This author’s powerful essay about sexual harassment is part of a valuable conversation.

Author Bonnie Nadzam spent years not talking publicly about the sexual harassment and assault she experienced in graduate school.

As is common among survivors of sexual abuse, Nadzam felt shame and regret that kept her quiet. What’s more, the men she reports harassed her were well-known authors and her professors — men with significant influence over her career as a writer.

Talking openly about her experiences, though, is exactly what Nadzam chose to do in a recent essay published online.


Bonnie Nadzam. Photo by Jeremy Chignell, used with permission.

In it, Nadzam not only details the specifics of her experiences with harassment and assault by two separate men at two separate universities in two separate degree programs, she also makes clear her reason for sharing her story now, which has nothing to do with forgiveness or revenge. Instead, it has to do with shedding a light on something so often kept in the dark:

"These are men who abused and disrespected me, who took advantage of their positions to exploit me, in institutions of higher learning where their gender and power let them control the narrative ... and where they were allowed to respond to my own resistance with dismissiveness. I wish to feel free to share my experience in the hopes that it will protect someone else from having to be debased through the same exploitative humiliations. And perhaps most of all, I’m sharing because some of you have similar stories eating you alive."

As Nadzam quickly learned, she was right.

Nadzam’s story is not an isolated incident in the literary world. Far from it.

Just weeks after Nadzam’s essay was published, a follow-up post appeared in which 11 other women, also writers, discussed similar instances of sexual harassment they either witnessed or experienced firsthand.

Writer and critic Roxane Gay shared that Nadzam’s essay reminded her of “all the stories I’ve heard about men in the literary community over the years ... who proposition women at book parties and readings and conferences, who offer ‘mentorship’ by way of seduction, who commit a range of sexual assaults and who are rarely named publicly because everyone is, understandably, too scared of the repercussions to their careers and their personal lives and their peace of mind.”

Author Roxane Gay. Image via AP.

Poet Erin Coughlin Hollowell commented on the pervasiveness of the issue: “If you gather a handful of women together and one of them speaks of abuse at the hands of mentor, boss, or partner, it is like opening a tap. The stories come out slowly at first but with an increasing pressure that floods the room. Most women have at least one of these stories.”

And author Porochista Khakpour echoed Nadzam’s sentiment that stories like this need to be brought out of hiding: “As hard as it is, we need to share these stories and we need to put them out there. If not for ourselves, for the women who inherit all this from us.”

Beyond the public responses from these other writers, Nadzam received an outpouring of messages and emails from women who had similar experiences.

Nadzam says what struck her most about these responses was "the repeated description of each person’s physical experience while reaching out." The women wrote of shaking hands and pounding hearts, even when writing about abuse that happened years and years ago, showing the lasting and detrimental effects sexual harassment and assault can have.

Of course, it’s not just the literary industry where this happens.

Image via iStock.

According to a 2015 study by Cosmopolitan, 1 in 3 women have been sexually harassed at work. And instances of sexual harassment and assault happen in a variety of industries.

In October 2016, actress Rose McGowan shared on Twitter her experience being raped by a powerful Hollywood executive. And earlier this year, Susan J. Fowler wrote a blog post detailing her multiple experiences with sexual harassment during the year she worked as an engineer at Uber — a move that’s helping to expose the darkest side of a pervasive sexist culture affecting women in STEM fields.

Sadly, it makes sense that these incidents are occurring in workplaces and institutions of higher education where power structures are so keenly defined.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are about power. Students are beholden to instructors and mentors for guidance and education. Employees depend on supervisors and managers for performance reviews and raises.

These power dynamics automatically put one person in a more disadvantageous position and allows exploitation to, at times, go unchecked. We see examples of it from celebrities, politicians, and even the current president of the United States.

But women can challenge that power dynamic by refusing to remain silent. Just like Nadzam did.

A victim’s silence is one of the greatest powers a perpetrator can have. But the more vocal survivors of harassment and assault become, the more that power dynamic shifts, which is why women like Nadzam and so many others — women brave enough to make their stories known — are so very important.

As Nadzam said in her original essay:

"What I really want to say is that all of these things happened to me, that none of it was okay, that I didn’t deserve any of it, and that I have nothing to be ashamed of. … We know that men, especially those in positions of power, try to hurt, tame and control what they fear, and cannot or will not try to understand. … If ever there was a time to disregard those who won’t believe our stories, now is the time to speak very plainly about the behavior of those men who assume we’ll be swept away by their poetry, or politics, before we understand what’s happened."
True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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