power suggested that having sex with them might be beneficial to my career. The playing field changed, but the “game” stayed the same.
Does this happen to all women? No. But there’s no question that it had a cruel impact on my sense of who I am and on the value of my work.
I’m a contemporary of Hillary Clinton. I’m active in this campaign, eagerly promoting the election of women to what has always been a man’s world: elective office. I’m active in promoting reproductive freedom for women; as long as babies come out of women’s bodies, women need to decide if and when that will happen.
But change cannot occur until men take responsibility for a culture in which power enables access. Thank you, Donald Trump, for illustrating the issue much better than any one woman’s story. There are lots more where this one came from.
Jennifer Wilson tried, unsuccessfully, to start the first venture capital fund to invest in women in 1989. Based upon that endeavor she wrote and produced a play, “And That’s What Little Girls Are Made Of,” in San Francisco, 2012. She’s currently turning the play into a screenplay.