In 1978, I left Temple University’s PhD program after I had an interaction with a professor on my orals committee. “I want to sleep with you,” he said. I looked at him in disbelief. “No,” I said. “I am not going to pass you in your orals,” he threatened. I told him I would not sleep with him.
I marched out of his office stunned by the demand for sex. I went to see the female professor on my committee and told her the story. I was stunned by her response: “You’re screwed.” She said the SOB would hold back my PhD. In that moment, I realized my academic career was over. I would never get my Doctorate.
I left school and took a research job.
I’ve never spoken or written about this episode in my life. Back in the day, it would have been his word against mine and we know whose word would have been valued. Today, because of the Harvey Weinstein story, I feel empowered to open up about my numerous experiences of sexual abuse and harassment.
I was 10 years old when the building super grabbed my breasts in the laundry room. I never told my mother. I was 12 years old and fully developed when boys my age started to touch my breasts at school and this continued for years.
Even my so-called “uncles,” friends of my family, would, as a matter of course, wrap their arm around my back and cup their hands on my breast.
I thought it was disgusting and moved away. When I told my parents, they didn’t believe me. “You must have misunderstood. They didn’t really do that.”
Decades later, I was riding in a crowded subway in New York City. A man standing next to me suddenly grabbed my pussy. I glared at him and several other men who were standing very close to me but didn’t scream or report the attack because of my past experiences of not being believed.
In 2010, I was incarcerated at a federal women’s prison and came out as a lesbian during my intake process. This didn’t stop the male intake officer from flirting with me. Other officers of both genders patrolling my unit at night repeatedly stopped at my bed to sniff my drying panties.
I heard the stories of officers whispering to female prisoners “Do you want to see your kids this weekend? If you do, I want a blowjob.” Women faced dire consequences if they refused. For some, it meant solitary confinement or transfer. It was always an officer’s word against theirs. We knew who would win.
We are told by many people to accept the president’s comments about grabbing pussy because it’s harmless “locker room talk” and after all “boys will be boys.”
We are asked by Weinstein, Bill Cosby et. al. representatives to accept their predatory behavior because it’s “consensual.” And if it’s consensual to them, it’s harmless.
My story proves that not only do notable men in powerful positions — the president, a media mogul, a formerly celebrated actor or a political journalist — do this to girls and women, many other men commit acts of sexual harassment/assault because they are raised in a culture that normalizes and celebrates male sexual privilege from birth or if you are a Republican, at conception.
That all changed when I went to work on Wall Street because male sexual privilege was in clear sight there. I worked late one night when a group of fellow male brokers walked into my office to tell me I was working too hard. One guy said, “What you need is a good fuck” and implying I could get one with him.
I waited, looked at them and said, “I’ve got a dildo which stays harder and longer than you can and I’m sitting on it right now.” They laughed and saw me as one of the boys from then on but I saw myself as a strong lesbian feminist.
The Weinstein scandal created enough critical mass for women ( and some men ) to say #metoo and I believe it can be traced to Trump’s grabbing and groping pussy comments.
Now, the flood gates have opened. Thousands of women are coming forward with their stories. And if they are like me, the door is open for every NYC subway story, every professor and teacher story and every boss story. Our fear of retaliation is finally over. We are going to bring down male sexual privilege because we can.
Evie Litwok is a formerly incarcerated Jewish lesbian who spent time in two federal prisons. She is the director of Witness to Mass Incarcerated ( WMI ) whose mission is to collect oral histories of formerly incarcerated women and LGBTQ people, and train them to become oral history activists to help power the movement for criminal justice reform. www.WitnesstoMassIncarceration.org