“Though the sex to which I belong is considered weak you will nevertheless find me a rock that bends to no wind.” Queen Elizabeth I
From the very beginning of writing my regular Blog, I have debated whether Choral Ethics should address sexual harassment issues. And almost from the beginning of my writing Choral Potpourri, I have been approached by ChoralNet readers, in person and by email, asking me to share their story or a “friend’s” about this subject. I could have also shared my own experiences, painful as they may be but am still not ready, thirty years later.
But with the daily announcements in the news of yet another celebrity, politician or journalist with feet of clay, I now feel I must say something, write something, and share something with you from our Choral World because we are not immune. I have been thinking about this young woman’s story for over two years, worried how the daily news is affecting her, praying she is okay.
I met Sarah* several years ago at a choral conference. She is a regular Choral Potpourri reader and knew I would be at this particular conference. She wanted to meet me in person to ask my advice about something bothering her. I had set up my “Choral Ethics Café” in the lobby of the hotel, Tweeting where I would be. Soon Sarah, two cups of coffee in her hands, arrived with a smile.
Sarah was a lovely young woman and we shared a bit about our personal lives (she was about five months pregnant, the baby being her first child) and our professional lives. I spoke of my spouse of 36 years and she spoke of hers, of five. We talked about our houses and the best brand of frozen pizzas for rehearsal nights. It was a lovely chat, and while I enjoyed it, I also wondered what she wanted to talk about.
After we spoke for a bit, she began to gradually get jittery, wringing her hands and seeming nervous. I finally asked what she wanted advice about; she started to cry. I told her we could go to a Ladies Room I knew had a sofa and steered her toward the escalator.
We made it to the Ladies Room and she began to sob, great gulping sobs. I told her I would listen when she was ready and suggested we do some Alexander Technique breathing to help calm down. I was getting worried about what she wanted!
She finally calmed down and explained she was the director of choirs at a medium sized liberal arts college in the Midwest. She was up for tenure that year and the chair of the music department was threatening not to recommend her to the tenure committee, unless…….she did what he asked her to do. What was that? A sex act which Sarah described to me (and will NOT describe here), which he expected twice before the committee met in April (this was February). I was stunned, not sure what she wanted from me after telling her story. I let her talk more, while I tried to figure out what to say.
As she spoke, there were a few other concerns coming out; she was worried about her job, of course, but also about the stress on her unborn baby. And she wondered if she should actually do what he asked, if that made the most sense. She was also worried what to tell her husband when she lost her job if she didn’t…..wait a minute….he didn’t know? That I could work with, I could give advice about that.
I let her talk until she finally asked what I would do. She had a choice; comply with that a##h#l# or go after him. If she did go after him, she would need support and allies so first she needed to tell her husband. I told her I thought she was actually luckier than I had been because I had not been given a choice.
And she should listen to what her spouse has to say; he will have ideas about what they should do. Kicking her boss in his Family Jewels probably isn’t a good idea, though I can understand the desire. As well, they should speak with a lawyer and the college’s HR department. But first, she needed to tell her husband. I feel I gave her as good advice as I could; not keeping silent to the person closest to her, getting good legal advice and speaking with someone who could DO something at her place of employment. I was winging it and not feeling good about it, either.
Sarah’s story still troubles me but I haven’t heard back from her. I think of her every time a new person is outed in the news and wonder if she is okay. I hope she told her husband, got a good lawyer and that JERK is no longer in power…..or employed.