When I was in the midst of writing my memoir, My Music Man, conversations about sexual harassment – at work and beyond – were there, nagging and being ignored, as they have been for much of my life. #MeToo hadn’t yet launched: encouraging nearly every woman I know to share her story into this bottomless pit of events that never should have happened. During my writing, I had no idea that my experience on page 167 would join all the other #MeToo’s shared.
As I finished my final draft during the fall of 2016, I did ponder how different times were between my daughters’ generation and my great great great grandmother’s. The difference in 1840 when my twenty-one year old great great great grandmother married 31 days after arriving in the Oregon Territory, even though she argued against marriage with her father only a few months prior in America’s civilized east coast. I had thought about the differences in the early 1890’s when my great great grandfather J.K. Gill would not have considered leaving his book store interests to any of his five daughters, choosing instead a son and son-in-laws. I relished that my friends and I claimed what Title IX gave us on our basketball courts and baseball diamonds: so glad that our daughters had more opportunities. And I was pleased in how it worked out – that the publisher who selected my book, Bedazzled Ink Press, was among those sharing the diversity of women’s voices, not what mass media tells us those stories should be.
Then, I didn’t think as much about my story on page 167. My 12-mile hike as a 19-year old Student Conservation Association hire at Mt. Rainer National Park with my older-than-my-father National Park Service supervisor. I usually hiked alone on my job or with my co-worker: why did he need to come along on this day? And as he paused near a lake early on our journey from Chinook Pass, miles yet to hike along the Pacific Crest Trail to my cabin at Three Lakes, he alluded to how nice a back rub would feel. I kept hiking. He kept making his insinuations. I knew only he had a radio. I hiked faster, miles to go. He suggested visiting me nights at my cabin. I wanted to say – you creep! You are older than my father! I thought of all the ways I could punch him or push him down off the trail if he insisted. I was ignorant of the beauty that usually spoke to me – of snow-capped Rainier, wildflowers and the call of the marmot. When we arrived at my cabin, my stony responses must have told the jerk to move on. When I reported it the next day – surprised I am now, to not have been nervous alone that night, 6 miles from our ranger station – I was assigned to a different supervisor. Leaving this disgusting hiking companion allowed to continue his merry journey upwards through the NPS ranks, likely. My experience was far less significant than so many – the rising tide of vulgar, devastating stories. But staying within my heart all these years later.
When I submitted my final manuscript last year, I remember thinking – thank God my daughters, today in their twenties, won’t know so many of these awful injustices. But no – my naïveté is blinding. To those stray men who want us to ‘get back to work as we knew it and stop the stories already.’ Tough! Work as we knew it and know it isn’t what any of daughters deserve. We need to keep talking and pushing until all of us feel safe and respected…..until those ignorant, powerful men in powerful positions fess up, apologize and step down.