Nearly 30 years ago, I was working in the New York City Hall press office on loan from the Commission on Human Rights under Mayor David Dinkins. While there, I met a man named Bill de Blasio. He also worked in the Dinkins’ administration at the time. I never worked directly with him, but after we met I started to see him around the office more and more. And then one day, after I went back to the Commission, that tall, handsome guy picked up the phone and nervously asked me to lunch. I accepted immediately. Like the start of so many other couples’ stories, it was after that lunch —and many other meals together — we started dating.
And like so many other couples, those early months of our relationship had ups and downs and long conversations about how fast or slow our romance was progressing. But one thing was true: with every date we grew closer together, and I fell deeply in love. Two years later, we married in Prospect Park in front of our family and friends. We're still together today, have two beautiful grown children, and are probably more enamoured and supportive of each other now than we’ve ever been.
I've told this story so many times to our children, friends, and coworkers. And during Bill's first year as mayor, I told our City Hall origin story to a reporter at the New York Times. The published piece failed to tell the whole story of our courtship, and incorrectly reported on a moment when I candidly told Bill I didn’t want to rush our relationship. That mischaracterisation seemed to imply I wasn’t wholeheartedly committed to my partner. So I corrected the record immediately. As it would turn out, I would have to do so repeatedly. Again, and again, for the last five years.
This week, the Daily News joined a few other media outlets in recent months that have tried to recast my love story as one of sexual harassment — to fit into today’s #MeToo moment. Not one of these writers ever bothered to ask me about it.
Women can speak for themselves. When we do, people should listen.
My story is just that: mine. It’s not for anyone to twist into a scandal just to sell papers, get clicks, or score cheap political points. And I will certainly not stand quietly while my story is misused in ways that diminish the experiences of the one-in-four women who face harassment in the workplace. Women can speak for themselves. When we do, people should listen. When we tell our stories, believe us. And if a person can't tell the difference between asking someone to lunch and sexually harassing them, they have missed the point of the #MeToo movement entirely. We’re not saying please anymore.
Over the past months, countless people — women, men, and gender nonconforming people — have come forward in waves to share their experiences of abuse of power and sexual harassment. It’s a painful time for our culture, but also an urgently needed and profoundly healing moment for all of us.
When we conflate respectful dating and flirtation with sexual harassment, we do a giant disservice to this important moment in our culture. We undermine a real opportunity to talk about consent and respect between adults. We miss the chance to make real change and educate our youth about what healthy relationships look and feel like.
Others may try to hijack my love story, but we won’t let anyone hijack this movement.
Because, fact: Women don’t need anyone telling us what is or isn’t harassment. We know already, and now it’s time to listen.
Chirlane McCray is the First Lady of New York City.