Select Page

Playground Sexual Harassment in the 1970s: A Story About Mary*

June 23, 2009 – Some stories take a long time to tell. This one about playground sexual harassment at school is one of them. I wrote it down in 2008 for my daughters, and for Mary*, wherever she is.

In 2005, on her fourth day on the job, Jamie Lee Jones, a young computer tech working in Iraq for the popular U.S. defense contractor Halliburton/KBR, was drugged and gang-raped by coworkers. A judge who reviewed the case said this: “Sadly, sexual harassment, up to and including sexual assault is a reality in today’s workplace.”

In 1976, at an elementary school near the foothills of Pike’s Peak Mountain, Mary fought off the playground sexual harassment and assault of a dangerous boy named John. He’d bullied her all year.

All the little girls and one sweet little boy ran away scared.

Playground Sexual Assault

One second, they were third graders frolicking with jump ropes and monkey bars. The next second, Mary was pinned against a set of locked doors.

Tears streamed down her soft brown face as childhood bliss ran aground.

Playground Slide

The playground sexual assault lasted for only a few moments.

It was abetted by the remaining boys who formed a little human boy wall the eight-year-old girl could not scale.


In the early 1990s, posted on a foreman’s desk in a dark corner of a federal facility, was a crude copy of a World War II poster — Rosie the Riveter — proudly going to work to support the war. Donning a cute red bandana, these words were scrawled underneath her beautiful and patriotic face:

“Shut up and work, bitch.”

(                                                )

I saw this with my own two eyes.

Sexual harassment is not about lust. It is the mean little cousin to sexual assault. It is about power, control and dominance over women.

Sexual harassment is a form of violence against women, and it leads to devastating consequences including physical and psychological injuries.

It prevents the integration of women in the workplace and reinforces the subordination of girls to boys, women to men.

It violates a girl’s dignity.

Sexual violence pervades the world and sexual harassment is just one of the first links in a long chain.

Sexual harassment is not someone’s personal dilemma. Sexual harassment is a crime.

Men (and boys) who sexually harass women (and girls) sexualize the workplace, classroom or schoolyard in an effort to diminish the role of females.

Sometimes, they succeed.

It is also true that men can be sexually harassed. It just doesn’t happen as frequently, but it is just as humiliating and illegal.

Years of experience, post-graduate education and impressive credentials do not serve as an inoculation against sexual harassment.

The research scientist is no more immune than the 19-year-old girl working at a Houston dry cleaner.

In fact, studies indicate that women who do not conform to gender stereotypes are particularly targeted.

In most cases, men sexually harass assertive, ambitious, and independent women leaders.

Sexual harassment can be a dizzying world of he-said/she-said. In the absence of witnesses, complaints can become fodder for a dark fairy tale, Shut Up and Work, Bitch.

The men who sexually harass women know they can grope them in the elevator one minute and isolate them at the office party the next.

No wonder more women don’t come forward.

As if it’s not hard enough for women to secure equal pay, compete for executive positions and balance children and careers, they must work with the knowledge that they are not adequately protected from unwanted sexual behavior and comments.

According to government and media, sexual harassment and sexual discrimination are both on the rise —despite— Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines, Tailhook, Anita Hill and so many more.

(In 2007, EEOC reported that the number of sexual harassment complaints had increased for the first time since 2000.)

And, it’s no big surprise. After all, according to sexual harassment law, there are no consequences for being bad when nobody is looking.

What it will take for our daughters to inherit a workplace free from these civil rights violations?

In 1976, I ran away from Mary. It won’t happen again.

I kept the story about Mary to myself for 32 years. I shared it for the first time in 2008.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” –Joshua 1:9

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of my friend.

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

Thank you for subscribing. Posts are delivered ONCE A WEEK on Sundays at 6 p.m. You can unsubscribe anytime with one click. Also, we will not share your email address with anyone.


  1. T.R.

    This is what happens when I have seven of your stories all up on my screen. I get the comments mixed up. My apologies.

  2. justdoyin

    waoh Jen, this is a really touching story…I like the fact that you’ve come out with it (a real story) as well as other facts and educative info…I also love the part where u said u ran away from Mary those many years ago, but u’ld never run away or collude again…it’s indeed high time we all, especially women, stood up FOR REAL against issues of sexual harassment/assault, and the regulations (or lack thereof) surrounding them…God bless you…

  3. jenx

    @TR – This comment is so good, I’m copying and posting it on the post about Jackson and Fawcett!

  4. T.R.

    This is probably going to sound terrible – but listening to the young Michael Jackson sing here on your site I suddenly realize that, for me, that Michael Jackson I loved and adored died a few years back. The passing of his physical body today has oddly cleared the way for me to morn that strange loss of so many years back.

    Today a 23 yo turned and said to me “Who is Farrah Fawcett”. How sad that she may never understand the power and impact of the movie Burning Bed 25 years ago and the changes that movie made for women her mother’s age.

  5. jenx

    @LANCE – Thank you for saying all this. Thank you for ministering to me today.

  6. Lance

    Courage. That shines through in your writing here today. This message is so important. Without people speaking up, nothing changes. And really, it’s sad that this is “allowed”. Why? What makes it okay? Nothing. Nothing about it is okay. Jen, thank you for sharing this, for having the courage to be so open and real…

  7. le @ thirdontheright

    this has to be said and you are the right girl to say this … we all need to say it don’t we – le xoxo

  8. jen

    @TR – I got the comment and when I published and went to respond it was GONE! Then, I thought myabe you left it on a different post and I just hadn’t noticed, so I went back through the last several posts and still couldn’t find it. It BUMMED me!!

    @TIMSHEL – Is the story on your blog? I’d love to read it. I’d love to meet! Let’s figure it out via Twitter??

  9. T.R.

    I posted a comment yesterday afternoon and don’t yet see it here. I wonder if it vaporized into the blog ether?

  10. jen

    @JOHN – I respect your writing so much, this compliment is so validating. Thank you.

    @DADDY FOREVER – Thank you! Again, I respect your opinion so much. This means a lot.

    @MR. NORMAN WHISKERS – I luv you Norman. You come by and chat anytime. hahahahaha!

  11. timshelblog

    We need to meet. It is astonishing how we seem to be in similar areas of our separate lives.

    Just last night, before reading this post, I gathered all the courage I had to write a very painful story that I have been holding onto for about 7 years now… And then I read this today and was so encouraged and empowered.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! You are wonderful.

  12. Mr. Norman Whiskers

    Please erase the previous comment from me, I was supposed to be signed in as the cat…Here is the right one 🙂 –

    Hi Jen the human,
    Meatz is dinner. I believe in English the correct spelling is “meat” but in my excitement, I add a “Z” for some extra ZING!

    Some stories make my Lady feel like she is writing without clothes on in front of a web cam. She will find a way to tell them all someday possibly through YA fiction.

  13. John Hayes

    This was a brave act & an important story to tell. Your presentation was extremely well done. Thanks for putting this information out there so strongly & so clearly.

  14. jen

    @LOREN – You’re such a great writer, you should tell your stories. Naomi Wolf, the feminist-activist-political consultant and 1984 Yale graduate, took 20 years to tell her story about a professor harassing her as a coed. Twenty years. It’s never too late.

  15. Loren Christie

    This is great work Jen. The music, layout, and delivery is very moving. The world can be such an ugly place, and at the same time, a beautiful one. This is a story that need more attention, and I’m so glad you pursued the topic. I stood up to sexual harassment at work and was laughed at. I stood up to sexual harassment as a teenager and was verbally and emotionally abused.

  16. Daddy Forever

    Nicely done. You should write full time. I also like the images you selected for your story. Great job!

  17. jen

    @YOGI – Brave or ??? Who knows. Probably getting old. 😉

  18. Yogi♪♪♪

    Great and powerful post Jen. You are very brave.

  19. jen

    @GRACIE – thank you

    @OKLAHOMA GIRL – I want to hear yoru stories.

  20. jen

    @KENT, Thank you so much. Your encouragement gives me courage.

    @ROB, Thank you for believing in me and supporting my story telling.

  21. jen

    @Glynis – Thank you, my first comment. Life is short. These are some of the things I have to say. I appreciate your encouragement. jen

  22. Anonymous

    You never cease to amaze me. I am glad you finally decided to share this story. It needed to be told and you this little “Book” attests to horror of harrasment. You did a FANTASTIC job with a Fresh, New approach.
    Hugs– Gracie

  23. Oklahoma Girl

    I am crying…for all the Mary’s & for you. Thank you for sharing. It is so important to tell our stories. I am so very proud of you -the courage you portray in all your writing is inspiring. This is a beautiful, well-written account. The information is so needed. In the “Good Ole Boy Society” they consider this type of harassment ok, especially if you are in a male-dominated workplace. They expect you to cowboy up & take the punishment for taking a “man’s job”. I have been fortunate to work for some very upstanding men who would not tolerate such behavior, & I have worked for those who did. Thank you for such an honest, amazing, beautiful, truthful, personal account. Someday, I will tell you my stories.

    blessed be…

  24. Anonymous

    Jen, this is just one of the many pieces of writing that proves you are one of the few real journalists out there. Thank you for being so strong and honest. Rob

  25. kent fischer

    Your experience being shared sheds light to others. Your vision to share educates others. Your education of others hopefully will bring about realizations of others. thanks for your amazing presentation. Kent

  26. glynis

    I am so proud of you. Sharing your story and enlightening the world is a brave, wonderful thing. Thanks for letting us be a part of what can bring change.


Share Your Thoughts

Pin It on Pinterest