You post about reporting harassment is offensive

I am a 14-year-old high school student, and I am very passionate about woman rights and respecting woman in general. I find that article to be horrible, it Is teaching girls that they can’t focus on a career and be mothers, my mother had me at 38 and my sister at 36 and she chose to do that even though she married fairly young. I find it saddening that you believe woman have to get pregnant in their 20s, and that you feel the need to shame women who don’t. 

However, most disturbing is that you are telling women to let men sexually harass them, at the age of 14 I have already been getting cat called for three years, harassed by grown men in public, and harassed and stalked by a high school student two years my senior, for an entire year. you saying that just because stuff like that happens every day, women shouldn’t report it, hurts my heart. I can’t believe a woman would say something like that, it sets us back so many years. I wish you had never said anything like this, but,  you did and all I can do is say something. I will always say something because boys will not be boys and women will not take it.

This is not a hate note of any kind I just need for you to hear from the people your effecting.

15 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    I see you have two concerns: one is getting pregnant early and one is reporting sexual harassment:

    Of course women can get pregnant whenever they want. But I don’t think women realize how terrible the statistics get when they are delivering a baby beyond the age of 34. My post is aimed at giving women knowledge that I received too late. I was shocked when the doctor showed me that a first baby at age 35 has a very high chance of having a problem — misscarrying, Down’s Syndrom, so many issues that no one talks about. I am showing women statistics so women can make the best decisions for themselves.

    Additionally, I am 50 and I had kids at 36, and I have never met a woman who said she was happy she waited until after age 35 to have kids. I am just letting women know that. I don’t think women who are in their 20s have this information. And having the ability to work or parent or delay one or the other is only useful if you know the risks and benefits.

    Now the second topic:
    Did you see Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony? She was treated terribly, and there has never been a woman more prepared to testify, with a better set of lawyers, that Christine Blasey Ford. What she experienced was much worse than common workplace harassment, and still, telling people about her experience did not get her what she wanted.

    Look at the me too movement — it’s full of women telling their stories about how they didn’t report. And they all had the same reason: that they’d get fired. Nothing has changed. The law does not punish companies for keeping a harasser on staff and firing the reporter.

    You would have to be very rich to feel that you could afford to lose jobs when you are not established in your career. Most women are not that rich. So instead of berating women for not reporting harassment, maybe we should focus on people who make laws, and tell them to change the law to protect women so women can go to HR without the fear of getting fired.

    In a way, telling women to report harassment even if they lose their job is like blaming the victim.

    Does that make sense to you? I took the time to explain this so you can be part of the solution.


    • Cynthia
      Cynthia says:

      Amen sister – I had triplets at 35 and a fourth baby at 36 and it has been no picnic. My kids are now 15 and 13 and I wish I were 10 years younger! More energy, less achiness, and more patience! I had a very successful career when we decided to have kids and I decided to say home with them – no regrets on the staying home, but I agree earlier would have been preferable.

  2. Craig
    Craig says:

    When you state “terrible statistics” related to delivering babies after 35, it might be best to state the actual numbers rather than leaving to the imagination. “Very high chance of having a problem” (especially when compared to younger women) means to me something greater than 50% of a disaster, but the actual stats aren’t quite that:

    “78% of women between the ages of 35-40 who have sex during their fertile times get pregnant within a year
    84% of women between the ages of 20-34 who have sex during their fertile times get pregnant within a year”

    “15% of women between the ages of 20-34 report having had a miscarriage
    27% of women between the ages of 35-39 report having had a miscarriage
    26% of women between the ages of 40-44 report having had a miscarriage”

    “99% of fetuses are chromosomally normal among 35 year old women
    97% of fetuses are chromosomally normal among 40 year old women
    87% of fetuses are chromosomally normal among 45 year old women (although this is an age when the majority of women can no longer get pregnant)”

  3. mm
    mm says:

    “I am 50 and I had kids at 36, and I have never met a woman who said she was happy she waited until after age 35 to have kids.”

    same here. very insightful. that being said, I’ve met a LOT of women who had children between the ages of 11-21 and they seemed rather unhappy about it, too.

  4. Megan
    Megan says:

    I agree with Penelope’s answer. It’s patronizing to tell young people that they won’t be so idealistic with more world experience, but it’s true. I admire all women who speak up about harassment and abuse. I know what they do is entirely sacrifice. They are taking on further abuse and punishment, with the hope of pushing the line an inch further in the direction of equity and fair treatment of women. Given that it is pure sacrifice on top of the initial abuse, I wouldn’t fault any woman who isn’t up for it and just wants to keep her job/home/reputation. Everyone has to find the balance between just having a happy life, and changing the world for the better.

  5. Karen
    Karen says:

    RE sexual harassment. Perhaps here’s a way of rephrasing it to convey that the advice is, or can be, empowering:

    Ever since you were a young teenager, guys have been harassing you, on the streets, in the pubs, wherever. Now there’s this guy at work who is doing the same. In an ideal world, you could call him out and he would get punished, whereas you wouldn’t face any consequences.

    In this world, in most companies (and you would likely know if your company were the exception), he would not get any punishment worth that name and you will be stigmatised.

    Under those circumstances, you are *not* obliged to report the harassment. You are *not* obliged to go through the channels that society, or your company, has set up, and that have proven to be worthless.

    If your company is not going to do the right thing, you don’t have to do the ‘right’ thing of calling out harassment. It is fine to decide that you don’t want to deal with that – that you want to keep your career, your credibility (sad as it is), your job prospects.

    It is not your duty to be a feminist at all costs in a world that doesn’t particularly care. You are not obliged to fight the battle on your side if your company isn’t doing its part. It’s not your fault the harassment is happening.

    And saying that women should stand with other women – or that women ‘shouldn’t be writing those things’ that Penelope wrote – implies that women somehow have more of an obligation to be a feminist. That’s problematic because then you put the burden on women to solve the issue, and society/men/companies are once more absolved of their part.

    And, I mean, these companies and society know there’s a problem. That’s why everyone pays lip service to the idea of gender equality and respecting women laleelalah. It’s not like there’s an information gap you’re solving by reporting. It’s a caring gap – on their side.

    So it’s not that you *can’t* report those things. It’s not that you *can’t* call out these things. But you will pay a price. So why should you – or women in general – be the only ones to pay?

    And one can argue that that’s empowering. Because now instead of having to worry about addressing harassment – on top of everything else! – you can just go out and have your career. Or have kids. Whatever you want. Like the guys have been doing all along.

    • Ruo
      Ruo says:

      I agree with Karen’s comments.

      The price a woman would pay to “bringing attention to harassment to a higher-up” so that men can face consequences of their bad behaviour is frankly nonexistent outside of the school environment.

      OP, at 14 years old, you are already aware of the dichotomy of having kids (at any age) and harassment reporting. I’m impressed! In the end, men will still be part of our lives. So if you are passionate about getting men to respect women’s rights, have you identified the good men in your life that supports this cause to help you spread awareness?

  6. Maria
    Maria says:

    I just read the first lines of Penelope´s response. I am 42, had two kids. One at 34 and the other at 36. I couldn’t be more happy with my choice! Best decision ever.

    I waited until I reached a certain level in my career. Until I had certain earning power and authority to have kids. My thinking was that it would make it easier to get back to the same or higher level into the workforce. I to worked perfectly!

    Just a different perspective for all the women out there.

  7. Angie
    Angie says:

    I am not sure how to feel or what to think about the sexual harassment side of this. I can see very clearly what Penelope is saying particularly in terms of the price that is paid by women who report, but I can also understand how that seems very counterintuitive for a young woman right now in the midst of the metoo movement. I wonder if the metoo movement/momentum needs to start focussing on the the price being paid by women who report their abuse/harassment and how we can overcome this, or at least better equip women for the fight. It seems like telling women to speak up without having this conversation first is setting us up for failure from the start.

    On the other note of having kids – I think the key thing you start to realise as you get older (and I don’t want to sound patronising here) is that no one will ever really know how you can live your best life – except for you. You can seek out all the advice in the world, but at the end of the day, only you will know if it fits or not. The trap you can fall into is to only seek advice or views that fit a preformed idea in your mind or beliefs you have always held and then automatically categorise anyone who says otherwise as being wrong. It is always good to step outside your filter bubble and find views on the world that can help you see things from a different angle, even if they make you angry. There are so many things that Penelope has written in the past that I initially have gotten angry about and thought “you are so wrong!”. However, these are often the posts that have given me the opportunity to really question myself and the belief structures that I have formed in my own mind. Sometimes it’s resulted in me being even more convinced of my own ideas, other times I’ve come away going “wow, I never thought of it that way”.

    I had my first child at 34, second at 36 and am expecting my third now at 38. There’s no way for me to really know if I am better off than I would have been in if I’d done this in my 20’s. I’m happy with how things have worked out for me both in terms of being a mum and maintaining my career. However, I can see the positives and negatives either way and just because it’s worked for me doesn’t mean I’ll be flat out saying to my daughters ” wait until your 30’s to have your babies”.

  8. Susie
    Susie says:

    I come from a long line of older mothers. My grandmother was 40 when she had my mother, my mother was 35 when she had me and I had my daughter at 37. None of us really chose to be mothers late for the sake of it. It was a combination of different things for each one of us.

    I do wish we’d all had our babies earlier because it would have given more chances to have a multi-generational experience. I lost my Grandma when I was 10. My Mum died when my little girl was 2. It’s also a lot physically harder than I realised it would be now I am in my late 40s.

    However my 20 year old self would not really have taken this information on board – especially the idea of putting starting a family before my wonderful job and 20-year-old carefree life!

  9. StartedFromtheBottomNowWeHere
    StartedFromtheBottomNowWeHere says:

    Keeping in mind that the OP states she is 14, I’m hoping that maybe I can respond to some of her underlying concerns and bridge what appears to me to be a gap between experiences.
    OP speaks about women and marriage and careers and children in “one-day” terms, but her experiences of harassment are not at her workplace. They are every day, on the streets and in her school. I think the confusion comes up in that it all falls under the umbrella category of “women’s rights” even though the situations in which the harassment occurs are worlds apart.
    I think 14 year-old me would probably have conflated the two worlds as well, not yet having had *much* experience in the professional environment. (I rushed to the nurse’s office to have her sign my working permit as soon as I turned 14 so that I could have money to pay for my own text messages.)

    I know what the everyday, on-the-street harassment described by OP feels like. I grew up with it. I grew up in an area where that sort of male-female interaction was commonplace and expected. I grew up in an area where, from the age of 13, I had grown men following me down the street in their car, whistling at me, trying to get my number, trying to get me to get in the car with them. At the age of 13, I started walking home from the bus with my keys between my fingers. This was not considered out-of-the-ordinary; it was simply the way things were. It was viewed in the same way one would view a fly buzzing around your head. It was annoying, but flies will be flies and women will have fly-swatters. It was part of a culture where men were expected to be the sexual aggressors, and women the key-toting Madonnas. It was part of your social life.

    To whom would you even report this behavior? Your parents? Your teachers? They can’t walk around with you everywhere. The police? They weren’t exactly viewed as protectors in that area either. So instead, women put up with the daily assaults. Many were impregnated against their will at young ages, and threatened with alienation from their families if they exercised their choice to terminate the pregnancy. They learn to be afraid, and to cover up that fear with hardness and an aggression of their own.

    That environment is miles away from a professional environment, where no one is expected to be a sexual aggressor, and where women are not allowed to be aggressive in general. One could imagine that a bold 14 year-old, angry at the way in which she is currently treated on a daily basis, could not possibly fathom allowing herself to be treated that way as an adult, when she *could* do something about it. I certainly would have felt that way. In many ways, I still do.

    So, to the OP:
    I find it interesting these days – I now work in a large corporate firm with many women who come from more middle-class suburban backgrounds (i.e. backgrounds where catcalling teenage girls was not something experienced on a daily basis). I hear the sorts of behaviors and comments that offend those women, and I also hear their concerns about how to respond. Their concerns about responding in the workplace are valid. Harassment in the workplace is insidious in a different sort of way- for all the ways earlier commenters have described. There is wisdom in their words. And that wisdom applies to certain times and certain places. If you take it to heart, it can help you in those times and in those places.

    Perhaps you will end up with a different view (I grew up wayyyyy before #metoo, after all), but I find that I am not offended as easily or in the same ways as many other women at work. I laugh at the pitiful passes a man might make (thankfully, none in my current workplace). I recognize that despite the fact that we are supposed to ignore it in the workplace, we are sexual beings, and a man doesn’t walk around blindly – he may want to compliment someone who looks nice that day because he’s been taught it’s nice to tell a woman she looks nice and he may be awkward about finding the right words to do so. A compliment doesn’t make me uncomfortable. I recognize the difference between a compliment and leering, because I’ve had an additional 17 years of knowing what leering feels like. And those additional 17 years have made me angry and watchful. Just let someone try and put their hands on me and see what happens… Let someone say something smart and see what happens…

    That’s how I feel. But no one tries. Thankfully, I do not feel that I have experienced any of that sly kind of workplace harassment in a professional environment. Many of my friends have, however, (and the stories they have told me have sometimes shocked me – “He said what?!”) and I can’t help but see a pattern among the “victims” – they tend to come from those middle-class suburban backgrounds.

    I think even though women where I grew up were expected to be the protectors of their own virtue, they were expected to take an *active* role in doing so. It was acceptable for women to be more aggressive about asserting themselves. The threat of *physical* violence was the only real limitation on asserting yourself; reputational violence was much less common. I think in the more typical middle-class suburban/rural environments, women are expected to be *passive*; they are not even allowed to be active protectors of their own womanhood. And men are less public about their own sexual aggression, reserving most predatory behaviors for private situations, so it continues in the shadows. Therefore those women grow up with a different, but still very real, kind of fear, and a different kind of fear response. It is a valid one though, and to the extent that you enter into a world that is made up primarily of people who are coming from that background, you should be aware that no society is very accepting of people who don’t follow its rules, even the bad rules. By sticking your neck out, you may not risk physical violence in the same way you might on the street, but you risk other kinds of violence that are harder to pinpoint and weed out. As my mother used to like to say, “You’ve picked a hard row to hoe there…”

    To all the women:
    One more interesting note – I was in a conference where sex in the workplace was the topic of discussion, and the speaker pointed out that sexual harassment training is ineffective at reducing the incidence of harassment, and, more importantly, has the effect of undermining women by making them appear unable to solve their own problems. Sexual harassment training is often oriented towards having women report the problem to someone else to handle. It does not train women how to handle the problem on their own, which sends the message that women don’t have the power to do so.

  10. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    It seems like every school child in America learns the story of Rosa Parks and the day she decided to protest an unfair and discriminatory law by staying in her seat at the front of the bus.

    What’s left out of the story is how this was a calculated protest planned well in advance. Rosa Parks was a tactician with a core team that was supporting her throughout the protest. She was allied with the NAACP, attorneys, churches, even MLK Jr.

    She didn’t just decide to protest one day and all of a sudden spark the Civil Rights movement. Even though she (and others like her) faced harassment, torture, and death every single day of her life, she picked one particular moment to make an example of *after* she assembled a larger team that could turn a shitty moment into an inspiring story that drew nationwide attention.

  11. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:

    I got pregnant with my first child at 29 and my second at 32. I can’t tell you how many of my friends waited slightly longer and then couldn’t get pregnant. And IVF is extremely expensive (and not pleasant to go through, I imagine.) My advice to young women is on par with Penelope. 1) You don’t have as much time as you think. 2) Having kids is exhausting and you have more endurance when you’re younger 3) It’s okay to plateau your career when your kids are young (I worked part time for five years, then telecommuted for another 9 ).

  12. Choublak
    Choublak says:

    I don’t think your response is offensive as much as it is pessimistic. The problem isn’t that you’re wrong, the problem is that your mindset means that this 14-year-old will be dealing with harassment in the workplace, and perhaps will even take your advice into consideration instead of reporting it and risk getting fired. Her decision would depend on she should look at the big picture (the normalization of sexual harassment against women) or her individual career goals into consideration. Simply keep in mind that everyone who is experiencing harassment doesn’t have a choice to just ignore it or to negotiate with the harasser.
    You know the common reality of what happens when the reports are submitted, how often the women are ignored or subtly (or not) pushed out of the position. The answer isn’t to simply stop reporting. There is no one right answer to this type of situation as all cases are different, you also know this. The main problem is the way that you decided to frame your advice to women, in a world where more people don’t have the patience to read your whole article and determine nuances, the words you choose to put on a headline matter more. You can’t simply focus your attention on the victims as it leaves the perpetrators and the companies they work for completely unaccountable. It also teaches the following generations that women are weak and shouldn’t demand things because they won’t get it. I know you don’t have daughters from your blog, however, I hope you can still relate to the women who used to be this girl and grew confident enough to demand that the harassment stop.

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