Hypocrisy, Humiliation, and Hurt
by M. Yvette Turner, Ph.D.
After beating the odds by completing her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees, Carmen’s vocation as a teacher earned her just enough for her family to get by. Although grateful for her God given blessings, she wasn’t content with her circumstances. While working and raising her sons with a less-than-committed fiancé, she would eventually interview for the perfect job; one that would increase her earnings, start her on a much desired career path, and allow her to continue her educational goal of obtaining the Ph.D.
Little did she know she would end up trapped in a nearly three-year ordeal of sexual harassment and gender discrimination that included acts of unwanted sexual advances and horrendous instances of sexual coercion, brutal verbal attacks, intimidation, threats of bodily harm, and severe retaliation at the hand of a leading administrator at one of the South’s most prominent institutions of higher learning.
M. Yvette Turner was born and raised in Jackson, MS where she graduated from Lanier High School in 1982. While graduating from Mississippi College with a B.S. and obtaining M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Jackson State University, she continues her dedication to over 20 years in P-16 education where her experiences includes middle school science teaching, college teaching, STEM teacher professional development, and P-12 school and higher education administration.
In 2011, Dr. Turner began a publishing company, Excel Publishing, LLC and, in October 2012, under this company, released her first book, which is a memoir entitled “The Grievance: One Woman’s Ordeal with Sexual Harassment, Hypocrisy, Humiliation, and Hurt.”
Dr. Turner is a single mother who has successfully raised three sons and is a passionate advocate for important women and single parent family issues. Her personal research interests also include: causes and effects of school dropout, resilience in African American youth, single parenting, employment discrimination as it relates to women, workplace sexual harassment, and women’s rights.
BPM: Life’s greatest teacher is:
BPM: Success means:
That you have positively impacted many people’s lives and that you can care financially for your family.
BPM: Faith allows you to:
Keep moving toward your God-driven purpose even when you have people in your life who have “worldly influence” or “worldly power,” and who uses them, almost euphorically, to ensure that you fail.
BPM: Criticism makes you:
It depends on how it’s delivered. If it is meant to make me, or whatever it is that I’m doing, better then it makes me feel quite satisfied. I appreciate that kind of criticism. On the other hand, if it is delivered in a malicious and destructive way, well… it makes me want to whip someone’s butt.
BPM: Will the printed book ever become obsolete?
God, I hope not!!! And, I really don’t think so because it still feels so good to have a book in your hands and reading the words directly from the freshly (or not so freshly) scented pages. But, then again, technology is advancing so quickly, and I’m sure that folk in the 1970’s never thought eight-track tapes would one day become obsolete either. So…
BPM: Please introduce us to your current book. What topics are discussed in this book?
The title of this book is, The Grievance: One Woman’s Ordeal with Sexual Harassment, Hypocrisy, Humiliation, and Hurt. “The Grievance” is a memoir that reflects the true story of a woman’s horrific experience with workplace sexual harassment. Carmen Johnson is a young single mother working toward the Ph.D. and is very excited and feels quite blessed as she begins a new job at Magnolia State University as the executive assistant for Dr. Calvin Ryan. Dr. Ryan is an intelligent, charming, and charismatic man who works as a vice president at the university. As it turns out, he is also a man with a dubious and secret past. Almost immediately after beginning her new job, Carmen becomes aware that Dr. Ryan wants more from her than a working relationship.
Already dedicated to her fiancé, Julian, she resists the repeated requests for dates from her boss. Although uncomfortable, the resistance works for a while. Then one day, under difficult and unplanned circumstances, Carmen makes one of the worst decisions she has made in her life…, she relents and meets with Dr. Ryan where at the end of the date, she sleeps with him. For Carmen, the date was a “one night thing,” however; Dr. Ryan had no intention of ending this new arrangement and when Carmen tries to resist his subsequent advances, her life becomes a living nightmare.
The Grievance moves quickly and smoothly to reveal a myriad of unbelievable circumstances involving the sexual harassment and other threating behavior that Carmen experiences while working for Dr. Ryan. It then, equally as important, describes in detail the subsequent grievance process that follows. One that is, supposedly, designed to elicit the truth from key witnesses that is needed to assist the administration in making decisions that would justly a fair outcome for all involved. However, as the story unfolds, Carmen finds herself in the middle of politically swayed and equally threatening investigation that is, ultimately, aimed solely at protecting and defending the very powerful and favored perpetrator by leading administrators at the university and, consequentially, having no regards to the very real, horrendous, and catastrophic life and career consequences for the victim involved.
Which character or topic in the book can you identify with the most? Why?
Carmen M. Johnson is the main character in the book. The name “Carmen,” as well as all other names of characters and places depicted in the book, is a pseudonym. But the fact is, I am Carmen. The events described in the book are based on actual events and contains very difficult material. In fact, the book deliberately takes on a similar and unusual format chosen by “Ruthie Bolton” in her book Gal and is designed to protect innocent and/or other unsuspecting people such as wives, husbands, and children. After all that my children and I have gone through in our lives, with this experience and others, I have absolutely no desire to hurt, unnecessarily, any other person who is involved in this saga through no fault of their own. And, yes…, I said “saga,” because until this day, the consequences from these events continues to unfold.
As the main character, “Carmen” is a struggling single mother trying desperately to raise three, socially responsible, sons while, at the same time, trying to transcend her family’s poverty stricken circumstances. As a financially struggling homeowner with meager middle school teacher pay wages, Carmen is absolutely determined to continue her post-graduate education. Most women, married or single, who have children and unrelenting economic demands, understand this difficulty. Given Carmen’s circumstances, this feat is much more challenging since she eventually finds herself in an unusually difficult situation of working toward the Ph.D., embarking upon a new relationship, and starting a new, promising career in higher education. What Carmen doesn’t anticipate as she starts a new and promising career in higher education administration, is that her powerful and nefarious supervisor would want sex from her. And, she certainly didn’t expect that he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
BPM: What drew you to tackle the questions or topics in your book?
Well, over the course of my life, when something impacted my life in a meaningful way, I had the tendency to write it down or write about it… to memorialize it. I began writing, what I call my “first book” a while back well before the sexual harassment experience began. It too will be a memoir regarding the early lives of several women in my life. Anyway, after the “legal ordeal” with the sexual harassment was “over with,” I began to write again on the first book, which is still in the works.
However, the experiences I’d just gone through continued to try to work its way into that story. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t separate the two. So, I put the first book away, and wrote this one. The Grievance demanded my attention because of my passion for women’s issues that are still, in 2013, so challenging and detrimental to the overall uplifting of women and their families… issues that ultimately lead to, among other things, economic failures, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, childhood truancy, teenage violence, lowered academic achievement, school dropout, poor health, and even suicide for those who are affected.
Having lived a life that happened to place me in a not so unique position of being “front and center” to sexual harassment, I was compelled to write this story. I just could not, or would not, sit back and not at least try to share my experiences with other people, women especially, who might find themselves in a similar position depending on very few others who could understand (or who would be willing to admit to their knowledge and understanding of) their circumstance.
Another, more ancillary, reason for my decision to write this book is that there are no others out there like this one. As I was researching memoirs for their styles and topics, I searched and searched for one related to someone else’s experience with sexual harassment. I searched, but I could not find one. Not one. What I found as I searched the topic as a memoir was Speaking Truth to Power by Anita Hill. I encourage anyone who has experienced sexual harassment to read her book. It is profound in its description of how she was determined not to let her experience with sexual harassment, outlaid before a live, national audience, define her, but to utilize the experience to help other women.
However, Ms. Hill’s memoir is not dedicated solely to her sexual harassment ordeal. It is more about how she became Anita Hill. There are many other literary works on this topic such as magazine articles, blogs, and op-eds where some have shared their personal stories. However, mine is a detailed experience of an entire process of sexual harassment. As a matter of fact, most of the dialogue is taken from letters, interviews, depositions, and court transcripts. And, as far as I know, it’s one of a kind.
BPM: Who does your body of literary work speak to?
The Grievance speaks to women and men of all ages who are a part of the world’s workforce. It is a book that women need to read and that men should read. There is no question that the content of this book is difficult. The book speaks to issues that have been, especially in the African American culture, taboo to openly discuss. Living in Mississippi, in the heart of the “Bible Belt,” even the decision to write this book, let alone, going through with its release, took a huge amount of courage. Many people are still so willing to look the other way or blame the victim for their sexual harassment.
But the truth is…, sexual harassment is still a major problem in America’s workforce and, it ruins lives and careers on a daily basis. I know this because I am a living witness. Not just to my own experience, but to the experiences of other women where I’ve worked. If I may go out on a limb, I would say it’s almost common place. It is amazing the ignorance and utter disregard that powerful men and women have for the laws aimed at “preventing” sexual harassment from occurring in the workplace. The sad fact is that basically “big brother” is in charge of governing himself against charges of sexual harassment.
As it pertains to sexual harassment, the beautifully written laws outlined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, are often ineffective, and the oversight bodies designed to be watchdogs can be, in and of themselves, politically swayed. Victims are often left with no justice to their plight. The Grievance bravely and boldly describes Carmen’s victimization of and witness to some of these flaws. I also believe the book would be a great asset to schools of law as mandatory reading on the topic to assist in generating students’ up-close and personal experience to the whole legal process of one woman’s experience with sexual harassment.
Law students and others should read it as an impetus to a new movement toward flushing out the weaknesses that, indeed, are often disadvantageous and injurious in the proper governance of Title VII.
BPM: Your greatest accomplishment as a writer:
I am sure that most writers, at least first time book writers, fantasize about the day that they are sitting at a desk with copies of their books in front of them and a long line of people standing and waiting for their own personal autographed copy. This spring I had that experience. It was the single most professionally accomplished feeling that I have ever had. This line had formed for me after I’d spoken at the National Women’s Luncheon during the 2013 International Convention of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU).
At the luncheon, I introduced The Grievance to a Ball Room full of women and men, many of whom did not even know me. But I felt their attention to my story. I felt their reaction to my pain. As I positioned myself at the table to sign autographs, I was amazed at the number of women who were standing there waiting for an autographed copy. I attribute this opportunity and experience to no other but God Almighty. You see, most of these women were union leaders. However, at some point in their rise to their current rank, in whichever organization they were affiliated, many had been union stewards. Of course, some were just women of all ages that had worked in male dominated factories and such.
Whatever their call to my experience, every lady (and man), stood patiently in line as many of them stood in front of me and took five to ten minutes each as they described their experience, or someone else’s experience, with workplace sexual harassment. One woman said she wanted to “shout out loud” during parts of my speech. Another lady and I shed tears as we spoke about her current experience with the crime. Three young men stood at my table and pondered whether they should buy the book for “Steve.” Overhearing their conversation, I asked them whether they knew that “Steve” was sexually harassing someone, they all turned to me and informed me that it was “Steve” who was being sexually harassed.
Many of these people have reached out to me on Facebook and through email to share with me their pleasure with reading The Grievance and, nothing in the world makes me happier than to hear someone tell me how much they enjoyed reading the book and how the book has helped them better understand sexual harassment. It truly is an amazing feeling. This “potential” impact is what motivated me to write the book in the first place. Seeing it through to that point, indeed, felt like an accomplishment and was definitely worth the consequences.
BPM: Do you consider yourself a role model?
Not yet. The Grievance is a transparent account of my experience with sexual harassment. This book was not written to reveal the devious actions of some and then to paint myself as an angel. It is a fact that during this experience, I responded in ways that I should not have, even when I knew better. These things that I describe, I am still dealing with in my psyche. However, part of my plan for redemption is to reach out and assist others. It is my sincere intention to help young girls in the future, somehow, through some type of philanthropy and/or scholarship fund to help in making a difference in their lives. The works toward accomplishing these things are in the making, and book sales, of course, will impact who and how many I can assist. At some point in my life I hope I can look back and be self-assured that I am worth some admiration and role modeling.
Purchase The Grievance on Amazon : http://amzn.com/0615639445
Memoir/Sexual Harassment, Retaliation, Employment Discrimination, Law in Higher Education, Title VII