Archives for posts with tag: sexual harrassment

In 1990, my husband and I went to Egypt for two weeks as part of our honeymoon. It was an amazing trip and some day, I hope to be able to return. There’s a certain amount of stress that comes from traveling in an unknown place, with a different language, and customs. Everywhere we went in Egypt we were greeted on the street, “Welcome to Egypt!”

“How nice,” you might think. And from certain people, regular folks who were just passing by and being friendly, it was nice, to a point. However, imagine that you are greeted this way several times an hour, every hour, for the entire day. And imagine that some of the people are trying to sell you things and they might even follow you down the street for awhile in an attempt to engage you. You get a 45 minute long break on Mondays through Fridays during the television broadcast of edited repeats of the U.S. evening soap opera, Falcon Crest. During that 45 minutes, Cairo commerce shut down.

You might now think this could get pretty exhausting. It was very exhausting. There was no privacy. We already knew that we stuck out as foreigners from a wealthy country. With every, “Welcome to Egypt” we needed to consider whether someone was just being nice or whether someone was trying to engage us in a business transaction. If you’ve ever experienced a culture that takes bargaining an negotiation seriously, you’ll know what I mean. When we learned to ignore shop merchants, it shortened the interaction, but since pretending to ignore a merchant is actually an initial bargaining strategy, there was still an interaction. It was still not clear that we were not biting.

You’re walking down the street, not as an invitation to constant interpersonal engagement, but as a means of transportation. You are walking to get from one place to another. And each time you do this, you are constantly spoken to, sometimes with sincere friendliness and sometimes because someone wants something from you.

Sound familiar?

Last month, a New York based anti-harassment group made a video, using a hidden camera, of a young woman, dressed plainly and speaking to no one, walking on the sidewalks of New York for 10 hours. Men initiated conversation with her constantly. Some of them used polite words, some did not. Some use polite words, impolitely, ‘I told you that you are beautiful. You should say, “thank you.”‘ One man followed the woman for several minutes.

The video was very popular and had millions of views. It inspired the writing of a number of articles in well regarded news outlets. There were responses and comments made by normal citizens such as you and me.

Some of the comments were along the lines of “What’s the big deal? She should take the attention as a compliment.”

On the other end of the spectrum were opinions that men just should not greet unknown women on the street.

I understand both of those positions, really I do. But I find them to be a sad reflection on our culture.

Although I live in Seattle, a major U.S. city, it is one of the smaller ones.  Seattle has a reputation for being polite but not friendly. Some people call this, “the Seattle Freeze”. My neighborhood, in some respects, has the feel of a small city. I’ve never felt “the Seattle Freeze” even though to many people, it is very surprising that I am  native to this area. Many assume that I am from the northeastern part of the U.S. despite my characteristic Northwest regional accent. (We say we don’t have accents here because what we speak is pretty close to standard American English, which is an accent in and of itself, by the way.)

In my neighborhood, I walk around and people smile or say, “hello”. I am often, but not always, the person who initiates the greeting. Most of the people I see are people I don’t know. People are friendly in the grocery store. If they see me choose an item they like, I may hear, “Oh, those are so good!” One day, a woman was so excited that we carried the same brand of practical but cute organizer handbag, Baggalini, that she spoke to me about it’s virtues for about 10 minutes. That was, perhaps, a bit much.

Yesterday, I visited a different neighborhood, Capital Hill. It is a beautiful neighborhood with lively hipster culture. I walked through the business district, a residential area, and in a city park. Two people were friendly when I greeted them, an older woman who was walking home from the grocery store and a middle-aged man who I passed on the stairs on the way down from the top of a historic water tower in the park, which has good views of the area. Everyone else I passed either ignored me, returned my greeting anxiously, or purposely averted their gaze.

I experienced the Seattle Freeze! I was a harmless looking middle aged woman wearing work out clothes and carrying a Baggalini, for goodness sakes! Now it is true that Capital Hill has higher population density than my neighborhood and further, that businesses are mixed in with homes, to a greater degree. There is a lot more car traffic. I don’t know if the crime rate is higher there but it feels like it is, perhaps just due to the more hurried pace there.

I would like to live in a world where exchanging a greeting is just that, an acknowledgement that there are others in the world besides me and that those people might appreciate a “hello” and a smile. We are acknowledging that the other person matters and that we belong. There are places where it is so crowded that this is not possible or desired, at least on the street. It is overwhelming and too much.

Maybe “hello”, “nice weather”, “cute dog” and other comments are trivial. But as we know from research on women’s relationships, the function of having regular discussion of less deep matters (in addition to the majorly deep and important topics we discuss), is important. For women, these discussions help maintain connections and friendships. Few will argue that when it comes to maintaining friendships, women tend to be better at this than are men, as a group.

Most of us have daily opportunities for those pleasant connections. And these connections help maintain ties in a community.

Welcome to the world.


Last week I had one clinic day (Monday), followed by six days of painting and redecorating my private practice office. My daughter was also gone on a band trip during this time. So this week has been about transitioning back to my normal roles and routines. It was really hard, much harder than I expected. My brain was fragmented for several days.

Even more distressing was the fact that I felt really anxious and unsure of myself outside of work. This was particularly difficult socially, especially with my cyber friends. Cyber relationships do not have the same familiar codes and handshakes on which I gauge other social interactions. My cyber buddy, Greg Smith, wrote about the limitations that electronic communication put on his “Spidey Senses” in navigating his interactions with patients via Skype. He is an emergency department psychiatrist who practices telehealth in his job to provide consultation to patients who live far away from services. (As an aside, although my psychology practice is in Seattle, a “little big city”, the majority of my training was done in rural areas. Access to care is a major big deal.)

Earlier in the week, I found myself anxious that I’d written the wrong thing to one cyber friend or worrying that another cyber friend thought that I was a creepy stalker because a compliment I’d paid to her did not seem to go over in the way I had intended. I worried that I was being too flirtatious with cyber friends, male and female. I thought about what I might do to repair relationships that may have been damaged by my electronic awkwardness.

I have not felt that way for a VERY long time. What the heck is going on? I’ve had cyber buddies for awhile now and although I am sometimes frustrated by the limitations of this form of communication, there are benefits as well. When I write, I can communicate without interruption, for one. That is a major gift to me in this time of my life when some level of introspection is needed for health and healing. But I do miss the body language, tone of voice, or even hearing any of my cyber buddy voices. And I know in my own communications, the parts of me communicated beyond the words that I write or by my smile in the photos I post, are lost.

Last week, I dredged into some painful past experiences to write the post, Predator, about my own experiences with sexual harassment as a teen and how they relate to the sexualization of breast cancer.  If you’ve read the post, you know that the experiences I wrote about are very typical for women my age and most of the experiences still occur with girls and women today. The post resonated with a lot of women and I was very glad to have written it. I also suspected that it would help me integrate the vulnerability I have felt as a breast cancer patient to another time in my life when I felt scared and vulnerable.

I knew this would be a hard post to write and even waiting until my mother went on vacation to post it. I know that by the time she comes back home and reads it, I would have processed through the hard emotions and she would not have to worry about me so much. She had already suggested to me a couple of posts prior that I needed to take a break and write something light and/or funny. It’s hard to see one’s child in pain, even when she is 47 years-old.

Writing the post was harder than I expected and was like taking a time machine back to the worst parts of my adolescence with the extra layers of breast cancer and being a mother of a vulnerable teen girl.

Actually, let me put it this way. It was like being 16 again.

There are folks that rhapsodize about their youth and feel that they have lost something. Don’t get me wrong because I had a generally happy childhood and adolescence, but I am happy where I am. I have never had a stronger combination of individual, familial, and professional satisfaction than I have experienced in middle age. Emotionally, I feel so much more solid, as well. And this is not because my life has been easy in middle age. It is a benefit of maturity. My parents are very happy people who love their family, friends, and each other. They help me look forward to my future, should I be so lucky to live a long life.

Back to being 16 again. Do you all remember what your teens years were like with your peers? I don’t know about you, but although I had good friendships, they involved a frenzy of unnecessary activity. Worrying, “Did I say the right thing?” “Should I have said that?” (That was a popular one for me. I am loud and chatty.) “Should I have looked at him that way?” “Did I hurt her feelings?” Then I would go and try to repair things. Later in my life, a good friend would characterize my repair attempts as, “Elizabeth, you flail.” Now she has more of a passive, slug like coping style but in respect to the situation she was describing, I was totally and completely flailing when I should have been leaving things alone.

These days, I typically feel solid as a communicator. There are parts of me that can be perceived as being “too much” (see “loud and chatty”, above). This was particularly true in the past. I have learned to be myself with confidence and I think part of what bothered people about the big parts of my personality was the anxiety and lack of confidence that were sometimes underneath. Now I get a lot of compliments about my loud laugh and I can tell from patients and their parents that for the most part, they enjoy the fact that I am a happy person, eager to help, and a lover of my fellow human beings, especially the small ones. But I also know when I need to scale things back and tone them down. It’s a dance of a sort and in my profession, I am usually extremely good at it.

To be 16 again, was no fun. I saw Rebecca, my psychologist yesterday. The session may have only lasted an hour but by the time I left, I’d aged 31 years.

So cyber and face-to-face buddies, I am ready to play like a grown-up again.

Photo by Aaron Eidinger, 1983-ish. I am 17 or 18 in the photo.

Photo by Aaron Eidinger, 1983-ish. I am 17 or 18 in the photo.



Art, Science, Heart ❥

journals of a mature student nurse

Heart Sisters

For women living with heart disease

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (


Keeping our eyes and ears open.....

4 Times and Counting

Confessions Of A 4 Time Breast Cancer Survivor

Nancy's Point

A blog about breast cancer, loss, and survivorship

After 20 Years

Exploring progress in cancer research from the patient perspective

My Eyes Are Up Here

My life is not just about my chest, despite rumblings to the contrary.

Dglassme's Blog

Wouldn't Wish This On My Worst Enemy


Today is Better Than Yesterday

Telling Knots

About 30% of people diagnosed with breast cancer at any stage will develop distal metastasis. I am one.

The Pink Underbelly

A day in the life of a sassy Texas girl dealing with breast cancer and its messy aftermath

The Asymmetry of Matter

Qui vivra verra.

Fab 4th and 5th Grade

Teaching readers, writers, and thinkers

Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

making sense of the breast cancer experience together

Telling Knots

About 30% of people diagnosed with breast cancer at any stage will develop distal metastasis. I am one.

Entering a World of Pink

a male breast cancer blog

Luminous Blue

a mother's and daughter's journey with transformation, cancer, death and love

Fierce is the New Pink

Run to the Bear!

The Sarcastic Boob

Determined to Manage Breast Cancer with the Same Level of Sarcasm with which I Manage Everything Else


Life after a tango with death & its best friend cancer