South

Bella English

Thanks to all the women before #MeToo

Nearly 25 years ago, as a young waitress, Anne Manning sued a Boston restaurant for sexual harassment.
Handout
Nearly 25 years ago, as a young waitress, Anne Manning sued a Boston restaurant for sexual harassment.

Nearly 25 years ago, I wrote a column about sexual harassment at a restaurant in Boston. Anne Manning was 27 years old in 1993, when she and another waitress told me about their ordeal with male co-workers at a Chili’s restaurant in Copley Place.

“Everything out of their mouths was sexual,” said Manning’s friend, who was 22. When she’d stoop to pick up something, a fellow employee would say, ‘Hey, while you’re down there ...” and stick his crotch in her face, she told me.

As I wrote then: “One night after work, Manning lightly warned a co-worker that their manager was in a bad mood. ‘That’s because I’m not getting any,’ the manager reportedly said. He went on to give a graphic description of what he needed and how he could get it.”

Advertisement

Another time, one of the managers asked a waitress, in front of others, if her nipples were “the size of quarters or half-dollars?” Once, when Manning stooped to bag a takeout order, one guy came up in her face and the other stood behind her and rubbed up against her.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

A married manager pushed the younger waitress up against a soda machine and tried to kiss her. When women wouldn’t go out with the men, they were called “dykes.” Others were called “fat and ugly.”

Manning had worked there six years, while paying for college and graduate school, and was made a corporate trainer of other waitresses and bartenders. She complained time and again to both female and male managers about the harassment, to little avail.

All of this for $2.10 an hour, plus tips.

Finally, Manning and her friend quit and filed a lawsuit against several male waiters and managers.

Associated Press/File
Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October 1991.
Advertisement

When I wrote about their story, it was a year and a half after Anita Hill testified about Clarence Thomas’s sexual harassment and passed a polygraph test. Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court anyway.

After the recent #MeToo campaign on social media, with women everywhere sharing stories of sexual harassment and assault, Manning got back in touch with me to say she was glad that women are finally being heard.

Americans are having a long-overdue national conversation about sexual harassment and assault. Names of offenders keep surfacing, from Hollywood to Capitol Hill.

Earlier this month, my colleague Devra First wrote a story with the headline: “From coat check to kitchen, Boston restaurants are rife with sexual harassment.” She detailed everything, from groping to flashed genitals to hidden cameras in changing rooms, at some of the city’s better restaurants and by some celebrity chefs.

But back in the day, Manning’s allegations against co-workers cost her. “It was a very lonely time,” she says. “I lost some good friends, but I’m glad that women today feel safer and are encouraged to stand up for themselves. It was the silence from fear of retribution or disbelief and general lack of concern that really hurt the most.”

Advertisement

Still, the men who are being called out are mostly bold-faced names. What about the anonymous waiters and school teachers and health care and construction workers and so many others who are also offenders?

At 51, Anne Manning is ecstatic about the #MeToo movement, though she adds: “What took everyone so long?”

I have a young friend who is a doctor at a major teaching hospital in Boston. She’s from a suburb south of Boston and does not want to be further identified for fear of retribution, which she says she has already felt.

An older male supervisor would frequently remark on her work scrubs “that they weren’t sexy enough, that he preferred me in a pencil skirt and blouse,” she says, and would ask her to fetch him coffee and sandwiches. Worse, he would make comments about women patients’ breasts.

“When I pushed back, he said, ‘Don’t forget, I’m evaluating you.’ And he gave me a terrible evaluation,” says my friend, who is 31.

When she sat on a hospital committee for trainees, other women doctors expressed concerns about sexual harassment. The head of the committee responded: “I have difficulties, too, being a black male.”

Says the young woman: “He didn’t offer any solutions. He made it sound like ‘that’s life,’ and unless you’re a white male, you’re going to have struggles. A lot of the women were really unhappy with that.”

At 51, Anne Manning is ecstatic about the #MeToo movement, though she adds: “What took everyone so long?”

All those years ago, a lawyer for Chili’s told me there that was “no merit” to the lawsuit. But the company settled with the plaintiffs. That Chili’s location at Copley Place closed down about 10 years ago, and because of a confidentiality clause, Manning won’t discuss her lawsuit.

Her attorney all those years ago, Marisa Campagna, remembers it as one of her first employment cases, and has continued to represent women who have suffered harassment and worse on the job. Campagna is pleased with the #MeToo movement but says that good men have to step up, too. “I would say to them, clean your house. You need to get on each other and stop snickering or walking away. The #MeToo movement gives women a lot of support, but men need to deal with each other, especially the good men who know better.”

Manning is a deputy superintendent with the Massachusetts Department of Correction and has been on the Peabody City Council for a decade, the only woman of 11 members.

She recently ran for — and lost — the race for Essex County sheriff. “I made equal treatment for female offenders a priority in the race,” she says.

All of us women owe a huge debt to Anita Hill, who at last put a name to what so many of us just called life. We also owe thanks to women like Anne Manning, who stood up for herself, and other women, long before #MeToo.

Thank you, ladies.

Bella English writes from Milton. She can be reached at english@globe.com.