Today I join the other female bloggers who are sharing their experiences of unwanted sexual attention. Instead of going through the long history, starting in early elementary school when a neighborhood boy tried to hold me down and kiss me – an incident which affected my entire childhood, I’m only going to talk about one situation.
In the summer of 1991 I’d left college and moved in with some friends I met through my job as a security agent at Washington Dulles International Airport. I was nineteen years old, five foot tall with an attractive figure from swimming for hours each day, and very naive.
Along with my roommates, the job introduced me to new situations and allowed face-to-face meetings with celebrities like Raymond Burr and Sinbad. Unfortunately, it also put me in harm’s way.
One afternoon I clocked in and took over for the person manning the metal detector door so they could go home. Some time after a passenger came through and, as he bent to collect his keys, change, cigarette lighter, and any other loose, metal objects, I saw something hanging from his key ring. Per protocol at the time, I leaned toward him and asked if I could take a look at it.
“It’s mace, see!” Came his smartass reply, and he proceeded to spray me in the face with whatever the container held.
My posture and the position of his arm aligned in such a way that my glasses did little to protect my eyes. A severe burning sensation overtook any ability to see and I cried out to my coworkers. By the time they realized what happened, the passenger was long gone.
They called the head supervisor from his office and he insisted on driving me to the emergency room, about twenty minutes away, in his personal vehicle. Surrounded by fire departments staffed by volunteers, and originally hailing from a rural area in the same situation, his logic made sense.
Why wait for volunteers to answer the fire call, travel to the firehouse, staff the ambulance, and drive to the airport, when his car was parked just outside? Besides, if I went to the hospital by ambulance someone would have to provide transportation for me to get back to work – and my roommates were all working.
This was the man who interviewed me for my job at the airport. He was tall and brawny with broad shoulders, a small head, and black hair cropped in the style of my eighth grade math teacher. He also led all the company’s training classes for that particular airport. He was both well-liked and well-respected by all my coworkers, both male and female. I had no reason not to trust him. I had no qualms about getting in a car with him.
The ride to the hospital was uneventful. Once there, the emergency room staff flushed my eyes, gave me some drops to take home, and warned me about signs to look for that might warrant a return trip. After I promised to follow up with my family eye doctor, my supervisor and I were in the car again, headed back to the airport.
The drive back seemed to take longer. There was no need to rush, he assured me, because the emergency had passed. We could take our time and enjoy a leisurely drive. Besides, I was still on the clock and the longer it took him to drive back, the less I’d have to work for the day.
He asked me questions about where I was from, my family, where I went to school, what I studied, and did I have a boyfriend. It seemed like friendly conversation and I rattled off answers without a second thought – Harpers Ferry, two parents and three siblings, Shepherd, graphic design, and no – my college boyfriend and I broke up a few months before I started working at the airport.
A clever opportunist, my supervisor used this opportunity to segue into a problem he was having. He asked me if I knew what the term frigid meant and, when I said no, he explained it to me. I do not recall if I responded, but he continued talking. He told me that his wife couldn’t meet his needs because she was frigid, and how would I like to go on a picnic with him sometime.
“Wait, you mean for sex?” I blurted.
It’s been 25 years but my skin still crawls at the memory of his face leering at me across the front seat of his car.
I don’t even remember his name – but I will never, ever forget that expression. I was bewildered. Why would he ask me this? She was still his wife! He was married. Married! That meant something, didn’t it? Shouldn’t it? This wasn’t normal…was it?
I told him I’d have to think about it because my eyes were sore and it had been a pretty eventful day.
I never had any intention of taking him up on his offer, but he had the home field advantage. Remember – I was nineteen years old. It was my first time living away from home. This man was highly regarded by my coworkers and everyone liked him, but I was a passenger in his car and my only goal was to get back to work.
To my disgust, he seemed satisfied by my response. The rest of the drive was tame in comparison to his previous questions. Conversation turned to work, my goals, and opportunities for me to be promoted within the company – perhaps a position where I could work more closely with him. A promotion to something with a little higher pay.
As he talked, I never drew a relationship between his sex life and my career path. The very idea was unfathomable. Besides, why would he seriously be interested in a kid like me? I was only nineteen.
That night I told my roommate, who was concerned. She suggested I ask our immediate manager, who had more time and experience on the job with that company, for advice.
The next time the three of us worked together, we went to the otherwise empty employee cafeteria. I relayed what happened. The manager asked if I wanted to be promoted into a higher-paying position where I’d have to work close to him every day. When I said no, she shrugged it off.
“Then just turn down the job. It’s not a big deal.”
So that’s what I did. I turned down the job. Deep down, I knew that my airport security gig was in no way a career path. Part of my reason for leaving college was because I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do with my life and I felt guilty for wasting my parents’ money on tuition for classes that didn’t really interest me.
He found some other girl who did take him up on his offer. I have no idea if his frigid wife ever knew about his extramarital dallying. When the chance came to work in a different industry, I took it and walked out on my airport job without the required two weeks’ notice. I never looked back.
That wasn’t my first time experiencing something like this and it was in no way the last. It is the one that comes to mind the most when I hear celebrities like Trump say they can do what they want to women and then, after being called out on it, chalk up what they’ve said as “locker room talk”.
It wasn’t okay then. It’s not okay now. It won’t be okay in the future.
If you have a story to share, please feel free to use the comments section. If you’d rather share anonymously, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to host it on a future blog post.
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