With the current revelations concerning the extent of sexual harassment and assault suffered by women at the hands of men in positions of power, it is safe to say that women in every area of professional endeavor have been subjected to such degrading and illegal behavior.
Women are now speaking up more publicly and in growing numbers, and I want to add my voice to that rising chorus.
As a veteran elementary school teacher, I have enjoyed a rewarding career that has allowed me to positively affect the lives of hundreds of wonderful children. The importance of establishing trust and caring with and among my students became obvious from the start, and I always paid particular attention to ensuring that boys and girls learned to treat each other with respect and kindness.
Although the teaching profession is largely made up of women, it provided me no refuge from the predatory culture of sexual harassment that afflicts our nation. Whether it was from school administrators, male colleagues, custodians or even the fathers of some of my students, the sheer number of incidents that I experienced during my career has been a grueling ordeal, ranging from the many salacious comments that were directed at me to actual sexual assault.
I still remember how uncomfortable I felt when a guidance advisor at my university repeatedly discouraged me from becoming a teacher, saying that I was “too pretty” and should consider modeling instead. I once had a principal who admitted having assigned me to an out-of-town conference in mid-February because he wanted to ensure that I wouldn’t “spend Valentine’s Day with your boyfriend.” At another school, a female principal explained that although the other women in the faculty could wear sleeveless tops, I must avoid doing so because “your shoulders are too sexy.”
After reporting one particularly disturbing incident of sexual harassment, my principal offered to intervene by hosting a meeting where the harassing individual and I could “talk things out.” It was only after I obtained a restraining order that any action was taken, and a number of other women on the staff quietly confessed to me that they, too, had suffered harassment from that disgusting person.
It is difficult to describe the long-term impact these experiences have had on me. At first, I felt scared and somewhat confused. Should I keep quiet? Had I done something to deserve such treatment? Later, I developed a deep depression that made it hard for me to face the world. Some mornings I would feel panic attacks as I prepared for school, my stomach twisted into knots, knowing that I might have to interact with one of my tormentors.
Today, after taking a break from teaching for medical reasons, I am happy to be returning to my classroom. I have gathered strength from my supportive family, from my doctor and counselor, and from the many brave women who have so recently begun to tell their stories.
Teaching is my calling, and Arizona’s students need teachers now more than ever. We have much work yet to do. Future generations of boys and girls will some day develop a better understanding about the need to show each other respect and kindness — and to extend that respect and kindness into their lives as men and women. That day cannot come too soon.