by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Like the nearly four million people who regularly watch his late night comedy show, I’ve always found David Letterman hilarious. But I don’t find it funny that he’s been having sex with his staffers for years.
The story broke last Thursday when CBS producer Robert Joel Halderman was arrested outside the CBS Manhattan office for trying to extort $2 million from Letterman. Letterman quickly fessed up on-air, calling himself “creepy” and telling his audience that night: “I have had sex with women who work for me on this show.”
I wonder how many working women agree with public relations veteran Ken Sunshine, asked by the Washington Post for his view: “He didn’t murder anybody. He was extorted. It’s consenting adults. Nobody’s accusing him of rape. This is [like] shoplifting.”
Jeez, he makes it feel like we should all feel sorry for poor Dave. But as a woman who’s navigated large and small workplaces for over 25 years, I’d like to present a different view.
Workplace sexual harassment is a crime. And not a victimless one, as many like Mr. Sunshine would prefer we believe. The less power you have at your workplace – the younger you are, or the more you need the job – the more vulnerable you are to being insulted, groped, or pressured into having sex with someone who outranks you, formally within the office hierarchy or informally through seniority.
The first time it happened to me, I was a 16-year-old girl hundreds of miles from home, living and working on a dude ranch in Wyoming to save money for college. One of the 40-year-old wranglers remarked, while we were alone in the barn and I was shoveling horseshit out of a stall, that I had “teats like a milk cow.”
I told the owner of the ranch, a woman. With chagrin she explained that the man came from a prominent, longtime family in the area, invaluable to the ranch’s success. In other words, deal with it, honey. So for the rest of the summer I wore two bras to work and avoided being alone in the barn with the wrangler – no easy task.
Throughout my career I faced similarly bizarre situations. I endured a couple of hard years working for a small company president who pursued – and rewarded with promotions – female employees willing to take three hour lunches alone with him; I saw him kiss one passionately at the company Christmas party. Eeew!