“Yes, but what do yellow rubber duckies have to do with sexual harassment?” my brother asks a second time. I’m trying to explain the concept of emotional de-cluttering, and he’s just not getting it. Who can blame him? The connection exists only in my brain, and I didn’t even know it was there until I started trying to decide what to do with the collection of rubber duckies in my bathroom.
In keeping with my promise to you, Dear Reader, I have been (sometimes literally) plowing forward — albeit erratically — with my housecleaning attempts, and being mindful of my emotional reactions to the stuff I find it hard to part with. https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/emotional-house-cleaning/
Why did these five yellow duckies ruffle my emotional feathers? I began wading through charged memories. The first time I remember hearing my parents fight was over whether I should be allowed to keep Dilly, Daffy, and Dally, the ducklings my uncle had given me (no, was the upshot). The pivotal moment when I decided to pursue an environmental career came as I was sitting at the duck pond at Montgomery Community College, contemplating the effects of industrial pollution on innocent ducklings.
Then I noticed the small printing on the ducky chests – Chancellor Hotel, San Francisco, California.
Fade to San Francisco Bar Scene
Suddenly a memory came back to me of sitting at a bar in San Francisco, which wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, back in the day. I used to spend a lot of time at the Sierra Club headquarters in that fabulous city, and in the evenings, visiting field reps would gather at classy joints (not so much) like Lefty O’Doul’s on Union Square.
That particular night, I was sitting with a distraught young woman who had just been the victim of an elevator pass made by a male Sierra Club staffer notorious for womanizing. She asked for my advice.
I am ashamed to continue this story, so I will instead take you to an underground vault at the Central Intelligence Agency in McLean, Virginia. (How I went from a job at the CIA to the Sierra Club is another story. You’ll have to wait for my book.)
Jump to an Underground Vault at the CIA
I am newly 19 and have just come back from lunch with my 30 year-old supervisor. He had lunged across the seat of his car, kissed me, and stuck his married hand up my skirt. I am asking an older woman in the secretarial pool what I should do. She gives me two pieces of advice – first, I shouldn’t have gotten in the car with him, and second, I shouldn’t wear such short skirts. I’m inviting that behavior.
I get a new supervisor. This one shoves his married tongue down my throat at the office holiday party. I don’t even bother to tell him when another fine, upstanding CIA employee comes up behind me and shoves his (married) hands down my blouse. After all, this is nothing new — the manager at the hardware store where I worked when I was 18 had done the same thing, after I turned down his kind invitation to swing with him and his wife. My fault, probably. I should have been wearing a turtleneck.
Done with Duckies, Guilt, and Shame
So what did I tell this younger woman at the bar in San Francisco, twenty years post-CIA trauma? Thank God I didn’t tell her to wear longer skirts. But I did advise her to weigh her actions in light of her career goals. She was junior, but on her way up, and he was an influential manager. She never reported the sexual harassment. None of us works there anymore.
I haven’t thought about any of this in many moons. It was well-stuffed. The shocked confusion of an 18 year-old kid being asked to bed down with her 35 year-old manager and his wife, the shame of a 19-year-old who has essentially been told she’s a tart and is getting what she asks for, and the stabbing guilt of not supporting a younger woman struggling with similar emotions.
It’s been fifteen years since I’ve seen the woman, but I recently contacted her, and we plan to get together. I’m going to apologize. I should have marched with her up to Human Resources and busted that guy.
Anyway, I’m thinking I’ll get rid of the yellow rubber duckies. Maybe I’ll keep the one with the Santa hat…nah, he reminds me of office holiday parties.
(If you’re interested in following the history of sexual harassment at the CIA, class action suits, etc, there’s plenty of stuff online. I”m not here to grind an axe; I’m long gone from there and into healing. Plus, I don’t want to get “disappeared.” But you can investigate on your own. Here are recent articles: CIA steps up harassment enforcement – UPI.com.)
http://www.newser.com/story/149502/cia-investigating-sexual-harassment-among-agents.html “It’s an old-boys’ network, and that kind of comes with the territory,” says one victim. Couldn’t have said it better myself.