Mayling Simpson: #metoo
October 19, 2017
With the recent breaking story about Harvey Weinstein, women all over the country began speaking out about how they too — #metoo — have been sexually assaulted and insulted. The Weinstein story is only the latest in a string of revelations about men in powerful positions who were sexual predators, including Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes and Tiger Woods.
But the #metoo flurry also demonstrates how pervasive sexual harassment and assault are in our country. I, too, was once sexually assaulted. It was in 1979, and all these years I have only told my husband. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone else.
But now I feel it is important for all of us who have been assaulted to speak out. We have a cultural problem of huge magnitude.
I was assaulted by a professional colleague, a Johns Hopkins University assistant professor, a young man of Egyptian origin. We were together on a team of four persons doing a project assessment for the World Bank in Egypt.
At the end of our two-week consultancy, he invited me out to dinner, as our other two colleagues had already left. When we returned to the Hilton Hotel in Cairo to drop me off, he insisted upon walking me to my room, which oddly enough was a canvas cabana beside the swimming pool. That afternoon when I had gone to check into the hotel, they told me I had no reservation and that the hotel was full. They offered me a cabana, and I took it.
My colleague said that he wished to walk me to the cabana because the pool area was "not safe" at midnight. When we got to my room, he took my key, unlocked the door and shoved his way into the room behind me and shut the door. Then the attack began. When I immediately told him to stop, he just continued.
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So, I told him that if he did not leave immediately that I would tell everyone I knew at The Johns Hopkins University what he had done. With that he stormed out of the room while calling me a vile name. (Actually, I did not know anyone at Johns Hopkins at that time.)
I could not sleep the entire night. I flew home to North Carolina the next day, upset the whole way, and stayed upset for several weeks thereafter. That was 38 years ago, and although I remember little about the assessment, I remember the assault vividly.
Not only was I terrified of what he might do to me physically, but I was also deeply insulted that he thought he could use me in that way. I had thought of him as a professional colleague; he thought of me as prey.
With all that has been written in recent years about these famous sexual predators, it seems to me that no one has really connected the dots. I call these dots the "P" words: predator, pornography, prostitution and patriarchy.
The predators, pornography and prostitution sit atop a huge iceberg of patriarchy filled with attitudes and values about women. Pornography, along with strip clubs, beauty contests, the bathing suit issue of Sports Illustrated and Victoria's Secret ads, all send a message that women are game to be hunted, that women are sex objects to be conquered. They fuel the fires of predation, making it seem normal to the predators.
Until we women can get rid of this stuff, until the sex industry is brought down, we will be subject to this humiliation.