Watching my harassment complaint be treated with warranted, hard-fought seriousness, I felt the strength of my mother’s generation of feminists at my back.
My mom took me out for lunch when I got my first real job. I had interned before, but now I was freshly graduated with a glossy MA and a to-do list of dreams. This was the big time.
It was a celebration lunch because she was retiring from a long career in the same field just as I was making my career debut. I joked that it was a passing of the workaholic torch—two phones, call waiting. But it was so much more than that.
Over 2 p.m. vodka sodas, Mama regaled me with stories of youthful mistakes, moments of inspiration and humor throughout her career. I was advised to avoid certain after-work gatherings and too-familiar text messages between male office mates because context rarely mattered to a headline, she reminded me. I playfully rolled my eyes. She was proud of me. Before we left the restaurant she handed me a box containing her sparkly flamingo pin to symbolize our shared affinity for C.J. Cregg from The West Wing.
Three years later, I watched the light in her eyes dim a little bit when she heard that I was being sexually harassed at work. That it wasn’t the first time. And that I had waited almost a year to report when it continued to happen. Through humiliated tears, I confessed that I froze in the face of aggressive male behavior. She hugged me, and for the first time, I could feel her usually unfailing confidence falter because as it turned out, even though times had changed, not much had changed at all.
Mama was a ’90s badass. She wore the pantyhose and Tresemme Extra Hold hairspray, had a glass ceiling to break, and a kid to pick up from daycare at 5 p.m. sharp—all of which she accomplished with incredible poise. She broke down barriers for other women in our small state. And to her immense credit, she was never bitter when career moves came easier to me. My success was just one of hers: She had made the world a little bit better for her daughter.
Blinded by the new job and all that came with it, I failed to see her efforts to protect and prepare me for the experience of being treated as a simultaneous scapegoat, personal assistant and walking meat market by a man who was coddled like an office pet. “Too brilliant” to hold accountable for volatile tantrums and sexist quips, he scrolled Twitter through the required harassment training. I finally reported him.
Watching my harassment complaint be treated with warranted, hard-fought seriousness, I felt the strength of my mother’s generation of feminists at my back. And my own dimmed light glows a little bit brighter. He was fired. The outcome will never bring me justice, but for now I will accept accountability if it means that tomorrow I can get up off the mat in pursuit of an even better world than the one my mother left for me.
Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.