When I was a junior in high school and Prom was just around the corner, my history teacher asked the class to sit down and have a little talk.
He wrote three lines on the board:
“Rule No. 1: All men are pigs.
Rule No. 2: There are no exceptions to Rule No. 1.”
Rule No. 3 was something fun and arbitrary about enjoying the dance.
Those rules came to mind again Wednesday morning as I watched with horror as I discovered longtime “Today” anchor I could feel a lump in my throat as Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb informed the public that they were “heartbroken.”
I’m pretty heartbroken too.
I’ve been watching “Today” since I was a kid. I will admit not all of it is hard-hitting news, but it is a really engaging show, and, as with any television news program, I had gotten pretty attached with the anchors, feeling like I knew them on a personal level.
Sometimes, you think these people are only good. Sometimes you think they’re respectable, untouchable. Sometimes, you’re wrong.
I’m infinitely proud of the brave men and women who have come forward to denounce sexual harassment this fall alone — it means so much to me to see a lot of power given to the voiceless.
Since I’ve been giving this topic a lot of thought.
And I can’t help but realize how often sexual harassment and assault occur, especially toward women.
The day before I wrote this column, I experienced a bit of this myself. I went to a local shop for a photography project, and a man — I would guess — in his 70s approached me over and over again asking me my age, name, origin, what my project was — almost all of which I responded to with discomfort and a lie.
He would later return just before leaving the shop to tell me I have hazel eyes, to which I responded with an, “Oh, thanks,” and a step back — he responded with a step closer.
Right when I thought he was headed out the door, he walked back to say, “Never settle for less. I know what I’m looking at. Never settle.”
My, “Okay, bye,” and, “Okay, thanks,” accompanied with folded arms and clear step back away from him were no match for his sense of entitlement and hand reaching out to nearly touch my shoulder or forearm.
So, nothing happened.
But it is the idea that something could have.
It’s the discomfort in my voice, words and stance that said nothing to him. Nothing penetrated his mind to make him think, “Maybe I’m being weird. Maybe I shouldn’t forcibly hit on this 20-year-old.”
Nope. That thought never crossed his mind.
I talked to a male friend of mine about the experience later and realized he would likely never be in a situation like that. He would most likely never feel cornered by a woman, covering up his backside and front side and all sides, feeling violated by someone’s eyes and words, feeling like the woman would reach out and grope him at any moment.
This is where victims and potential victims start to feel like it is their fault.
Even after this incident, I thought, “You know, maybe I shouldn’t have awkwardly chuckled like that. Maybe I should’ve spoken louder.”
But the truth is, I’ve been awkwardly chuckling my way out of inappropriate situations all my life — and it’s not working. And I’ve seen other women do the same.
But what are we supposed to do?
Does an awkward comment count as harassment? Where do we draw the line?
And that’s a huge problem.
It’s a problem with our society and who we put in power and how far people have allowed themselves to go with aggressive comments and behavior. But if “nothing” happened, what is there to report?
I’m hoping that the more accurate allegations are made, the more comfortable people will feel about reporting them. I’m hoping that the more powerful people who are called out for inexcusable behavior show others that this is not acceptable — in my profession, or anywhere else.
I hope that no one stops feeling brave.
“Rule No. 1: All men are pigs.
Rule No. 2: There is no exception to Rule No. 1.”
I always thought Rule No. 2 was a lie. But with these allegations, I’m swayed. I don’t want to be swayed, but how do I keep the copious amounts of reports about previously beloved people from affecting my judgement?
Perhaps, with this new movement will come new people — better people and better choices. I have hope. I see hope in many of the people around me. I still think there are some good humans out there; we just have to take a closer look at ourselves to find them.
Elizabeth Sanchez is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. The views in this column are her own. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Beth_A_Sanchez.