Color of Money: Financial vulnerability keeps many women quiet

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- A lot of folks are questioning why, after so many years or even decades, scores of women have finally come forward to report sexual harassment.

There are many factors that keep a woman quiet. But chief among them is money. They fear losing their ability to make a living. And we shouldn't judge them for this decision.

It's easy to say, when you aren't faced with this type of situation, "I would tell." Or, "I would fight back."

But what if fighting back meant a loss of income you desperately needed? What if it meant derailing a career in a field where it is already hard to succeed?

Like many of you, I was stunned at the news that NBC's "Today" show co-host Matt Lauer was accused of sexual misconduct and then fired. The recent wave of accusations may seem overwhelmingly unbelievable. And yet, it's about time an enormous light is being shone on this issue. The fact that many high-profile men are losing their jobs is justice for behavior that has gone unchecked and unpunished for far too long.

For many women, to work is to put up with stuff, because you know that standing in the path of your paycheck might be a male manager or influential co-worker willing to take advantage of his position. They can make you feel so financially vulnerable that you just keep quiet.

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Like so many others who have finally spoken their truth, I too was harassed. He was a much older male co-worker. Not at The Washington Post but at my hometown newspaper -- my first job in the business. At the time, I thought of the situation as more of a nuisance, something I just had to deal with. I was in my mid-20s. And although it's been decades since I worked at that paper, the episode still feels fresh.

It never occurred to me to complain. Instead, I joined several other women in devising a way to avoid the perpetrator, who repeatedly tried to get us to go out with him.

When any of us spotted him heading into the newsroom, we would message each other and say, "Here he comes. Get on the phone!"

We would pretend to be conducting an interview so that he would bypass our desks. Most of the time, it worked. Other times, he would just lurk nearby, waiting for our pretend call to end.


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