A few weeks ago, my girlfriend, Jane, was sexually harassed out of her job. One might say she was lucky because the man did not try to physically assault her, his language was PG and he kept his pants on, but he followed her around, wrote her love notes and generally made her feel very uncomfortable. He did not stop when she said she had a boyfriend. (A lie: I am, in fact, a woman, but if she had said she had a girlfriend, he probably would have just waggled his eyebrows and said, “That’s hot.”)

Now, when I heard about this, I wanted to drive up to Farmington and throw this clown off the nearest bridge. (It makes me real mad when someone hassles my lady. Am I right, gentlemen?) But Jane is professional. She reported him to HR, and then walked off the job. To their credit, HR did the right thing and immediately fired him.

The next day, eight other women working at the same company messaged Jane to tell her that this guy had done the same things to them. Eight. That’s not innocent flirtation, confusion over boundaries or a mistake. That is a pattern of predatory behavior.

When I’m not being a famous columnist, I have an office job that involves dealing with customers over the phone. I also have a high-pitched voice that is very audibly that of a young woman. Do you know how many times male customers of a certain age have called me “honey,” “dear” and “sweetheart” while I’m just trying to process their order refund? Now, I’m fairly certain these men aren’t serial predators like Jane’s jerk. I probably remind them of their daughter or their granddaughter. But I’m not their daughter or their granddaughter; I am an adult in a professional setting, and calling me “honey” is demeaning and disrespectful. None of my male co-workers ever gets called nicknames over the phone.

I can’t do anything about it at work because the customer is always right, but if I could I would call them out on it: “Yes, thank you, honey.” “Sir, did you just call me ‘honey’? You don’t know me, sir. Why would you do that?” I imagine his face would be like the face of the man who once grabbed my butt in a nightclub, not expecting the response he got (which involved me spinning around and asking to his face: “Why did you just grab me? Do you just like to grab random women? Do you think that’s OK?”)

Besides, I know that many of our readers are men, and maybe they will think twice from now on before calling a young woman in a professional setting by an intimate nickname. In addition to being demeaning, it also reminds me of my father, who used to call me “sweetheart.” He’s dead. I don’t like being suddenly reminded of that fact in the middle of the workday by some guy who’s trying to get an invoice.


I have a proposal to help lower rates of sexual harassment and assault. On their 13th birthday, every girl in America should receive a knife. Just a simple pocketknife, the spring-assisted type with a 3-inch blade. (Transgender girls would be issued theirs when they come out.) Knives are useful tools to have around, after all, and I suspect that men might treat women with a bit more respect if they knew every woman they encountered might have a small weapon on them.

You know that jolt of fear in your gut that you men might be feeling at that thought, at the possibility of every woman you encounter being dangerous? That’s what women feel like all the time.

Surprise! We live so long with the fear of being raped that eventually the fear fades and becomes a casual, constant possibility, the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. Before we get into an elevator with a stranger, walk home alone or go on a date, we all wonder: Is this it? Will I get assaulted now? And before we as a society can fix this problem, we need our male half to acknowledge that it exists. Let’s start there.

Oh, and if anyone in the Farmington area is looking to hire, I know a smart, hardworking, newly unemployed young woman who will make sure that no sexual harasser festers in your business. Drop me a line.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @mainemillennial

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