This Mashable article sent me down memory lane, to a newspaper internship I had 100 years ago at the now-defunct Baltimore Evening Sun.
I was young, fresh-faced, and thrilled to enter the hallowed halls (think “smoke-stained” and “stale-smelling”) of that paper, which shared a newsroom with the better-known (and still alive) Baltimore Sun. The newsroom had an invisible Maginot Line you dared not cross. I worked on the seedier side.
Almost immediately, they put me on a big project about drunk driving. Maryland was trying to tighten its laws, and they gave me the awful job of calling up the families of the victims of drunk drivers, and asking for a photo.
I hated it.But it was good training. Journalists often talk to people on the worst day of their lives, and it’s important to learn how to do so compassionately.
I was mostly treated with benign neglect by the editors at the paper, except for one editor named Jim. He started saying suggestive things pretty much as soon as I sat down at a borrowed desk. This was a new experience for me. I had always enjoyed the respect and joviality of journalists when I was the youngest and least experienced of the bunch, but his attention was something more, something icky. Within a week, he’d started to follow me to the break room to tell me that his wife didn’t understand him. He asked me to lunch, to dinner, offered to show me the sights around the Inner Harbor.
Even someone who just fell off the potato wagon (that would have been me) could see this was going nowhere good. Ol’ Jim kept after me, complimenting me on the one hand, and then reminding me that I worked for him on the other. When I objected to things he said, he’d quickly pedal backward. He didn’t mean that, he’d say. I’d misunderstood. What was wrong with me, anyway?
I am not sure at that point I’d even heard the phrase “sexual harassment.” I only knew his particular brand of nonsense made me mad.
I was young and scared and unsure of myself, but I grew up with brothers and though my religion taught me otherwise, I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with fighting back, and so one day in the break room, I turned on him with a “Look…” and said in the most conversational tone I could manage that if he didn’t stop following me around, I would punch him in a personal and private place and once I punched him, I swore, he’d stay punched.
Probably it would have been better if I’d gone to a supervisor, but in my neighborhood, a short phrase like that kept both authorities and bad behavior at bay. Had the behavior not stopped, I’m pretty sure I’d have followed through. I was pretty sure I knew what he wanted, pretty sure he had no right to ask for it, and fairly certain I could punch someone into the state of staying punched. I’d already punched a guy who’d backed me into a corner in my dorm room. I don’t think I ever saw a young man flee a room so fast and I felt pretty awesome save for the tooth I’d broken off of him that lay on the floor. What is the etiquette of such a situation? Does one wrap the tooth up and return it? Wear it like a pelt?
Plus, my hand hurt like hell for a week.
(I kept the tooth.)
(Is punching people a hillbilly thing? Dunno. I’m not advocating this, I promise. But still.)
And so when I hear Whatzisname say something stupid about women, and then backtrack immediately, I think of that idiot in Baltimore. There’s one in every crowd. I don’t recommend punching — I promise — but a little push back worked then and works now.
Maybe you have a Trumpesque story of your own. Maybe you handled it without resorting to violence. I encourage you to share your story. In numbers, there is power.