I shared my #MeToo for my daughter | KUOW News and Information

I shared my #MeToo for my daughter

Jan 7, 2018

There goes Hollywood again, leading from behind.

It's really funny how the entire world is now jumping on the Harvey Weinstein bandwagon (or off it, as it were). Yet Hollywood knew for many, many years about Weinstein's behavior. It was condoned. Again and again.

Clearly his behavior finally caught up with him.

So the question is, how do we make it catch up with everyone?

I am a #MeToo. I actually was a repeat offender. The professions I chose were lousy with harassers. When I was an intern at a radio station, one of the local celebrities used to leave me love notes (they got more disgusting as the years went on). Then, when I worked on Capitol Hill, I encountered one of history's best harassers (I wrote about this last year). Both broadcasting and politics —  like Hollywood — draw a certain kind of harasser, the kind who thinks power is boundless and employees (usually women) are objects with which to play.

As I listened to the Weinstein coverage and chuckled over the shock expressed by the Hollywood elite, I kept coming back to the fantastic observations shared by Emma Thompson in a video interview.

None of this is new.

We have known forever about the way women are treated in Hollywood. Just as we know about the way they have been treated in broadcasting and on Capitol Hill. None of this is surprising.

So we know it happens. Then what will it take to stop it?

I contend the only way to stop this epidemic of objectification and harassment of women is to begin to share quite openly how common it really is.

Lauri Hennessey was sexually harassed by former Oregon Senator Bob Packwood, who eventually resigned in 1995. This post was originally published on her LinkedIn account

And this brings back a memory. My daughter's middle school humanities teacher asked me to speak about working on Capitol Hill. It had been about 20 years, and I thought it would be fun to talk to the kids about how exciting politics was. At one point, I don't quite recall how, one of the kids asked me what the toughest thing was for me in Washington, D.C. I hesitated only a second and told all of the class it was when I was the victim of sexual harassment in a very high-profile case which ultimately led to the resignation of a U.S. Senator.

I remember when I spoke, I noticed my daughter in the classroom. She seemed to shrink a bit, and I knew it was pretty embarrassing to her. We never spoke of it, but I knew she had not been thrilled with my confession.

I often thought of that moment. Why couldn't I talk about it? What was wrong with telling kids about being harassed? Why not put a face to it and teach them how wrong it was?

Lauri Hennessey (top), Mimi Mahoney, Senator Bob Packwood, Julia Brim-Edwards, and Bobbi Munson. Shortly after this photo was taken, Hennessey joined Packwood's personal staff.
Credit Courtesy Lauri Hennessey

The thing about being sexually harassed is that it is very, very hard to remember you have done nothing wrong. The system feels rigged against you. I remember when I was harassed, my boss claimed it had happened because I wore short skirts. Later, when I was being deposed by the Senate Ethics Committee, I was asked to stand up for the committee to see the length of my skirt and approve it as professional.

Thank God we have changed in the last 25 years. I cannot imagine an Ethics Committee Hearing running the same way today, with the victim expected to defend herself and face a presumption of guilt.

Of course, that was only the beginning. I also had to deal with former colleagues sending statements and testimony about me to the committee, most of it fabricated. It was utterly painful to me. And though it has been 25 years, I don't know what I would do if I ran into one of those people today. It is one of the few acts in my life I cannot forgive.

The thing about sexual harassment is that when it happens, you have no friends. Everyone skitters away. Everyone does what they can to protect the boss. People lie. People try to destroy you. People threaten you and intimidate you. Basically, the nightmare of what has happened to you becomes two nightmares as the intimidation begins.

Those people will do horrible things until the balance tips against them.

It is only when the balance tips that the true "bad guys" lose. And the balance only tips, (like it has for Harvey Weinstein), in some hard-to-defend moment when the person responsible does more damage than he is worth. And when it tips, it tips fast. And then you are "Weinsteined".

I believe we can expedite the tipping by talking about things together. And that is what I have told my daughters. If anything happens, talk about it. No more secrets.

Lauri Hennessey's daughter Emma works on signs advocating for women's rights.
Credit Courtesy of Lauri Hennessey

My daughter went on to be very interested in women's studies until she graduated from college last May. She is an inspiration to me, a true feminist who wants to spend her life working for equality. One of my favorite "mom" moments was when she contacted me about a year ago. She had written an essay about my experience and her thoughts about it. In the essay, she talked about the time I spoke to her 8th grade class and about how she had been embarrassed. She ended the essay by saying she wished she had listened more when I told the story and now she was very proud I had shared it.

I think there is hope if we have more people like my daughter, more people willing to listen, to call out, to fight back.

More people willing to say, "Me, too."

The Seattle Story Project: First-person reflections published at KUOW.org. To submit a story or note one you've seen that deserves more notice, contact Isolde Raftery at iraftery@kuow.org or 206.616.2035.