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Raiding the minibar — we’re addicted to sexual harassment scandals

As a society, we are addicted to the sugar high of a scandal, the sweetness of revenge. Neither will ever satisfy us. Neither is what we really need.

Zachary Crockett

A version of this essay was originally published on Medium.

Several years ago, I was invited to be a keynote speaker at an international industry conference. The other keynote speaker was a well-accomplished professional, a man my father’s age. As the only two speakers from overseas, we became friendly.

One evening, we had some wine in the lobby of the hotel and our conversation turned personal. We agreed to go sightseeing the next day. It was a refreshing camaraderie, and I thought nothing of it. When I told him I was going to call it a night, he agreed he should do the same and followed me into the elevator, where he quickly came too close.

“Allison, you seem nervous,” he remarked, “Is it because you’re afraid I’m going to do this?” and he shoved me against the side of the elevator, leaning down to kiss me in spite of my clear disgust. He then attempted to follow me into my hotel room. As I told him that he should stop pursuing me and instead go call his wife, he said, “But she’s sleeping right now!”

Reeling, I bolted my door and desperately searched for something to numb the pain. Where had that gone so wrong? My eyes landed on a beacon of light: The minibar. I’ll eat just one thing, I thought. Okay, fine, two. Soon, I had devoured it all. Both packages of Pringles, every last M&M, mixed nut and Jujube. Finally numb, I fell asleep in a sugar-induced daze.

The next morning, I was filled with regret, and our sightseeing plans loomed. We had planned to check out of the hotel and then proceed to the first landmark. I was so embarrassed and concerned about hiding my minibar tab that I didn’t even stop to ask myself, “Why am I the one that feels bad here?”

He checked out first, but much to my dismay, he paid and then confidently moved to the side of the desk, leaning against it and watching me as I sheepishly took my turn. The receptionist asked politely, “Did you have anything from the minibar?”

I looked at her like a deer caught in headlights. All I could muster was, “Yes,” and a long stare.

Confused, she began to prompt me by naming items I may have consumed: “The Pringles?” I nodded shamefully. “How about the M&M’s?” Again, I nodded. Mercilessly, she continued, “The mixed nuts?” Yes. “The Snickers?” Yes. “The Ritz crackers?” Yes. “The ... other Pringles?” Again and again, I nodded. My cheeks burned. I knew he was listening.

Finally, she nodded with understanding, allowing me to pay my bill without further eye contact. We then proceeded with sightseeing, said awkward goodbyes, and I returned to Tokyo, where I kept building Fresco Capital and did not tell a soul. My cheeks still burned with humiliation.

It weighed on me, but I thought it wasn’t a serious violation. I knew what kind of questions people would ask, and I didn’t think it was worth sharing. The reality is, that was not the first time something like that happened, nor was it the last. At every stage of my career, there have been late-night texts, veiled comments, aggressive gazes and unprofessional behavior. There always will be. And it’s fine, I know I can handle it gracefully. So what’s the point of talking about it?

The most recent sexual-harassment headlines have been about startups and the VCs that fund them, specifically the unfair power dynamic between female entrepreneurs pitching male investors. I am rare in that I am part of the 7 percent of female VC GPs, but let me tell you  —  that doesn’t matter. Sure, as a co-founder of my fund, I am an entrepreneur, too. I have been objectified by potential investors. And I have also been objectified by male entrepreneurs pitching me for investment.

This is not a tech industry issue, this is a societal issue. No matter what your industry or your age, how well educated, confident or professional you are; if you are a woman, this has happened to you. It does not have to be headline-worthy behavior to drive us to the minibar. Even the little things chip away at our confidence and self-worth. It does not have to be a nationwide scandal or court case to be worth talking about.

When we sweep these small instances under the rug, we give them an inordinate amount of power. Then, we get high on sugar to distract ourselves from the painful reality that in today’s world, if you are a woman, you are at some point going to get shoved into the corner of an elevator.

Our current media and professional environment is fueling this distraction by only paying attention to drama. The only time we even try to talk about that reality is after years of evidence builds up against a single perpetrator, when someone is a presidential candidate or when someone takes their employer to court. Then, there’s a public outcry. We call for more women to come forward, forcing them to risk their careers and their reputations in order to raise “awareness.”

We dumb down the conversation, dress up the issues in sexy headlines and put it all on parade. When this charade solves nothing, we find ourselves in the same old pattern of sugarcoating the bitter truth as we drown the real stuff in politically-correct hashtags, bullshit apologies and “Diversity Funds.”

As a society, we are addicted to the sugar high of a scandal, the sweetness of revenge. Neither will ever satisfy us. Neither is what we really need.

While I appreciate the response from business leaders like Reid Hoffman, who highlighted the depth of the issue in his piece on “The Human Rights of Women Entrepreneurs,” and offered some very cogent, well-thought-out solutions, he is missing the point. The answer is not industry committees, moral pledges or hashtags.

We have to stop feeding our addiction. We can only change the power dynamic if we stop giving these topics so much power. As women, we have to start consistently opening up so we can let go. We have to start sharing even the littlest of occurrences that cut at our consciousness, with each other, every day, and not on a national stage.

We have to stop feeling bad. We have to stop punishing ourselves. We have to laugh about it. We have to work together to find day-to-day solutions and responses to inappropriate advances that make us feel empowered and unafraid to say no. We have to take control of these dynamics, instead of always being subjected to them.

We have to remember that nothing that we truly need right now can be found in a hotel minibar. So why do we keep going back for more?

Allison Baum is a co-founder and managing partner of Fresco Capital, a global, early-stage venture capital fund investing in technology companies transforming education, health care and the future of work. Prior to Fresco, she was an early member of the team at General Assembly, where she developed and launched the company’s first part-time and full-time tech education programs in the U.S., and then in Asia. Throughout this process, Baum has worked with startups of all sizes across all continents. Reach her @Allison_Baum.

This article originally appeared on

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