On Friday, San Mateo County Judge George Miram ruled that Steven Slomka’s request for a restraining order against San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Sabrina Brennan was without merit. We wish he could have also dismissed the pain and anguish the underlying incident caused Meg Fried, the woman at the center of this dispute.
It all started in 2017, when, by all accounts, Fried and Slomka went on a group hike — the sort of thing Coastsiders do together every day. Fried offered Slomka a ride back to his car that day and he took the opportunity to force himself on her. She repelled his attempt to kiss her. He says he merely misread the social signals; she calls it an assault, and her feelings are all that matters here, not his intent. That was essentially the end of their interactions.
In the days and weeks to come, Fried told friends and others about the encounter. One of those people was Brennan.
Flash forward, to May 11, 2019. At the time, Slomka was president of the Friends of Fitzgerald, a nonprofit that supports San Mateo County’s Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. On this day, the Friends were taking part in a celebration of the county’s 50 years of managing the reserve. Brennan knew Slomka would be there and she saw it as a chance to let the rest of the Friends board know about that 2017 encounter.
Slomka says Brennan made a scene, trying to embarrass him for what happened between Fried and him. We termed it a “confrontation” in our story recounting the incident. Brennan prefers to think of it as a “conversation.” However you characterize it, the encounter became the talk of certain Coastside circles, particularly within the local Democratic party hierarchy, which at one time or another has entertained all three principals of this story.
Brennan feels vindicated by the judge’s ruling on Friday. She is sure she did the right thing by letting others in the community know there is what she considers a predatory man in their midst. She doesn’t have to say that, in 2019, many of us are thinking again about the long history of often hostile, threatening, coercive, crude and downright wrong behavior of men toward women. Fried is hardly alone; many, if not most, women have had to thwart some bore at the bar or a handsy manager or a husband who thinks his marriage license is license to abuse. At long last, women are finding their voice, and men are finally starting to suffer real punishment for a range of horrible behavior, from a leer to things that are far, far worse.
#MeToo was too long becoming a hashtag. Thankfully, women are starting to feel more comfortable coming forward with their stories so that we might all live in a safer, more equal society.
But that positive outcome shouldn’t come at the expense of the victim.
Fried was an unwitting participant in the drama at Fitzgerald. She thinks the outburst there had more to do with the arcane, insular, sometimes petty backroom politics of the people who fancy themselves operatives of the local Democratic party than with finding justice for her. She did not want Brennan to act as her indignant proxy at a public event. She did not relish seeing her name in the subsequent online posts that flared back and forth in the days after the incident. She would rather not see Slomka nor Brennan ever again, if she can help it. And who can blame her?
Fried spoke with the Review on two occasions last week and graciously allowed me to use her name here. She understands that most of those who know her already know the story, and she is secure in the knowledge that she has nothing to hide. Fried is brave and forgiving, and that is as close as we can come to a happy ending to this story.
May it serve as a reminder that no means no, and also that a woman’s story is her own.