Triumph Over a Harasser | with Meredith Holley, Esq.

Or, click below to open in your favorite podcast player:


“I had to stop being sexist against myself before I could really impact the behavioral sexism I was seeing in the environment.” — That’s from this week’s guest, attorney turned conflict resolution coach, Meredith Holley. 

Meredith is an attorney in Oregon who was working in 2013 at a law firm representing victims of sexual harassment. Yet at her law firm, one of her male bosses was sexually harassing HER. She said she found it to be an extremely humiliating problem to have; and yet she ultimately found a way to not just get the harassment to stop, but to continue working successfully at that same firm – with her harassy-y boss, no less – for several years to come. 

Throughout the conversation, Meredith had lots of helpful suggestions for women facing similar situations. And she delivers it all with a heavy dose of humor – there was lots of laughter throughout this episode. 

Julia and Meredith also talked about male backlash to the #MeToo era – and Meredith offered a (hopefully) reassuring story to the men listening, about a male client of Meredith’s who said something sexist and dumb at a public event, came clean about it, and experienced a more positive outcome than he ever imagined he would as a result. 

(See, men? We aren’t all out to get you! We just want you to take responsibility for your behavior, and demonstrate that you’ve changed. If you do that, we’re pretty much all good!)

Meredith is also the author of two books: 

Career Defense 101: How to Stop Sexual Harassment Without Quitting Your Job, by Meredith Holley 

The Inclusive Leader’s Guide to Healthy Workplace Culture, by Meredith Holley

To accept Meredith’s generous offer of receiving BOTH her books, in digital form, free of charge go to 

Would you like us to keep making more episodes like this one? 
Make a contribution here. 

Join the Solving #MeToo community: 

Twitter: @Julia_Kline, @SolvingMeToo
#TheSMTPodcast, #SolvingMeToo 

Episode Transcript

Julia: I’m always excited about all of my interviews, but holy cow, am I excited about this one. I just can’t wait for Meredith to just download all of her wisdom and solutions and experience to all of us. And as soon as we do and we all just take it in and implement it, Solving #MeToo will be done. It’ll all be over. We will have fixed it all.

So Meredith Holley, thank you so much and I hope that you can live up to that introduction. [laughter]

Meredith: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it. We’ll see.

Julia: Yes, yes, yes, yes. so as I was saying, given that the focus of this podcast is on SOLVING #MeToo, I am just thrilled and delighted to be talking to somebody like you who has made it your life’s work through a couple of different iterations to also devise concrete, actionable solutions to the problem of workplace sexual harassment and assault. And I really just want to spend this hour letting you educate listeners about the strategies that you’ve developed.

And of course I want to encourage them to purchase one or both of your two books. Do you want to throw out what those two books are and where people can get a copy of those?

Meredith: Yeah. So the first book is Career Defense 101: How to Stop Sexual Harassment Without Quitting Your Job. That’s available on amazon, Barnes and noble, anywhere you buy your fine books. That book is specifically directed towards employees, towards the person who is experiencing a toxic work environment, sexual harassment.

The second book is The Inclusive Leader’s Guide to Healthy Workplace Culture. At this point that one’s only on Amazon. And that one is directed more towards the person who is — I had a lot of people after I wrote my first book, say, well, how do I support someone? How do I respond to this appropriately? So that has sort of the actionable steps for the person responding to a harassment issue.

Julia: Got it. and then you wanted to do some kind of a digital copy for our listeners?

Meredith: So I would love to offer free digital copies of the book if they would like it. All you have to do is go to and that has a little picture of the first book, but you actually get both books, if you just let us know that you want them and where we can send them.

Julia: Wow. I think everybody will be running because you’ve got a knack for writing good titles. If I do say so myself, I do as well. So I know one when I hear one, and those are some juicy sounding titles. It sure makes me want to read them both

Meredith: Thank you.

Julia: And, I just outed myself. I didn’t read them before this interview. [laughter]

Meredith: It’s okay. If you don’t want to wait to read the book to get help, talk to me.

Julia: I actually, I bought it on Kindle. It’s sitting on my phone, but I haven’t gotten past the forward.

Meredith: You don’t have to – which is a lovely forward too, from Chrissy Weathersby Ball. 

Julia: i think I was planning on lying and telling you I read the book. [laughter]

Meredith: I never get offended. I always think the interesting thing is reading a book about sexual harassment is kind of the last thing that somebody who’s experiencing sexual harassment wants to do in their free time. So I always think, you know, go get help. You don’t have to read a book to get help.

Julia: Yeah. And I, I suppose I should mention as I do in many of the episodes, that I myself have never experienced sexual assault and I, and nothing even really that I could consider sexual harassment. And so I ask myself all the time, so why is it exactly that I am just completely obsessed with this topic? And I’m not sure that I’ve arrived at a really suitable answer, other than just abuse of power makes me see red in a way that is just visceral. And since abuse of women is the one that I feel I can most authentically embody and talk to and speak in defense of. that’s what I do. So.

Meredith: I think that that is kind of an important point because the term sexual harassment is pretty vaguely defined, both in the law and in culture. And so a lot of people say to me, I haven’t experienced REAL harassment. Other people experience real assault, real harassment.

And what that kind of misses is that sexual harassment is a broad category of discrimination against women. So if you’re in a work environment where there just are routine comments about how women are… something. Women are not as good at this. Women shouldn’t interrupt.  Like all of these things that we see targeted at women that can legally be encompassed in the sexual harassment definition.

So a lot of times we think that there’s like a real — someone who’s experienced the real thing. And the trouble that happens with that is I have a lot of women come to me — or not just women, men, people of all genders, trans people — come to me and say, “I’ve been experiencing this for eight years. I’m having panic attacks. my hair is falling out. My doctor said I’m going to die.”

Oh, I had somebody come to me last week whose doctor literally said, you’re gonna die if you stay where you’re staying. And the thing that they were doing that led to this was they were saying, “this isn’t real. This isn’t bad enough. This isn’t real harassment. This is – am I right about this?” And questioning their own perspective and the legitimacy of their experiences. I think that that can be a really dangerous thing that I see a lot of people do in the workplace.

Julia: Yeah. And the, I have not – I’ve never been physically assaulted, but I did have two  scary experiences in my life. And one of them was when I was 15 and I was on vacation with my family in Puerto Vallarta, and my brother and I had gone out – my younger brother, so he was like 12, which is just crazy, but you know, it was Mexico.

So we went out to like the club, in Puerto Vallarta. And we were smoking a joint in the parking lot with two other kids from the resort. And, these two men, in what appeared to be police uniforms – I don’t know to this day whether they actually were police officers or not – accosted us in the parking lot and dragged us off into this little building. And they put the three boys in one room and put me in another room.

And nothing happened. Nobody touched me. I didn’t, you know, nobody, you know, got up in my, like – I was not physically threatened at any point. But I was 15. I was alone, and these two men, were, you know, looking at me leeringly. And, and, you know, and they definitely in their broken English, suggested that they wanted to have sex with me.

And I actually thought that I kind of brilliantly saved myself by saying to them in Spanish that, no, I can’t possibly, I’m saving myself for my husband. Thinking that that would — you know, and so nothing happened. And they ultimately let us go. And they, you know, they took all the money and all the weed that the boys had on them, and they just let us go.

And it fucked me up for years. Because I didn’t know – and  I still to this day, feel weird about calling that — well I mean, listen, the way that I preambled it —

Meredith: I know. It’s so interesting. Right? And it’s not uncommon.  Just as a legal matter, sexual assault doesn’t mean rape always. Sexual assault is also a broader context of being touched when you don’t want to be touched, of being touched in a sexual manner. And so a lot of people don’t know that that actually is a crime. If somebody is groping you over your clothes, that can be a prosecutable crime.

Potentially not in every state. I should preface all of this with, I’m a lawyer licensed in Oregon, and so I know Oregon law. Criminal law is different from state to state. But in general, being touched when you don’t want to be touched is something that you can call 911 about.

And women are – or people socialized as women are so socialized to believe that it’s normal to get touched. It’s normal to get threatened. It’s normal to have humiliating jokes made about our body, about our weight, about all of these that we don’t see happen to men. But we say, well, that was just one time. That was one incident.

And here’s the thing. I think we have a lot of motivation to not identify things as sexual harassment or sexual assault because we believe that if we do, it makes us a victim or it makes us weak or it de-legitimizes people who have the quote unquote real harassment, right? We have a lot of motivation not to identify these things.

And I think that that’s actually okay. Because it’s more about what is the behavior you do want to tolerate in your life and what is the behavior you don’t want to tolerate in your life? And you don’t have to call it sexual harassment or sexual assault to decide that that’s not the work environment that you want to be in.

Julia: And so let’s put a pin in that and we’re going to get back to that.

But  I want to, bring the listeners up to speed a little bit more fully on who you are and how you got to this point. You started out as a lawyer at a firm that advocates for employees who have experienced discrimination and harassment. So tell us about how advocating for survivors shaped your view of this issue and how it sort of started you down this path.

Meredith: Yeah. So I was literally raised to believe that women are evil. That was actually a foundational teaching in my family. And it wasn’t until I got to college that I accidentally took a feminism class and then was reading feminist literature and was informed that it’s not about men at all, but is based in the concept that women also deserve rights, that women also deserve jobs, that a single mother should be allowed to feed her family. That all of these things that seems so foundationally human to me. And that just totally changed my life, totally changed my world, how I saw myself, how I saw society.

Ultimately, when I started as a lawyer, I did get this dream job and, and we helped all types of injured people. But my main focus was sexual harassment. And so I found myself in this place where I literally had a case where the woman was experiencing what I was experiencing in my workplace of just daily touching, backrubs demeaning comments…

Julia: So you – this is just this crazy, ironic situation. You’re working in a law firm that advocates for victims of sexual harassment, and one of your colleagues at this law firm is sexually harassing you.

Meredith: Yes. To me, it was such a humiliating problem to have. I felt like as a lawyer who is advocating for women that I should have this problem solved, I should know how to deal with this. And I went to other employment lawyers and I said, I know how we sue companies if somebody gets fired, if they’re experiencing sexual harassment.

But what if you’re dealing – hypothetically, if I had a friend [laughter] who was dealing with a situation where she didn’t want to leave her job, where she’s in her dream career job and she just doesn’t want to get touched every day by someone who has control over her job, over whether she gets fired or not. How do we help them not get touched? And pretty consistently, everyone just said to me, you know, things are really sexist. You just gotta deal with it. We don’t know how to do that among lawyers.

Julia: And what, what year or years in which was this happening?

Meredith: This was 2014, 13, 14.

Julia: Okay. Okay. So still in the era in which, you know, the pre-October of 2017 moment when all of us kind of went, “It doesn’t have to stay this way?!”  It was certainly, you know, the, the conventional wisdom was, Oh, that’s just the way it is.

Meredith: Things are just really sexist. You gotta work twice as hard. Got to prove yourself. Don’t make waves. Don’t ruin your reputation.

Julia: Hmm. So, would you be comfortable sharing, any more detail about the harassment that you experienced?

Meredith: Yeah. I mean, in general, it, it was just an environment that was pretty fraught. I mean, lawyers have strong opinions anyway, but there was a situation with this particular person that made it feel threatening to me where if he was – he was one of these people that would talk and then take a long pause before he said his next thing. And in the natural course of conversation, often if you pause, somebody jumps in and says, Oh, I agree with that. And so there was this interesting dynamic where I would do that and he would just lose it. Like, “I guess I’m done talking then. We don’t have to ever talk anymore.”

Which is interesting how these experiences play into the coerciveness of a actually sexualized experience because then when he would come up behind me and  lean his body on me or massage my shoulders, I would think back to me  quote unquote interrupting him and know that if I posed it, it was going to create a big scene.

There’s one point where we would work late and, his wife called and they’re talking about dinner and he said, “You know, I gotta go cause we’re working on something important.” And he hangs up and he says, see, you’re more important than her right now. And a lot of it was sort of flirtatious comments like that.

One time he was eating chocolate and he said, you’re so sweet, like the chocolate, but I don’t know how, — or “You’re so sweet like the chocolate. The chocolate tastes sweet, but I don’t know how you – “ and then he paused.

Julia: BLECH!

Meredith: Stuff like that pretty consistently.

And the thing that happened was I reported to my supervising attorney and she said, well you know this other girl worked with him pretty closely and she never said anything. And she’s really pretty.

And that was my first reporting experience. It was pretty early on, before I felt afraid. You know, as things went on, I was afraid to go to work. I was walking to work every morning and I was listening to podcasts and I could hear the sound of my heart beating over the sound of the podcast cause I knew I would have to stay late and he would be the only person in the office and I genuinely didn’t know what could physically happen to me in the situation.

In retrospect, I do not believe he had any intent to  physically violate me. But at the time when you don’t know, I was very afraid. And so I reported again, I did all the reporting things that you’re supposed to do and basically people were saying, “I wish it was somebody else, but because it’s him, we don’t really feel like we can do anything.”

Julia: Cause he, he was the, lead partner or…?

Meredith: Yeah.  It just was his particular position within the office made it difficult for other people.

Julia: So, ultimately you found a solution to this problem. Tell us about that.

Meredith: Yeah. So the thing that I realized – and this is sounds kind of simple, but I think  one of the biggest things that happens to employees in this situation is that they give up. And they have every right to give up and every justification to give up. But then you have to think about what does giving up mean for you. Is it giving up on yourself?

Julia: Yeah. And we hear this over and over again, right? With the women who said that Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer or whoever – pick a name – harassed them over and over and over and over again. And then eventually they gave up and gave in and said, “Fine, do what you want. Whatever.” And, and, and that then becomes the defense’s argument that, “Well obviously, she ultimately wanted it. She did it. She agreed. So, you know, obviously I just, it was fine. I was just flirting with her. I was just seducing her. I was just wearing her down. It’s just what men and women do.”

Meredith: She says, no, no, no, no, no. But she really means yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. And it’s not true.

What I ended up realizing and noticing with myself after doing a lot of work on my own, like personal work about this, was that he would put his hand on my shoulder and I would immediately think maybe I don’t deserve respect.

And it doesn’t sound like a sexist thought. It doesn’t sound like, “women don’t deserve respect.” But it is a sexist thought because it’s identifying my place in the office as being less power, as not deserving – maybe I’m never going to wear this dress again. Maybe if I change my dress, maybe if I walk a different way, I’ll be safe in the office, if I avoid his office.

And then I had all of these beliefs that I had to deal with about myself that were telling me to give up and that maybe I just didn’t deserve respect and that it was hopeless.

And so ultimately, the main thing that I did that sounds super simple as I just didn’t give up and I dealt with all that. And then I decided to look at his behavior separately from what I had internalized and being raised in a culture that devalues women.

And so I asked myself, what would I do – one, what would I do if this was a friend? What would I say to a friend if who’s experiencing this? I would say, do not give up on your career. And you can quit and I wouldn’t judge you for quitting.  And I love you. Do whatever you need to be safe. And also tell this asshole to get his hands off your body. You deserve to do that.

And so the shift that I made was I said, okay, so a lot of employees are afraid to get fired, right? We’re afraid that if we stand up to a situation like this, we’ll get fired. And that sounds like the worst thing. So what we end up doing is we fire ourselves ahead of time by quitting. 

And really in terms of a sexual harassment lawsuit, in terms of the law, if you get fired for clearly reporting sexual harassment, gender discrimination, any kind of discrimination, anything illegal – if you get fired for reporting that in writing very clearly, you have so many legal protections. So I ended up deciding if I get fired for showing up at my job, doing amazing work, supporting my clients, getting great results, and calling out the illegal things that I see happening, then I should probably get fired and have a great lawsuit.

Julia: Wow. That’s amazing.

Meredith: Yeah. So ultimately, one of the things that I did was there was a more senior person in the office. There were a couple more senior people in the office that had some leverage, but it was like going to talk to your friend’s dad about your boyfriend. Just these people that you really don’t want to have this conversation with. And I just said, it’s worth it. I’m going to have this conversation. And one of them went to him and said, you need to go apologize right now.

And that’s the end of the story. He came and apologized and said, I understand I may have made you feel uncomfortable. If I possibly maybe made you feel uncomfortable, then I’d like to apologize. And I said, “Thank you for your apology. Yes. That was not appropriate. I don’t want to be touched at work.”

Julia: Yeah. And so what you, what we shared when I, you know, at the beginning of this episode, I introduced who you are, that you actually, not only did you get the apology, it sounds like it became, it wasn’t just a, you know, civil, you know, we can barely stand to be around each other relationship. It sounds like it actually, you know, you had a perfectly okay relationship after that.

Meredith: I mean, we’re not best friends. He was very uncomfortable around me after that, and I continued to just advocate within the office and show up and not worry that he was uncomfortable.

So a lot of times what we want to do is we want to believe that our bosses need to like us in order for us to be successful at work. And really, if your boss is afraid of you, that’s not a bad thing. And he was a little afraid of me after that in my view. Obviously I’m not inside of his head, but he acted a little afraid of me.

But ultimately what ended up happening after a little while was, there were times when he would come to my office and ask me how to handle a situation within the office cause he could see that I was being in integrity and being straightforward and advocating for myself and being clear in my decisions of what the work environment needed to be.

Julia: That’s interesting. And then I want to ask you a question which is a sensitive one, and maybe not for you personally, but I know certainly for some listeners, which is, how come you didn’t just say something to him? How come you had to find two, three, four, five people up the chain to go and tell him that it wasn’t appropriate?

Meredith: That was actually just strategic in my situation. I think in many situations you can. I considered, and I discussed with other people in the office, “I’m fine to go tell him not to do this. I don’t think that’s gonna result in him not doing it. I think it’s going to result in a bunch of drama.” And then they agreed that that probably wouldn’t result in him stopping.

So I did peace Corps in Ukraine after college, and I had this experience where we were at a party and I was walking home and this guy came up behind me and wrapped his arms around me and I literally kicked him off of me. And so I’ve never had a problem telling somebody, stop what you’re doing. And so this was an embarrassing, humiliating problem for me of being like, I don’t think that that’s going to create the result I want, to do that. I don’t think that’s the action that’s going to create the result of him stopping. I think then he’s going to have to prove himself more and put me down more because of that power dynamic.

Julia: Interesting. So you believed then, and I assume that you continue to believe now, that had you gone that route, he basically – he had so minimized you in his own mind that feedback about his behavior from you would have been discarded.

Meredith: Discarded and taken as a challenge potentially.

Julia: Whereas the exact same feedback about his behavior from his boss’s boss him stop.

Meredith: Yeah.

Julia: We’ve talked a lot about how, how much responsibility you took for what was happening in your life and how you didn’t give up, and you decided to just change how you were going to make meaning out of what was going to happen. And ultimately you created different results by just being persistent.

And now in the work that you do with clients you coach them through similar behavioral strategies. And, I think that as we’ve just described, that’s a fantastic thing to do. It creates a good outcome. It stops the harassment. it’s effective. And so, you know, ultimately, you know, perfect, right?

And I think that a lot of people object to hearing those kinds of prescriptions because it feels to so many people like we are putting all of the emotional burden, the emotional labor, onto women. That instead of just forcing the men to stop, we’re jumping through hoops and doing cartwheels, figuring out all the ways that we need to be different. It’s just a different version of the, “I won’t wear this dress anymore” story.

So what do you say to that objection that, that behavioral approaches to taking control of your own situation is nothing more than just —

Meredith: Wearing a different dress, yeah. Yeah.  honestly, I can say what’s worked for me and what’s worked for my clients.  And I think if you’re in an environment where you can just immediately address the behavior — the behavior is always the problem, and so if you can immediately address it, then that’s what you do. 100% you immediately address the behavior.

But if you’re in a situation where you can’t, like mine, then what I want to do and what I believe is that we all have a duty to our own safety. We all have a duty to ourselves. And changing our dress doesn’t work to create more safety.  But if it did, maybe we would just change our dresses, right? But it just doesn’t work.

Julia: yeah, yeah. Listen, so many women that have changed so many dresses, and we’ve changed so many routes to work, and we’ve changed so many ways that we talk to whoever it is that’s abusing us, right? And it doesn’t fucking work.

Meredith: Yeah.  I think that’s the real problem with changing those things. And we shouldn’t have to, sure – we should have a society filled with equality and equity and compassion and health, and we don’t.  If that did work, then maybe that would be the solution.

But to me, the amazing thing about these kinds of experiences and why I ended up being actually pretty grateful for this experience is that if I had gone on with this belief that maybe I don’t deserve respect, if I had gone on believing I should change my clothes, or I should change, or there’s something wrong with me, I would still be living that life.

And this allowed me to look at, and question, those beliefs for myself, that are beliefs that are aligned with my harasser.  I had the opportunity to align against any belief that I deserved that behavior.  And then once I did that, I could make a bigger impact on the behavior itself, which is ultimately the problem.

Julia: And so I think the distinction that we’re making here is that you weren’t changing your behavior. You changed your thought process. You changed your belief structure.

Meredith: I changed what ultimately were sexist beliefs that I had about myself that were in agreement with him. I had to stop being sexist against myself before I could really impact the behavioral sexism I was seeing in the environment.

Julia: And in so doing, you also fundamentally altered the power dynamic. Because the dynamic that existed originally was one in which you were significantly disempowered. Because of all of the material things, yes: he was your boss. He was older. He presumably made more money — all those things.

But he was also — there was a power imbalance because you held beliefs disempowered yourself.  And once you changed your beliefs that you are or deserve to be less powerful, less valuable, less respected than him, it basically just vanished the behavior. I mean, I don’t want to minimize it and simplify it, but it made it much easier.  All of a sudden you found the leverage you needed to get the behavior to stop.

Meredith: And it made the impact of the behavior on me so much less traumatic. 

Julia: That’s very interesting too. And I think that that kind of goes hand in glove because when we are in that state of feeling traumatized, when we are unconsciously in that — we’re living from the space of the trauma, of the disempowerment, we feel vulnerable. We feel unsafe. And by definition, that makes us more vulnerable to being harmed by whatever might be happening to us. And so, by reversing that, healing the trauma, healing the belief, healing the old baggage also simultaneously, and by definition, made the current behavior less harmful.

Meredith: And also when we’re experiencing trauma from something like that, it’s not us doing something unreasonable or weird.  It absolutely is rational and there’s always a rational reason that we’re experiencing the trauma from something like this based on our past experiences or current experiences. And, there’s always an opportunity to shift that.

Julia: Yeah. That’s a very important part to center and to presence.  Whatever your reaction is, your feelings – your emotions – are always valid. Always. And, they might not be serving you. They might not be coming from your highest and best good. So if you can find a way to do the healing work that allows yourself to not attach that meaning anymore, so that you no longer feel threatened or disempowered or disrespected or whatever it is, all of a sudden the harm just kind of evaporates.   

Meredith: And I think get help for it. I had to get help. I did not do this on my own. I did it with allies. I did it with coaches. I got help for it. And that is the number one thing that I, I think that people can do.  if we’re doing it on our own, it’s so hard.

Julia: Do you wonder – obviously you never healed the relationship to the point that you could actually have an honest conversation with about this with him, which, gosh, that would’ve been amazing, right? But do you ever wonder, do you think that he knew in his heart of hearts that what he was doing was wholly inappropriate?

Meredith: My guess now, I mean, who knows? And it kind of doesn’t matter what he believed about it, but my guess is that he thought he was encouraging me as a new person in the office. And that he was developing some kind of special relationship. I and this is partly because of comments he made to other people that they told me —

Julia: About you?

Meredith: Yeah,

Julia: So, so he was talking to other people about how much he respected you and how much potential he saw in you?

Meredith:  no, he was talking to them about whether I had a boyfriend and that I was hot.

Julia: Oh, god!! [laughter] Okay. The opposite of what I was saying.

Meredith: Yeah. But I mean that I did good work. I know that he knew that I did good work.

Julia: Well, so I mean, that sounds to me like he was basically, he’s trying to groom you. He was hoping that he was going to have an affair with you.

Meredith: Totally.  But I don’t think in his mind, I mean, he behaved kind of like an 8-year-old kid who is excited about this new toy.  I don’t think that he had an awareness that that was not appropriate in that situation until we very clearly confronted it. And then after that, when other new people would come in, he was, in my view, potentially more cautious with other new people.

Julia: So you feel as though it did stop the behavior from repeating.

Meredith: Yeah.  There were a couple of other minor experiences with him that after he apologized, I then could confront. And during the apology he said, I hope if I do anything in the future, you will let me know. And that gave me the permission. So then when it would happen in the future, I would say, this. is the – don’t do that.

And even in meetings I saw, he sort of would do a hazing thing with younger people, And I would – there was one situation where I said, Oh, hazing. And he was like, “no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I didn’t mean to,” — but just calling it out.

Julia: Fascinating. And did you observe any changes in your – the culture of your workplace in the larger capacity, not just between the two of you?  I just got done interviewing Sharmili Majmudar of Women Employed. And a big part of our conversation was about how sexual harassment in a workplace isn’t just between the perpetrator and the victim. It’s about the whole system. And the social permission from the group that either is or is not given.

And furthermore, that when you’re setting about to address harassment, that it makes a huge impact on the group when they witness how bad behavior is dealt with. And so I’m wondering if in meetings you basically smacked him on the back of his hand, say “hazing!” And he said, “Oh, Whoa, sorry, didn’t mean to,” I would imagine that that might’ve had a really powerful impact on how others in the office viewed any other instances of sexual harassment that might’ve been going on. What do you think?

Meredith:  it didn’t eliminate inappropriate behavior, I don’t think. But in my experience of my situation, it impacted how they viewed me and what I was going to tolerate in my environment.

Julia: But you don’t think that it made a huge impact on any other people that were engaging in toxic, discriminatory, harassing behaviors to watch how he got smacked back by you?

Meredith:  I dunno. I think it’s hard to say because you can’t compare two different futures. Like who’s to say? I think it did have an impact. I think that for me I started loving my work. For me, I started – when those things would come up, I, I just developed the belief that that was why I was there. That I could choose to believe that things shouldn’t be sexist, but – and I wish things weren’t sexist – but if I choose the belief, “things shouldn’t be sexist” versus the belief, “this is why I am here. I am the person who sees this and I am meant to address it.  I’m so honored to have this role,” it made those experiences something that felt empowering instead of something that felt debilitating.

I’m sure it had an impact, but I think that culture moves forward and then there’s backlash and then culture moves forward again, and then there’s backlash.  I don’t think that when we call something out, it means that all of the discrimination in an environment is gone.

Julia: And I wonder if this would be an interesting point to raise in the conversation, the question of trauma.  Because that is certainly something that you acknowledge through the work that you do, that while what you’re guiding people through is a financial and a legal, often, battle, if they’re working with you in your capacity as a lawyer. But then it’s also a healing journey that you are helping people through and that I’m surviving and recovering from discrimination, harassment, assault is a healing journey.

And I talk a lot about trauma and wounding, and you know, increasingly we’re talking about PTSD as it applies to lots of situations in life. And I find that there’s a surprising amount of pushback from people about those words, trauma and wounding. And I think part of it is what you just alluded to, that people don’t want to self-identify as a victim. There’s a strong tendency to want to, you know – like if I, if I acknowledge the trauma or if I say I was traumatized or am traumatized, it somehow makes me weak and disempowered. And for God’s sakes, that that’s the last thing that I want to be.

Because what, what is so ironic and tragic and frustrating for me as I’ve witnessed other people is that when we feel threatened, when we feel unsafe, when we feel weak, when we feel vulnerable, that our survival mechanism kicks in and we do everything we possibly can to ensure our safety in that circumstance. And all too often part of that, that that knee jerk reaction to strengthen us and create safety involves negating the reality of the wound that exists.

Meredith: So true. And then I think that there’s another thing also – I really agree with what you’re saying, and I think that there’s also another thing that we want to think about. When we’re identifying sexual harassment or sexual assault, we’re identifying somebody else’s behavior. So I can feel strong and empowered and still identify that somebody else is engaging in discriminatory, offensive conduct that is targeted at women or targeted at race or targeted at whatever protected characteristic somebody has. 

But often what we’re doing, even when we’re hesitating to say something is sexual harassment, is we’re taking it on ourselves. And, and what we want to do is acknowledge the wound, like you’re saying. Acknowledge the pain that we’re having and deal with that and heal that. And treat the other person’s behavior as potentially something very different than the wound we’re experiencing.

Because often when somebody says to us, skinny girls get jobs, or pretty girls aren’t going to get interviews or whatever they’re saying to us, we have a belief that maybe we believe them, right? and that’s where the pain comes from. If we believe anything that’s happening that is harassing offensive conduct   means something about us, that’s where the pain comes from.

If we just see them as behaving in a sexually harassing manner, it’s possible to make an impact on their behavior without internalizing it as meaning something about us.

But most of us are raised with that wound, right? Most of us are raised that girls deserve worse than boys, that girls need to work harder than boys. And so we have that inside of us, that wound. And if we don’t acknowledge that, we end up in a place where I think we can’t move on, or we’re in a struggle with, with the topic.

And every once in a while I’ll have a man reach out to me who has been accused of harassment — and so I worked with this man this one time who made a comment  that was something like people were getting massages and he said, “I wish I was the one giving them massages.”

And he agreed that the minute it came out of his mouth, he thought, “That’s like the most inappropriate thing I’ve ever said.” And one of the women was very offended about it. And then he went on to try to justify his comment and it turned into a disaster. 

And so then he’s trying to repair this and asked for my help and this is exactly what I told him to say, is, “I understand. I would never mean to hurt somebody. I would never mean to say something like that. And I understand my intent and the impact of my words are totally different things. And it was an unacceptable comment. And I do not want to be like that. And so if you ever see anything like that from me again, please tell me. That it’s not who I want to be.” Because his comment – it doesn’t matter if she was not offended even, it’s still an inappropriate comment. But she was, and that’s important.  Her feelings are also important.

And I think that we get stuck in this idea that there’s one reasonable response to a comment.  There are a hundred reasonable responses. Hers was reasonable, and the person who was not offended was reasonable.  And, and I think the feelings that we have in reaction to unacceptable behavior are reasonable. If we feel traumatized, go feel traumatized.  Not that I want people to feel traumatized, but like that is legitimate. And we also want to look at other options so that we make sure we are safe even when there are people having 100% unacceptable behavior.

Julia: Yeah. And so I, I feel like, there are two different conversations that have to be held at the same time. And it’s difficult to do regarding this issue of impact. Because I do have some men who listen to this and men who are – not men who think that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote. However, they are not necessarily fully on board. Right? Like some of the men who are listening are like, I think you women are going a little bit too far. And part of the reason they listen is because I try to play devil’s advocate in, in specifically right in this moment.

So here we are talking about one man who made a statement that he agrees was a dumb thing to say. And then it was listened to or heard by at least – but let’s just imagine it was two women, one of the women was deeply offended. The other woman, let’s just imagine – you didn’t say this, but let’s just to make a really stark contrast – she thought it was funny. And had took no offense whatsoever, right?

So on the one hand, it’s really important to hold space and have the conversation that both of those women had reasonable responses. And it’s really important to make every assurance that neither woman is made to feel wrong. One woman was offended. One woman was humored. Both are reasonable responses. So we’re honoring the experiences of the impact on the one hand.

And then at the same time over here, like in this pregnant pause of like, “Oh fuck. What’s going to happen next?” is the dude. Like, “ah, okay, great. While you ladies are over there, like honoring both ends of the spectrum, I’m sitting here wondering like how hard you’re going to slam my nuts in a vice over what I just did. Like, am I going to get away with this? Am I going to get fired? Like, what the fuck’s going to happen to me next? What are y’all bitches going to do to me?” You know what I’m saying?

And so I think that without losing sight of the first conversation that it’s really important to honor the experience no matter what the, what the impact is – honor that it’s, it’s real.  And at the same time, we are also in a moment where we are having to make determinations about what sorts of consequences men are supposed to have put upon them.

And it’s like, okay, so does he get a consequence based upon the woman who thought it was funny or based upon the woman who was deeply, deeply offended? Or is there something in the middle that is actually a third arbitrary purveyor of consequences, which is neither of the two victims? Which by the way, many advocates in this space would say is invalid, that the consequences always have to stem directly from the impact on the victim.

So what do you have to say about that, attorney Holley?

Meredith: So here’s what I think. I think that we make this really complicated.

Julia: That’s one one of my specialties, making things complicated.

Meredith: So there are so many areas where we resolve issues like this that aren’t complicated. So for example, when you’re talking about employee situations, most employees are at-will. Meaning most employees could be fired for anything that they do. So they can be fired for just being a bad salesperson, like having low sales numbers, wearing the wrong shirt.

And then what ends up happening is somebody makes a sexist comment at work and they get added protections to their job because of the topic. And so I think it’s just like if we can treat these comments like we would treat any other inappropriate comment and not suddenly say, you get added protection because you’re discriminatory, it would not be hard.

Julia: That is just a fascinating way of thinking about this. Please say more.

Meredith: So this is the example I usually give.  This is something that I used to see all the time in different work environments.  We have a shared fridge in the work room. Somebody eats my sandwich and I go to my boss and I say somebody ate my sandwich, I’m super mad about it. And the boss says, “Oh my gosh, that’s terrible. Let me send an email, remind people to eat their own sandwiches. Do you want me to order you something in? I’m sorry that happened.” Not confusing.

But now I have somebody come to me and say, your boobs look good in that dress. I go to my boss and I say, “This person said, my boobs looked good in this dress. I feel really uncomfortable. I don’t feel safe,” and the boss says, I will conduct an investigation.

Julia: I see. Okay. And so, and the root of what you’re describing there is that there is a common corporate culture that is in agreement that eating another man’s sandwich is an affront, but there is no such agreement that talking about a woman’s tits, even if she is your coworker, or God forbid your boss, there’s no agreement that that’s an affront.

Meredith: And there’s this idea that it triggers an investigation process before there’s any kind of discipline. With the sandwich, in most situations that I’ve ever seen, a supervisor doesn’t say, “Prove to me that you brought in a sandwich this morning. I’ll investigate whether you really brought in a sandwich this morning,” but related to the comment, we call it a, he said, she said, we’re not sure that any comment happened, it was a misunderstanding. We don’t know what happened. It’s very confusing and he deserves the protection of this really being investigated whether you’re lying or not.

Julia: But I think at the core of what was going on here is that there is not a fundamental agreement about what is offensive and what is not.

Meredith: I mean, here’s my experience. So my experience in working with the man who made the inappropriate comment about the massage. He sent this acknowledgement to the woman that he understands that his intent and his impact were different. And she posted it online and was so grateful and said, thank you, and this is exactly what I needed to hear.

And that was the end of the story.  Most people want to be right so bad that we’re willing to sacrifice our jobs over it.  So for example, his initial response was, no, I didn’t say that. Even though he knew he had said it, he was so defensive of himself. And then this created a whole tidal wave of trying to get to the truth of what happened.  And then ultimately, if he could just say, “I totally agree. That was an inappropriate comment. Why would anybody say that?” He was aligning himself with the truth and with her and supporting her, and that really was all that needed to happen. It was done.

Julia: Okay. I love that that is where you went with that.  Because that is the thing that needs to happen in every single man’s mind right now who is out there feeling threatened and unsafe and like, “Holy shit, these angry feminists are out to get me, man, and I didn’t do anything wrong. It wasn’t that bad. I don’t deserve to lose my job. I don’t deserve to have my life ruined over this.” They need to just acknowledge, Oh, I actually did something kind of shitty.

Meredith: Well. And do you want to be so committed to the comment that you made that you’re on the side of this comment that you agree wasn’t great? Or do you want to agree that it wasn’t great and be like, I don’t want to be like that?

The reality is that we’re all raised in a biased culture and we have human brains that have bias in them and thinking errors, and then if we can catch those and agree that we don’t want to be part of that, then we’re on the side of health. We’re on the side of cultural health, of improvement of anti-discrimination. But if we’re so committed that we can’t even acknowledge that we have a human brain that contains bias, we’re on the side of bias. No matter whether you punched somebody today because of the bias or whether you just made a comment that you would even agree was inappropriate.

Julia: So let me ask you, with regards to this man in particular, what precipitated his transformation? You said that his initial response was to deny and then he came around to acknowledging, okay, I did that and it was kind of sucky and I’m sorry.

Meredith: He thought he had to. He thought he had to deny it and that that was going to keep him safe. And that if he acknowledged it, and if he said, I don’t ever want to be like that, that something terrible would happen to him.

But literally the only thing that we wrote was what she said to me first. He said to me, “I made this inappropriate comment. I’m terrified that I made it. I don’t want to be like that.” I literally wrote what he said to me when he felt like he was in a safe space to say it.

Julia: Okay. Okay. So, so let me unpack what you just said, because this is so deep and it is so central to this fundamental dynamic of pushback and, and, and retaliatory mindset. So he thought that if he acknowledged that he had made an inappropriate comment, his goose would be cooked. And he thought he would be fired? Is that what he thought would happen to him?

Meredith: No. It wasn’t a employment situation. It was like a public event, but he owned a company and there was a lot of threat about public pushback regarding his company. So she was sort of a participant in that.

Julia: Okay. So this is actually kind of a “my life will be ruined, my reputation will be destroyed,” sort of a situation. Okay. So he is, as a prime example of this kind of a man who is, is just filled with so much – I’m going to use the word irrational – fear. But in his world, it was very real fear that if I say, if I acknowledge, if I allow them to get hold of this talking point that I said this thing, they’re going to ruin me.

Meredith: And the other thing is that there’s this narrative that evil people sexually harass and good people don’t sexually harass. Evil people are discriminatory. Good people are not. So if I acknowledge I made an inappropriate comment, it means I’m Harvey Weinstein. It means I’m part of the evil pack. Instead of really acknowledging that if 81% of women are reporting being sexually harassed, most of us have some form of this or another going on in our brains that we really need to identify and correct

Julia: So he was filled with fear that his reputation would be ruined if he allowed this thing to be acknowledged. What was it that caused him to seek you out? You as a lawyer. He sought you out in your capacity as a lawyer, right?

Meredith: Yeah. There just was public pushback. He got a letter from somebody who was a sponsor of his event, and they were saying, if you don’t fix this if you don’t resolve this, we can’t continue to sponsor your event.

But I will say he had this whole story about another man he had seen who he knew whose company was ruined because of a frivolous allegation, and he had a lot of evidence that this could ruin his life.

But then once I pointed out to him that he was actually defending this comment that he didn’t even agree was appropriate, he could totally see how he could just agree with the woman and align with her and say, “We support you. I do not want to be like that.” And he felt so much better about it. He was afraid, but he still felt so much better being on that side of things

Julia: And the outcome was terrific. She forgave him. She even publicly lauded him for having done the right thing. So if anything, his reputation was polished as a result. Okay. I love that. And I hope that the men who are listening are internalizing this story.

And I would imagine that some of what transpired in your office with this man where you said he was able to say to you how he really felt once he was in a safe space.

And so that gets to the heart of this second aspect of the work that you do.  On the one hand, you’re a lawyer, and I think most of us understand what a lawyer is all about. But then there’s the second part to you where you are a certified life coach and you’re trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, correct?

Meredith: Well I’m not a therapist. I’m not a psychologist. So the life coaching principles that I use are derived from cognitive behavioral therapy.

Julia: Got it. So, so what I get is that, that an essential component to how you were able to facilitate this better than could have been anticipated outcome for this man and his community is because of the skills that you brought to the table around cognitive principles.  and so speaking of that – and a great way to wrap up, if people are just enamored with you and your approach and your philosophies and they want to talk to you in your capacity as a lawyer or as a coach, you offer a consultation.

Meredith: We do. Yes. So the easiest way to sign up for a consultation is to schedule yourself on our calendar. We just, offer that on our website at and you just click on the link that says schedule a consultation. That goes to my colleague and she evaluates everything, and then I have a conversation with people if we feel like it’s a good fit.

Julia: Okay. And, are those, are those free consultations or is there a charge for that?

Meredith: It’s a free consultation.

Julia:  Okay. Oh, well, gosh, it’s been wonderful to talk to you. it’s been illuminating and, interesting, and, funny.

Meredith: Yeah Funny harassment conversations.

Julia: well, you know, if you can’t laugh, what, what good is there? Right? So, yeah. So thank you so much for taking some of your time to talk and hopefully the conversation will continue.

Meredith: Yeah thank you so much.

Ai-Jen Poo: Be Connected and Powerful Together

Or, click below to open in your favorite podcast player:


Julia’s guest on today’s podcast is Ai-Jen Poo. She’s an award winning organizer, social innovator, author, and a leading voice in the women’s movement. She’s the executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, co-director of Caring Across Generations, cofounder of Supermajority and trustee of the Ford Foundation.

Ai-Jen is a nationally recognized expert on elder and family care, the future of work, gender equality, immigration, narrative change, and grassroots organizing.

She is the author of the celebrated book, The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America.

The conversation that Julia and Ai-Jen had focused around a theme of integrating healing and action. Ai-Jen told us the story of recovering from her own experiences of both harassment and assault and what an important part of her healing journey it was to get into action. She also talked about how important it was to have a community of people who could hear her story and believe her story and get into action with her to help change the conditions that so many workers like herself still face on a daily basis.

She listed for us a number of different healing resources that are available out there, whether you are a domestic worker or you’re anybody who is the survivor of workplace discrimination, harassment, or assault. – to get in touch directly with an organizer who can help you if you’ve experienced harassment or discrimination as a domestic worker 
The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund 

Julia and Ai-Jen also talked about a number of the different legislative actions that she is undertaking with the various organizations that she leads and which you can get involved in, helping to change the law to improve the lives of workers everywhere:

National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights 
The Be Heard Act
Universal Family Care

Would you like us to keep making more episodes like this one? 
Make a contribution here. 

Join the Solving #MeToo community: 

Twitter: @Julia_Kline, @SolvingMeToo
#TheSMTPodcast, #SolvingMeToo 


So I’d like to jump right in talking about why it is that this topic of Solving #MeToo is so close to your heart. I met you a couple of months ago, right here in Chicago. you were doing an event for Supermajority together with two of your co-founders, Cecile Richards and Alicia Garza.

And after the event, I walked over to say hello and tell you how much I enjoyed it, and when I mentioned that I was doing this podcast and that I would love the opportunity to interview you, you said “Absolutely. I can definitely make time in my very busy schedule for doing that.” What is it about this topic and in what ways does this topic really touch your heart and speak to the work that you are doing in the world?

Sure. well, there’s a few different ways that, I have been really deeply invested in the #MeToo movement.

And, one aspect of it is because I’ve spent the last 20 years working alongside domestic workers who work inside of our homes as nannies, house cleaners and home care workers. And are incredibly isolated in the work that they do. and this aspect of sexual violence and vulnerability to sexual violence and harassment has really not broken through in terms of how people understand the vulnerability of this workforce. And yet it is so pervasive and so much a part of the experience of this work on part of so many women across and age and ethnicity, and it has been such a widespread, it’s almost an epidemic in this workforce. –

and also such profound silence and shame around it that the fact that, you know, the #MeToo moment went viral a couple of years ago and offered an opening for people to talk about it. Mainly the workers themselves has been this hugely cathartic moment of release and connection and truth telling that is so long overdue for this workforce.

The other piece is that I look around, and I feel like women are at the heart of so much change in our world, both in terms of how our workplaces are changing, our families are changing, our culture is changing, and our economy is changing, and yet still this aspect of being able to live free from violence – and the threat of violence – is still so, so rare. You know, so many women feel like they live inside of a constant threat of violence still in 2020. Even when we have women who are, you know, candidates for president of the United States and, winning elected office and driving so much change and leading companies and leading local governments. And yet still violence against women and gender based or sexual violence overall is still such a profound part of the experience of life in this country. Just feels like if we don’t crack that nut, we’re never going to achieve the kind of equality and freedom that we deserve in this country.

And then finally myself as a survivor of violence and harassment, , throughout my life I think, this issue is really deeply personal to me. I understand what it feels like to feel all of the emotions around having survived a sexual harassment and assault. The isolation, the shame, the regret, the self blame and self doubt. , all of the emotions that people have been speaking about so publicly in the media for the last couple of years. that experience has a new voice and a new platform is a profoundly redemptive and hopeful for me.


So I think a, a great place to start is with your personal story. let’s go right into the, most tender heart of these issues for you, which is your own personal experience with violence and harassment. please share with us what has been your experience.

well, first as a worker, in the restaurant industry. I waited tables and worked as a bartender for many, many years, as a young woman, through college. And, the kind of daily harassment, and that was both racialized and gendered. the kind of relentless onslaught of sexual harassment from customers, from coworkers, from your employers and your managers. And, you know. Having your whole experience really be defined by that, is, you know, is definitely something that I experienced.

I wonder if you can describe how that shapes you, how that impacted you, because that storyline of just constant sexually inappropriate words is so common to almost all of the women who I interview. And yet there are still so many people in the world, mostly men, but including some women who don’t yet feel it. They don’t yet get it. And so I ask every woman who I talk to to offer your description of how it was impactful, how it was harmful, how it was limiting, how it was shaming to experience those words in the hopes that maybe YOUR way of telling it will get through to the people that need to understand in their heart how that behavior is damaging.

an example is, there was, and this is an example from a customer in the restaurant, who was a regular, I used to work the graveyard shift, so it was late at night, from 9:00 PM to 9:00 AM in a 24 hour restaurant. And, um, he would say things like, , I had a dream last night that I had a geisha and she looked just like you and go into really graphic detail about the sexual things that she was doing. and so it was definitely, you know, equally racialized, for me and is almost always for women of color. And just very demeaning. And you know, I told my manager about it cause this person is a regular, and would routinely kind of harass me and follow me around. and the manager did nothing and just laughed it off and just said I had to toughen up

a male manager.

Of course.

Occasionally I hear stories about female managers who couldn’t have cared less about the harassment, but so go. Go ahead. So you told your manager.

Yeah. And just the response was. There’s nothing, I mean, it was kind of a joke and that I needed to toughen up and it’s just part of the job , to accept that kind of treatment. , and so, you know, at the time I kind of just assumed that was the way it was going to be, and that was my job, my livelihood. So, I had just kind of put up with it and I just did my best to avoid that person.

And that’s part of then how it starts to define you, is you end up spending so much energy trying to avoid, the people who are harassing and abusing you, and a lot of emotional and psychic energy, that, that goes into that. That can be incredibly depleting and lead to depression and, an a sense of isolation and kind of living in a constant state of fear kind of dynamic is, is not emotionally healthy.

it’s like death by a thousand cuts where you have these acts of aggression that don’t rise to the level where people take you seriously, and are just kind of assumed or taken for granted as part of the culture of how things work, the norm. you end up internalizing those dynamics in a way that do injure you internally and emotionally. but it’s very hard to articulate.

Yeah, yeah, it sure is. It’s very difficult. And I have conversations, with men, all the time, and , many of them want to understand and they just don’t. And I can see the struggle that they have because one part of them is like, I don’t get this at all. I don’t understand why you didn’t just slap the guy or throw a drink on him or tell him to shut up. I don’t get why you took it and I don’t get why this is such a perpetual problem and I don’t get why you don’t just make it stop and they genuinely don’t, and many of them want to.

But it’s like, I almost watch it kind of like, kind of like spinning around in their heads and they’re like, can’t compute, can’t compute, can’t compute, can’t compute. So it just like finally spits out and says, this can’t be right. This isn’t, this can’t, there must be something wrong with you. You know?

Cause I can’t figure out how this experience could possibly exist. Therefore it must not. Somehow you must be making this up or there must be something broken with you, or there must be something you didn’t do. And that’s with the men who are, you know, on the lighter shade of gray, as far as being allies. Forget about the men who have no thought of women’s equality being a goal to strive for.

and just frankly, there are a lot of deeply held narratives in our culture about, Asian women and, or, you know, every group of women of color has a story that gets told and reinforced over and over again in our popular culture that, Mm. Helps to, reinforce the idea that it is our fault, right? That we are somehow, you know, here to be objects of sexual desires of men , you know, there’s a long history, the sexualization of Asian women and in film and television and has a lot to do with our history, our military history in Asia and our role in that part of the world. So there’s a lot there culturally, that is underneath and helps to reinforce a culture where men blame the victim or the survivor, for whatever violations she or he has to endure.

I have this hypothesis that a part of it, it’s a, it’s a deeply concealed unconscious, outgrowth of a much more visible and accepted pattern – there’s a story in our culture and our history – our shared American culture I mean – that, the only expectation of men is that they go out and earn a living and that they protect their families. They provide and they protect, and that that’s all that a man has to do. And the narrative says that’s really super hard and he can’t be expected to do anything else. And therefore it is woman’s job – mother. Wife, sister, in some cases, even daughter – it is a woman’s job to take care of everything else for a man’s life.

And it’s her responsibility. And so if a man doesn’t have a clean shirt in the morning, it’s not his fault, it’s her fault. If a man doesn’t have anything to eat at night, it’s not his fault, it’s her fault. And I wonder if this sexual narrative that you’re describing is an a subtle unconscious outgrowth of that.

That if a man has a sexual desire that’s inappropriate, it’s not his fault. It’s her fault. Right?

Right, of course.

If anything,goes wrong for a man. It’s a woman’s fault. It can’t possibly be his fault because nothing’s his fault. What do you think about that?

Yeah, I mean, I think the way I think about it is that our world is, defined by hierarchies of power and privilege that value some lives. and contributions over others. That values the lives and contributions of men over women, of white people over people of color. and those hierarchies are shaping all of our cultural narratives, our economy, our institutions . They have structural and cultural implications. And , they essentially determine the rules. And there are written and unwritten rules that say what is appropriate and what is inappropriate for men and what is appropriate and inappropriate for women.

and definitely, , in instances , Where there has been sexual violence, did something , to deserve it or to bring it on or , to create that context or put themselves in that position. I mean, In every story. where a survivor comes forward to report abuse almost always. as a part of the process of seeking accountability, her own actions will be on trial first, and really scrutinized first and most. And that to me is a reflection of power and privilege , and a world where the lives and contributions of men are valued more than women.

Yeah. And I absolutely want to dive into the question of power because it relates to so much of the work that you’re doing in so many different ways.

and before we go there, I want to return to your story. you were telling and I interrupted you to ask, ask you to, you know, kind of define and clarify and, and, You know, give emotional depth to what you were describing as the harassment you experienced as a server, as a, as a waiter. and please pick up your story from there.

Well, I was just going to share that I think that when the #MeToo moment exploded and went viral a little over two years ago, that one of the things that was so powerful and resonant to me personally was just that it was women from all communities and survivors of all walks of life, all industries that sexual violence and harassment was so pervasive.

there wasn’t a single industry or community that was not touched by it in profound, profound ways. And so whether it was my experience in the restaurant industry or my work as a tutor at a community college where my supervisor harassed me, or just even being a woman on the street. You know, coming home from my job at a restaurant where I was physically assaulted by two men coming home at night.

That it is such an everyday experience for so many of us, to be surrounded by the threat of violence and actual violence. And the fact that we were finally, finally having a moment of cultural reckoning, was really profound. And I hope that it penetrates into every industry. And I know for domestic workers the truth telling has only just begun. And it is so profound to bear witness to. These days in almost all the meetings that we have, a survivor comes forward and shares her story for the first time. And it is – yeah, the process of breaking that silence of me sharing with our membership and my staff that I was assaulted on the street, coming home from work one day and that I know what it feels like to be a survivor of violence – and for all of us to feel the spaciousness and the community to be able to speak that truth , is definitely, Profound and cathartic and also very challenging. That’s a hard thing to do to face that reality and the depth of the human cost of violence. .

I, I’d like to talk a little bit about the sexual assault that you experienced fro through the lens of your healing journey from that, because that’s a big focus of this podcast is inspiring and awakening authentic personal power in everybody, but especially people who have experienced trauma. have experienced assault.

again, because I think that these are all personal journeys, it’s worth hearing how each individual person walked that path. And what were the ingredients for you in recovering from and healing from and finding strength from that experience of being assaulted on the street one night by two men.

well, I would say that the healing process is always ongoing. It’s not like there was one day I woke up and I was like, Ooh, I’m healed. certainly it’s something that, survivors live with and becomes a part of who you are, , and it is possible to heal. . you know, for me, a big part of it was community, right? Having a circle of friends and women, and other survivors who, were there to support.

So you were able to tell about what happened to you immediately.


That’s such an important part. It’s such an important part to be able to have the courage to tell your story, but embedded within that is having the belief that the people around you will believe you and will support you.

Right? And will honor you, you know, and, and, and hold you through that experience. Whereas unfortunately, so many people who are assaulted have the opposite experience. They feel as though they have to hide what happened because they feel shame or because they feel that they will be shamed or they won’t be believed, or because the man that harmed them is , an important beloved person in the community and how dare she speak against, or he occasionally, as you. Pointed out and not occasionally, men and others are assaulted as well. It’s not just women, but you know, how dare we speak out against this important person, right? So.

Yeah. And imagine if you’re an undocumented immigrant, and in this anti-immigrant climate right now, you are going to try to seek — I mean, one of the things that you’re going to immediatelask yourself is whether going to seek services or any kind of help support, or reporting a crime, a sexual crime What kind of vulnerability to deportation, or family separation that will put you in, and the risks, that immigrant women in particular and women of color, of all walks of life face. On top of just the challenge of actually coming forward and telling your story. all of that gets compounded, in these different situations.

So you said the first part of your healing was the community and your ability to tell your story and the support that you received from your community. is there anything else you can share or say that is instructive or helpful about additional steps that facilitated your healing process?

Yeah, absolutely. And the most important thing is, it’s a really big part of why I do what I do as an activist and as an organizer, you know, Tarana Burke . who is our brilliant leader on this front. She often talks about the relationship between healing and action. And the #MeToo movement, which she founded, is really reinventing how we understand the relationship between the two things.

Most of us think about healing as something you do over here as an individual by yourself and action maybe as something that you do over there as part of a community or taking on a system or an institution or engaging in the world. And the two things are not the same or connected. And in reality, taking action and being a part of a movement of everyday people who share your values and your goals and your vision for a world free from violence and abuse and injustice. Right? That that in and of itself is part of healing.

So action is actually part of healing and healing is also action. And that we have to, to break down the silos that have really, segregated those two steps that need to happen and actually see them as part of a whole process for survivors.

So let’s talk about breaking down those silos. And as you referenced earlier, one of the big problems with domestic workers, but with all women, all victims, survivors of assault, is, the, the, the, the tendency to not speak out. and, and you referenced in for some people who are undocumented, part of that is the fear that if I do anything to like, you know, stick my head up, you know, I’ll, I could risk deportation.

but let’s, how do we break those down? How I, I know you’ve. Put a lot of thought into and you’ve, you’ve done a lot of organizing around breaking down those silos and what are some of the key components of it? What are some of the things that you are doing with the work that you’re doing that is breaking down silos that can offer, you know, hope and, and, like a, a branch to hold onto you to the people who are listening like, Oh yes, people are out there doing this work and it’s succeeding, we’re making it happen. And to what extent can others then learn from this blueprint that you’re laying down. Like this is how you encourage survivors who feel disempowered and alone and therefore unsafe to find courage, to find power, to find strength, to speak out.

How do we do that? How do we break down those silos? What are some of the steps?

Well, I think, to create safe spaces where survivors are supported, to share their stories or not. , and I think in our movement, what we’ve done is actually really try to create a space where people are safe and free to share or not. and to get support or to just be. And, be in the context of a movement that’s trying to move forward real solutions.

And so, you know, we are part of a coalition that’s supporting a new federal bill called the Be Heard Act, which will address the anti harassment and discrimination laws that a that protect survivors in the workplace.

And so right now our anti harassment laws at the federal level only cover workplaces with 15 employees or more. And there are so many women and men who work in workplaces, in small businesses or in environments with less than 15 employees. In fact, the entire domestic works industry, the entire care sector, is effectively excluded from any kind of anti harassment protections in the workplace at the federal level as a result.

And so the Be Heard Act would address that and make sure that every workplace, regardless of the number of employees, would be protected. I the title VII anti harassment protections.

And then there’s over 200 bills at the state, local and federal level that move forward on different aspects of support for survivors of violence, in the community and in the workplace. They strengthen laws at the state level, human rights laws that protect survivors, and many, many others. And those bills are systemic ways of addressing our failure to create an environment where people can expect to live in safety and dignity, live and work and safety.

And so I would say that, you know either through my organization or through the national women’s law center, or the me too movement or justice for women, there’s so many organizations that are working on these policies all over the country that survivors can get involved in and can play a key role in. Our movement is set up in a way that really puts survivors, their stories and their voices at the center. you never have to share your story, but if you want to share your story and help move these bills forward with your voice driving that story, that solution forward, there many, many platforms for you to do that. And, and our organization is one for care workers and domestic workers in particular.

So I love what you’re describing, for those listening who are survivors of assault and who are still kind of in the beginnings of their own healing journey and maybe haven’t yet told their story at all and don’t feel any community where they even could if, like you said, there’s a choice to tell and also a choice not to tell. Right. and, But to even, even if you choose not to tell story, to be around people –

To be in community, exactly.

Yep. That’s so powerful. I personally have never been physically, sexually assaulted. I’ve twice in my life, been in pretty scary circumstances. but I was not physically at risk, in either one. And also I have been lucky enough to have access to a tremendous amount of healing resources in the – I’m 49 years old, the first one happened when I was 15, so what is that 34 years? – so I’ve had a tremendous amount of healing resources in those 34 years to, for me to heal those.

But I’m putting myself in the shoes of somebody who’s listening, who has maybe not found their way to those healing resources. And, so what would be the first step? You said that there’s all kinds of resources, but I like to be very specific and explicit. can you offer, here’s an organization and email a website, you know, here’s where you can go if you’re feeling tender and needing to make sure that this first outreach is a supportive one. Here’s how you can do it, and for sure for sure you’ll be embraced and given the support that you’re craving

if you are a domestic worker or a home care worker, you can reach out to us at the national domestic workers Alliance and the website is And if you email an organizer will actually be in touch with you. And if you’re a survivor, regardless of any what community or what industry you work in, you can reach out to the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke’s organization, and they have a new web platform that is meant to be a resource for survivors. And it’s just And if you need legal counsel, and can’t afford it, the Time’s Up Legal Defense fund is there and they’ve been providing legal support to survivors, especially low income women who can’t afford representation.

I love that. That’s awesome. because after all this podcast is solving me too, right? We’re looking for solutions and, having these resources available, that are, you know, first places to start for people who need that. I, I love that. That’s fantastic.

So let’s talk about about, power structures. And let’s talk about, how Unequal amounts of power results in unsafety for people. And let me have you start by describing that through your lens, and then we will talk about how, a couple of the organizations you’ve founded and are working together with and the initiatives that you’re undertaking are seeking to remedy the power imbalances that exist.

Yep. so in the domestic work context, if you think about the industry, it’s base, it’s. It’s in our homes, which is already very unique. You could go into any neighborhood or any apartment building and not know which homes are also workplaces. Right? It’s unmarked, almost defined by invisibility in that way, and oftentimes nobody really knows that you’re working there. It’s not like there’s an official registry or anything like that. There’s no signs, there’s no indication. And so oftentimes it’s just you and maybe your family and your employers, the household that you work for, who know that you work there.

And it’s generally just one person per workplace. There are some very, very wealthy families that have a staff, but most people just hire one nanny or one house cleaner and one home care worker or , home care worker who works in shifts. And that work is incredibly isolating. It’s like definitely no water cooler or HR department or even a coworker to go to, to ask for advice from or support from.

And so already you’re in an isolated situation, and oftentimes the people who are doing this work are immigrant women or women of color, women of some form of marginalized social status. And they are working in an industry where the workforce has been systematically excluded from basic labor rights that most of us take for granted when we go to work every day. We’ve had to fight for domestic workers to gain inclusion and minimum wage laws even, right? basic basic rights and protections, the right to form a union. these have all been that never been available to domestic workers in terms of protection. So there’s already a systemic exclusion.

And culturally it’s work that’s associated with work that women do, right? As mothers, and it’s oftentimes taken for granted that women will do this work. It’s assumed. And as a profession, it’s always been associated with women of color. Some of the first domestic workers were enslaved African women, right.

And so there’s all of these ways in which power has shaped and does shape reality, and you’ve got an incredible amount of isolation. And in that context, just a cultural story that a home is a man’s castle. And if you think about how long it took us as a culture to even acknowledge that domestic violence was a reality, imagine the leap then to understand that domestic workers – people who work inside the home – have rights and are real workers who should be treated with dignity and respect, as opposed to some just profoundly subordinate, person, who is in a servant-like position.

And so all of those layers of power and privilege are at work. so it’s, it’s. It’s a heightened state of vulnerability to abuse by people with more power, especially the men in the household.

And I’ll add one additional layer to everything you already described, is that domestic work doesn’t generate any revenue. And you alluded earlier to the, economic, factors in , the challenges that face domestic workers specifically, but across the board, right?

Well, it technically does generate trillions of dollars in revenue, but it’s all invisible under the ways that we understand value in our economy. In that if it weren’t for the work that domestic workers do every day, millions of working families could not go to work and do what they do. That’s why we call it the work that makes everything else possible. If all the domestic workers went on strike in New York city, there’s not a single industry that wouldn’t be profoundly shaken, ,

i see what you’re saying. So because I am able to hire a nanny I’m able to go out and work. Exactly. Because I’m able to hire a caregiver for my aging parent, I’m able to go out and work.


Because I have a housekeeper. I’m able to work longer hours because I don’t have to worry about doing all my own house car and all the other, I understand you’re saying

your productivity in the marketplace is directly a result of the value that gets created by domestic workers.

That makes a lot of sense. Yep. I get that. I get that.

You don’t, we don’t, I’m culturally, we don’t even recognize that. Right.

So, no, we don’t. And, and I think, I think part of the reason why it’s hard to see that is because it is the individual that is being helped by the domestic worker in their home. And in our economy as we know, the pace of worker’s compensation has not kept up with the pace of inflation. And workers increasingly are not being paid enough to even keep house and home together, much less live the, idealized middle-class lifestyle, say nothing of upper-class lifestyle. And so most workers feel as though they’re just barely making enough to get by. And so the idea of basically carving out a piece of their revenue to go to this person who is staying at home it like, it feels like I already don’t have enough. how am I now also supporting the person who’s at home giving me the opportunity to go and work at this shitty job?

to me it all goes back to the same hierarchy of power that values the lives and contributions of men over women. Because historically that work inside the home was assigned culturally to women. we were the default care infrastructure, that enabled everything else to happen. It was assumed that women would somehow stay home and take care of the family, or if they decided to work outside the home, they’d manage both. Right? That was, that was the assumption.

And we’re today in the 21st century, that is simply not a sustainable reality. We need a really strong workforce to take care of this huge and growing older population that we have in this country. Especially as the baby boomers age and people live longer and the millennials are starting to have babies at a rate of 4 million babies born per year. There is no way that we can take care of our families in this country without a major investment in our caregiving systems, including this workforce. But we are not at all culturally predisposed to that because of the way that we just haven’t valued this work. Because it’s work we’ve assumed women will do, right?

Yes. I agree with you 100% and also what you just said, we need to make an investment in the caregiving. Well, who has the lion’s share of the money that is available to invest in anything? It’s not individual workers, increasingly, right?

No, I agree. Individual workers don’t have the money solution.

Okay, so, so yes. Now let’s talk about what is the solution to this? What is it that you are advocating to rectify this solution that we have?

You know, politicians out there talking about different things, right? We have a, we have Andrew Yang talking about a, a universal basic income that every single American citizen should receive, over the age of 18 should receive $1,000. specifically, part of his reason for advocating for this plan is for this kind of thing, because then somebody who is staying at home and taking care of whoever it is or taking care of is at least being given $1,000 a month as, as acknowledgement from the federal government.

We have Elizabeth Warren, who’s plan includes a universal pre K so that now families aren’t having to figure out who’s going to provide for the, the, the nanny or the, you know, how are we going to care for the child right there. And there’s, there’s many more. I don’t want to go into all of the candidates, but please speak to this.

Our contention is that in the 21st century in this country, that none of those plans go far enough, and that what we need is what we call universal family care. Which is one social insurance fund that we all contribute to from the time we start our first job, that we can all benefit from. That helps us cover the cost of childcare, elder care, and paid family leave and if we have someone in our lives with a disability, also support for that person. and it’s basically everything we need to take care of our families across the lifespan while we’re working. And $1,000 a month, I just don’t think that that cuts it. You know?

I mean, talk about the reality that 70% of American workers earn less than $50,000 per year. And then we look at the fact that the average cost of a room in a nursing home is more than a hundred thousand dollars per year, and the average cost of childcare is at least $10,000 per year. The numbers just don’t add up. And so I think we need to be looking at a much bigger solution that these risks around the cost of care are too great for any family to bear alone. And the only way to do it is to pull it into a social insurance fund.

And we have a whole bunch of social insurance experts that have done a bunch of research that you can look at on our website, and they all agree that the best way to do it is for us to do it together. And that when we do it together, it’s actually really manageable. Whereas right now, the way we’re paying for it is so inefficient and expensive and unsustainable.

I want to tie this back around to the beginning of the conversation, which was how these various multifaceted mechanisms for disempowering workers creates opportunity to take advantage of workers.

And we’re talking about take financial advantage, but then also take sexual advantage, the harassment and the assault. And so, in addition to what you were just describing, I want to go back to the Be Heard Act and if I’m not mistaken, also the Domestic Workers Bill of rights cause that that’s still going forward as well, correct?


Both of these, if I’m not mistaken, have specific aspects to them , that protect workers from sexual harassment and assault and provide support for survivors. And can you talk a little bit more about that with both or either of those pieces of legislation, how they’re different, if that matters?


So just having universal family care doesn’t necessarily address the epidemic of sexual violence and harassment in our workplaces. , and what the be heard act does is ensure that Workplaces across the country and across all kinds of industries are protected by our Title VII anti harassment protections. and that there is capacity and resources to investigate claims of survivors.

and then what the national domestic workers bill of rights does is it offers a whole new framework for rights and protections for this workforce that faces, as I said earlier, really unique challenges to exercising those rights, as a really isolated workforce in a really unique workplace. and included in it is the kinds of protections that are in the be heard act, but also all kinds of resources and support for survivors, a sense of community, and services, that are available to survivors.

oftentimes people think about community and support in one bucket, and then they think about activism and movement building in another bucket. But all a movement is, is a community that tries to get as large as it can in the service of a vision or a common goal. And our movement to try to end sexual violence and harassment is a movement that is inclusive of everyone and is trying to turn that experience of violence into a community with real power to change laws and systems. Like with the Be Heard act and the domestic workers bill of rights, and the only way we’re able to do that is if our community grows.

And so just knowing that that experience is key to us achieving the solutions that we need, and that the link between your sense of community and our ability to win is actually pretty fundamental.

And so I want to wrap up by talking about super majority. that is a new organization, if I’m not mistaken, it was formed in 2019.


and my understanding is that it’s founded by yourself, Alicia Garza and Cecile Richards. Are there other founders in there in the mix of,

there are, there are just Miralis for kedo Dierdra shuffling Catherine Granger, a bunch of great organizers who basically saw all of this energy out in the country among women to do more, to get more involved, to be a part of the solution, right? To be solutionaries in this moment when our country is in crisis on so many levels. And that the challenge wasn’t that we had any lack of energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, or resources, but really that we had an organizing challenge. That we needed a way for us to come together and feel a part of the super majority that we are, right? When we’re the majority of everything, including voters, how come we still don’t feel powerful, right? How come we’re not in charge? how come we’re still dealing with inequality on so many levels, including violence? ? so super majority is an effort to create a new home for women’s activism that helps us feel connected and powerful, like the supermajority that we are, and we’re going to be mobilizing voters to get out to the polls and vote, in unprecedented numbers. Our hope is to train at least 2 million women to turn out millions more to vote in 2020. And over and over again, what we heard from women is that sexual violence and harassment is a huge motivating factor, is a huge indicator to them that we have not achieved equality, and we’re far from it. And the only way to address it is to organize and do it together.

So for the people listening, saying, hell yeah, I’m in, I want to get involved with super majority. talk about like, what does that mean? Are, do you do local meetings that people can show up at? Are there webinars that they tune into? Are there online trainings? what does that mean? What does that, you know, actually on the ground mean to be a member of super majority to join that coalition.

Great question. And it’s all of the above. if you go to super and sign up to become a member, there will be a survey – a membership form -for you to fill out and a way that we can then understand where you are and what kind of issues you’re interested in. And we’re gonna try to connect you to local resources and other women who are in your same boat, who you may or may not already be connected to. And then we’re going to be offering off a whole training and educational series that will support women to be their most powerful selves in the 2020 context and to turn out millions more to join our movement.

That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic. Cause yeah. Women, we are the super majority. And, what I personally really, like about super majority is that it is diverse women. there are a bunch of other political action groups out there, many of which at this time are dominated by women. and, they generally – in my knowledge of them – are not terribly diverse. There’s some groups that attract the white women. There’s some groups that attract black women. There are some groups that attract immigrant women. And Sort of, we’re all on the same page. We’re all fighting for the same thing, but we’re doing it in silos. That word again and super majority, you all are, you know, you all who are organizing it are diverse. And so the group that you’re coalescing around you is diverse and there’s such terrific power in that. I think that’s very exciting.

Yeah, I mean, I know for sure. I’ve been organizing with women of color who work as domestic workers for more than 20 years, and they want to be a part of a movement that is multi-racial and as big and bold and powerful as can be. and I think we’re in a moment where that’s true for lots and lots of women. We just want to be connected and be powerful together. Hmm.

What a great note to end on. Be connected and powerful together. I love that. That is what we are all about.

Thank you so much Ai-jen I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today.

I appreciate all of the work that you’re doing in the world, the inspiration that you are, the container that you’re holding for others to live into their greatest selves. it’s all just wonderful stuff.

Thank you. . Great conversation.

Great. Have a great rest of your day.

You too.