Editor’s note: We welcome a new column A NH Life by Beverly Stoddart in this deeply personal story. Stoddart is a writer, author, and speaker. After 42 years of working at newspapers, she retired to write books and a blog. She is on the Board of Trustees of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project and is a member of the Winning Speakers Toastmasters group in Windham and the Ohio Writers’ Association. Her latest book is Stories from the Rolodex, mini-memoirs of journalists from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. A prized accomplishment was winning Carl Kassel’s voice for her voice mail when she won the National Public Radio game, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! She has been married for 45 years to her husband, Michael, and has one son and two rescue dogs.
By BEVERLY STODDART, A NH Life
In August 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed “Enacting Sweeping New Workplace Harassment Protections.” The governor of New York, where nine women have come forward describing the toxic work environment he fostered, had said the following: “There has been an ongoing, persistent culture of sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination in the workplace, and now it is time to act.” Look it up on the state’s official website, www.governor.ny.gov.
Singer/songwriter Neil Diamond used a smoother way of seducing women. According to Laura Jackson’s book about Diamond, Neil Diamond: His life, His Music, His Passion, “Diamond had used one of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s works to successfully seduce a significantly older woman.” Seduce – a nice way of saying getting laid. Neil Diamond had a smoother way of attracting a woman. Governor Cuomo used a much crasser delivery of his seduction message. A ninth woman has come forward describing the toxic environment he fostered in his administration. The terms used about Cuomo include ogling, groping, mounting like a dog, kissing, and intimate hugs.
Ronan Farrow’s The New Yorker interview with first accuser, Lyndsey Boylan, reports there is proof of his actions. Farrow writes, “We unearthed emails, texts, both internal communications in the governor’s office that talked about her looks and alluded to an elevated level of interest from the governor, and also private communications with her mother, with friends, where she seemed to be fearful of the governor. Each of those individual incidents comes against a backdrop of what she really did perceive to be serial harassment.”
Serial harassment. When will we learn in an unwanted moment to stop it and raise our voices? I can’t say, because when I was in the moment, I didn’t stop it and said nothing.
Sometime in 1973 or 1974, there were two incidents, one incident I remember clearly. The other partially. You are probably thinking; it was a long damn time ago and hardly necessary now. Perhaps, you’ll understand why I believe the women after reading this. I’m 60+ years old and had my share of seeing harassment. The times I walked down a city sidewalk passing by construction workers who shamelessly hurled catcalls. Or the times of too-tight hugs by men. I remember one man in a theatre group I joined would pinch all the girl’s nipples. Imagine. At the rehearsals, in front of everyone. My reaction would be very different today. Should I blame the 1970s for his bad behavior?
Now to the incident I remember. I was 19 or 20 and gotten my first job at a newspaper in South Florida, hired to be a clerk and process ads. The salespeople would drop their hand-drawn layouts in the cutout window between the sales department and the ad services room, an expansive hallway-like room with access at the back to the composing room. We would go thru the layout and make sure all the text was provided, typed by the secretarial pool. Along with the type were pieces of art the reps had clipped from the art services book to use in their layouts. The layout, art, and typed copy would be moved into the composing room for a typesetter to set the fonts and style. A compositor put all the pieces together and pasted up the ad. Each element was run thru a waxer. The parts would be assembled on a broadsheet size piece of heavy paper held by the wax.
One night I was working alone in the department processing late ads. I even remember what I was wearing though 40 years have passed. I had on a white top and a black pullover shift dress. I wore my skirts short in the 1970s. But I was young and thin. I specifically remember the shoes I wore. They were floral embroidered strappy wedges so cute and comfortable, and I got them for a great price.
I stood facing the window into the empty sales department and worked on finding all the ad items. I didn’t hear him approach. The advertising director, who in all honesty was as good-looking as Cary Grant or George Clooney, came up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders, and spun me around. He kissed me right on the mouth. He didn’t say a word and walked away. I can’t begin to tell you what my emotions were, although I wasn’t angry. Perhaps, surprised best describes the brief stolen kiss. Afterward, nothing was ever said. Of course, the kiss was the height of inappropriateness. No matter how good-looking the guy was. And wait, please don’t judge me yet until I tell you what happened next.
I didn’t put this all together until recently—the talk about Cuomo and the scandals where he’s at the center. I believe the women. Think about what men have done to women when they think no one is watching. “84% of women have been harassed while running, and 70% of men have not, so it’s a hugely gendered problem,” said Taylor Rojeck, editor of Runner’s World, reporting in a November 2019 online article. Runners Alliance, an advocate for running safety, wrote, “94% of the women reported no one helped them after they had been harassed.”
Don’t get me started on Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Sixteen women have lodged complaints in a lawsuit naming him a “serial predator.” Many of the complaints come from women who were alone with him during a massage session. What some men will do when no one is watching.
And so, to the following incident. Once again, I was working late, and I thought alone. I was single and enjoying my job at the newspaper. Staying late and working was what you did when you wanted to be promoted. This time I was back in the composing room fixing an ad that would run wrong in the paper the next day. A former union composer who worked at the paper and was as mean as they come would always be on the lookout for anyone tampering with his job. He used to work in the greater Boston area, where newspapers were unionized. One did not touch the work of another union. If you were caught doing some other union’s work at a strict shop, you would be brought up for punitive measures, even firing.
I stayed late to avoid him and make the changes so I wouldn’t have to issue a credit for the incorrect ad copy. The man in charge of the camera department, who was over six feet tall and easily over 200 pounds, came up to me and grabbed me by the wrist. He began pulling me back to the back of the department. I remember sliding my feet to stop him. I found myself in the darkroom where printing plates were processed, and a red light shone. He kissed me. I don’t remember what I was wearing; I only know I ran out of there. I didn’t tell anyone.
Was it me? Was I at fault? After all the talk about Andrew Cuomo, Deshaun Watson, and Asian women being targeted by a “guy having a bad day,” I don’t think so. What finally occurred to me so many years later was the one guy bragged to the other one and, in effect, permitted him to assault me. That’s what it was like in the 1970s. One wonders what has changed.
The MeToo movement founder, Tarana Burke, said in an online Newsbeat article in July 2020, “What we need to be talking about is the everyday woman, man, trans person, child, and disabled person. All the people who are not rich, white, and famous who deal with sexual violence on an everyday basis. We need to talk about the systems that are still in place that allow that to happen.”
GovDocs.com reported on October 22, 2020, “seven states and New York City have passed laws requiring harassment prevention training.” From what I read, Andrew Cuomo didn’t have time to attend the training sessions.