This is one of the ways it happens. This is the first time it happened to me (it was unfortunately, not the last).
I was 20, a senior graduating from Boston University with a B.S. in journalism and a vague thought about wanting to work in children’s tv production (don’t ask, I didn’t even know what it was).
Like every parent with a child about to leave the confines of college, mine wanted to help me find employment. Having thought, for most of my life, I was going to be a teacher, with a clear career path, and switching mid-stream to journalism, after catching the writing bug sophomore year, I needed all the help I could get.
A family friend was called. Her daughter was married to a prominent guy at CBS in New York. My mother invited the couple to dinner for the husband to meet me. My mother slaved over homemade sauce, sausage, meatballs and braciole–meat flattened, and filled with stuffing, then tied up with string and cooked in sauce all day. I spoke with the man after dinner, told him about myself, and he told me he’d look around and be in touch. I was elated at the thought.
A few weeks later he called me and told me he was coming to Boston to do some work with WBZ, a local tv station he used to work for. He asked me if he could stay with me. I explained I lived with a roommate in a two bedroom on-campus apartment with just a kitchen and a bathroom, and had no extra space. He told me he doubted he’d find a hotel with such short notice (which should have been a sign for me–there are a zillion hotel rooms in Boston), but I guess I was too focused, too hopeful, that this powerful man might be able to help me find a job, and I didn’t want to think he was anything but on the level. I was nervous that saying no might ruin my chances of having him help me. I turned it over a few times in my head, but there was no room, and it felt odd and uncomfortable, so I just had to take my chances, and say no.
He got a room in the Copley. He invited me to meet him for dinner. Close to the time we were to meet, he called and asked me to meet him in his room because he had to watch a show and critique it for WBZ. I agreed.
The room was as small as my dorm room, and the only seating was the bed. I was immediately fidgety, and nervous. He began pretty quickly telling me a story. He had, the day before, been casting a soap opera at work and the actresses had to assume the sexiest position they knew. He asked me what I would do if someone asked me to do that. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, I was as uncomfortable as if I’d been caught in the rain and forced to sit in air conditioning. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think of myself as sexy.” My immediate thought was to play naive, to pretend I had no idea what he was talking about. He persisted, “C’mon. You’re so sexy. What would you do?” Still not positive he wasn’t just making conversation, I continued to play dumb and NOT assume my sexiest pose.
And then he laid it out, “I hadn’t expected you to be so beautiful when I was asked to meet you,” he said. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you.” I can’t tell you what I did with that, because as I’m sitting here, I can’t remember. What I did not do, if you are wondering, is sleep with this pig who was at least 25 years older than I was, and trying to take advantage of me and my earnest ambition. I kept thinking that I must be mistaken, that he couldn’t really be putting the moves on me, especially since my mother and father had been friends with his in-laws for more than three decades. Wasn’t he scared I’d tell my parents? Was he just such a narcissist that he thought I was attracted to him too, and wouldn’t want to tell my parents. I think I brought up my boyfriend. I think he told me he’d been attracted to other women during the course of his marriage, but not like he was attracted to me. There was more, but I think I blocked part of it out. He outweighed me by at least 200 pounds, so I am lucky he didn’t just go for it.
I kept pushing for us to go to dinner, and finally, he gave up, and we went to a bad Chinese restaurant, where he ordered a whole fish that came with its head still attached (I am nauseated by the smell of fish and have been my whole life, so it seemed just perfect.) The job thing was over, there was no talk of it during dinner. My interview had ended in that hotel room when I rebuffed his advances. He made me pay for my half of the check (HALF of his big smelly fish).
I still didn’t know if what I thought might be true, was true–that he was trying to sleep with me. This is important to say, because I think this is how it happens. I was young, not as naive as I pretended to be, but insecure enough not to think a powerful married man would risk his marriage to sleep with me.
Now I know if you suspect something happened, it did. This predator was never going to get me interviews with anybody. As an adult I look back and see this was the first time I would be dealing with the issue of sex for a job. I wonder if he really would have helped me if I’d acqiesced, or would I have just been a another one night stand, another story he could tell in “the locker room.”
My boyfriend was furious and wanted to call the guy. He understood what had happened in a way my shell shocked brain couldn’t quite accept. When my mom and dad called the next morning and excitedly asked me how it went, I gave them the blow by blow, and told them that they could never tell our family friends, and never speak of it to me again. My mother, furious, screamed, “AND I MADE THAT MAN MEATBALLS AND SAUSAGE AND BRACIOLE!”
I was young. Not even out of college yet and there it was — power and sexuality and hope, all there for me to have to decipher. It was terrifying. I had the good sense and good luck to get out of the situation with my clothes on, but it scared me, and it made me wonder if I’d done anything to make it happen (I had most certainly not–I was wearing a hairband–what could be less sexy). It was an abuse of power, clear and simple.
But that’s how it happens. That’s how it happened to me.