My mom, who started her career in broadcast radio in the early 1970s at the height of women's lib, would tell me that sexual harassment in the workplace used to be totally different.
In fact, while sexual harassment certainly existed back then, the phrase did not. No, my mom would tell me--paraphrasing a quote by Gloria Steinem--what we know of today as sexual harassment was unfortunately a part of life back then. In my mom's era and earlier, women had little to no recourse to even complain about inappropriate remarks or behavior at work.
Over the next two decades, we witnessed awareness and some progress around women's treatment in the workplace. We can thank both the 1986 Supreme Court decision that said employers couldn't let an employee create a hostile work environment for another, and the courageous Anita Hill for her 1991 testimony against Clarence Thomas to the Senate Judiciary Committee, despite his eventual Court appointment.
Yet, five years after Hill's testimony, when I started working during college as a journalism intern in several newsrooms around the country, I still recall hearing my share of suggestive conversations and innuendo, sometimes near me-and a couple times even directed at me.
Today, another 20 years have passed since I launched my professional career. Now, the cultural conversation around sexual harassment and assault in the workplace takes centerstage as almost every day, more women (and some men) call out their aggressors for bad behavior.
2017 was, in many ways, the year of the woman, starting with the Women's March last January and culminating with the "Me Too" movement.
#MeToo, the battle cry of women speaking out about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault, was popularized this past year, but was coined more than a decade ago by African-American activist Tarana Burke. How encouraging that women like Burke--as well as so many men who support them--are helping to give voice to future generations of women so they feel empowered, safe, secure, and equal at work and beyond.
The movement reminds me of the Yiddish folk phrase: "What hurts the most is what you can't tell others." In essence, that means that once you are able to tell your secret to someone else, some of the pain is alleviated.
We should be proud that so many segments of the Jewish community are taking part in this larger societal conversation around sexual harassment and assault.
For instance, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR)-the professional organization of Reform Rabbis-has launched an exciting new project. Spearheaded by Rabbis Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus--Rabbi Emerita of B'nai Yehuda Beth Sholom in Homewood--the CCAR has formed the Task Force on the Experience of Women in the Rabbinate to shed light on the lived experiences of women rabbis.
The need for the taskforce emerged in the aftermath of the 2016 national election, a publication of an anthology on women in the rabbinate, and a study on rabbinic professional satisfaction. The findings show that though women have been ordained as Reform rabbis for 45 years, some still face many challenges from gender-based bias to sexual harassment, as well lack of proper institutional support and issues related to contract disputes, pay inequity, and parental leave.
Through projects like this one in the Jewish community, and as more people continue to speak out against bad behavior, let's hope our daughters face more comfort and security at work than our mothers did.