Friday, September 8, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Taylor Swift's harassment testimony

It was courtroom testimony by a harassed woman the likes of which is rarely seen, and that's really the pity here. But when singer-songwriter Taylor Swift took the stand in a Denver, Colorado, federal courtroom, her words resonated around the world. Why? Because she would not allow any blaming and shaming of herself as the victim...a boundary she set with forceful words. As the New York Times put it, "She’s sold millions of albums and heard stadiums full of fans chant her lyrics at sold-out concerts around the world. But the Taylor Swift line that might resonate the loudest now is 'He grabbed my bare ass'."

A radio host who posed with her in 2013 for a photograph had groped her. She accused him of doing so to his radio station, and he was fired. He sued Swift for loss of his job, and she countersued for assault and battery, asking damages of just one dollar to make her point. In August 2017, she was in the courtroom answering questions from the radio host's attorney. Here's a sampling of her responses, a primer in holding your own without shame:
  • "I'm not going to let you or your client to make me feel like this is my fault, because it isn't."
  • "I'm being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions. Not mine."
  • When asked why the hem of her skirt in the front was not pushed up, perhaps indicating there was no groping, she replied, "Because my ass is located on the back of my body."
  • "He did not touch my ribs. He did not touch my arm. He did not touch my hand. He grabbed my bare ass."
  • Asked what she could have done differently, she replied, "Your client could have taken a normal photo with me."
The responses, so unlike what we're used to hearing, were dubbed assertivesharp, gutsy, and satisfying. And so was the result. The jury found that she had been groped and awarded her the requested damages of one dollar. In a statement, Swift showed that she understood precisely what was really at stake: The ability of women and girls to speak up and be heard when they are sexually assaulted or harassed: “I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this. My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard.”
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Don't react, respond: Too often, when a woman brings an accusation of harassment, the lines of questioning are similar to those Swift faced: They're designed to make you uncomfortable, to doubt your standing or your memory, and to suggest subtly or not that you yourself may have been a cause of the action. Resist the urge to get angry or sad, or react in any way, and simply respond. Swift's almost clinical answers do the trick here, setting verbal boundaries again and again and again. This is exhausting, and worth practicing beforehand if you find yourself in such a circumstance, be it in the office or a courtroom. But if you can keep your emotion out of it, your responses will be stronger.
  • Refute, refute, refute: Count all the "nots" in the above statements. Swift pairs every positive statement with a not-statement, to play up the contrast between what is alleged and what really happened, and she does it over and over and over to underscore the point. The more you repeat it the more solid your testimony becomes.
  • Say it plain: One of the insidious factors in this type of questioning is the avoidance of direct words to describe the action. Not so with Swift. There are no euphemisms for ass here. The language is simple and clear, and thus cannot be construed in any way but one. There aren't any flowery adjectives and adverbs to hide what happened, just a simple, clear explanation.
Say it plain also applies to the moment when harassment occurs, although even Swift didn't do this (and was questioned about that in court, too). But if you can, jump away, yell "What do you think you're doing?" or "Stop grabbing my breast!" or whatever it is. Loudness helps. The perpetrators of physical sexual harassment count on you being too ashamed to say what is going on or to tell anyone. There's no more important public speaking you can do than to stand up for yourself and say what is happening, clearly and loudly, in such a situation. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

No video here, but the words carry the day today.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Paolo Villanueva)

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