I have not been physically harmed. I have been physically assaulted, but not raped or beaten.
And I am one of the lucky ones.
However, I have been harassed and teased and put down more times than I can count.
So has every. single. woman I know. Every one. All of them. All of us. We have all been sexually harassed and assaulted.
I was 15. Our speech team went to an out-of-town tournament. (Our first and last — everyone “misbehaved”.)
When my friends and I checked into our hotel room, we found condoms and porn magazines, and a cigar stubbed out in an ashtray. We were horrified, but we laughed as we looked at the filthy pictures of young women with various objects shoved into their vaginas, and giggled over the cum jokes in the ads.
While we girls were learning about porn, several of the boys got their hands on something alcoholic and a few of them got drunk. Some of the girls and I were invited to their room to hang out, and we went. These guys were our friends, we liked hanging out with them, and we were bored in our room.
A speech-team boy I’ll call Mike had a crush on me. I was nice to him, but he was younger and I wasn’t really interested in dating him.
Mike was one of the drunk ones. He leered at me as I sat next to my friend on one of the beds. Then he sat next to me. Next, he put his arm around me. I rebuffed him and, when he didn’t remove his arm, I pretended to faint — a trick I had learned at a rape-prevention seminar. (For girls only, of course. No sense in teaching boys not to rape.)
One of the boys said, “Dude, look what you did! Look at her!” Mike was startled to see that I was unconscious, and took a moment to figure out why, so I jumped up, but he grabbed me and pulled me back down on the bed and threw himself on top of me. I was 5’3” and 110 pounds. He was 5’7” or better and at least 175. I could not have overpowered him.
There was at least one “decent” guy who came to my defense. “Mike! Knock it off!” If he hadn’t, I don’t know what might have happened.
Mike sort of tumbled away and I stood up. My friends and I left. I did not report it to the speech coach. I don’t know if she was told by anyone else. I’ve seen Mike on Facebook, but I’m not friends with him.
Maybe that’s the only thing Mike ever did wrong. Maybe he never assaulted another girl. Maybe he never got drunk again. Maybe he felt terrible about what he did, because he really liked me.
I was 16. I had a part-time job delivering singing telegrams. It was really fun, getting to perform cute songs that were custom-written for the honorees. I loved performing and was always onstage, so this was right up my alley.
One day, I went to deliver a telegram at a birthday party where I didn’t know anyone. It wasn’t far from where I lived, and I drove my red ’65 Impala over to the house near Candy Cane Park. As I began my song, a man put his hand on my rear end.
I didn’t know what to do. I was confused and not a little bit scared. But “The show must go on!” So I reached back and pushed his hand away, smiling while I continued singing. He put his hand on my rear again, and again, I pushed it away, singing right along.
Today, I think, wow, not one single adult in that room — and there were about 50 of them — did one thing about this statutory sexual assault. That’s right, I was underage and he put his hands on me. But, in 1979, nobody thought anything of it, and he would never have even been arrested. I’m sure I would have gotten a lecture if I had made a big deal.
But I guarantee you, if it happened to me now, I’d break the guy’s arm AND have him arrested.
And if I saw this happen to a young woman, any woman, I’d break the guy’s arm AND have him arrested.
I was 19 and waiting tables to help pay my way through college. I loved it! As an actress, I pretended the kitchen was the wings and the dining room was my stage. “Suzi-the-waitress” was my character at the tables, and backstage, in the kitchen, I was just Suzi. Most of the other waitstaff were teachers and moms. I was probably the baby of the crew.
One day, a fellow waitress made a joke about her “mini-pads”, referring to her bra, because she had a small bust. One of the men looked at me and said, “Guess you don’t have that problem, huh, Boom-Boom?”
I thought it was cute. Everyone thought it was cute. One of the cooks forever after called me Boom-Boom. “Order up, Boom-Boom!”
I was flattered because men thought I was attractive in that I had bigger-than-average breasts. I didn’t object or yell at them or report them to the manager.
This is what happens when an oppression runs so deep that even the oppressed support its perpetuation.
I was in my 30’s, working in a middle management position. Widowed a few years before, and in the process of divorcing my second husband, I was raising two children by myself, and getting along very nicely, thankyouverymuch.
A man in the office, who worked in another department, took a shine to me. He would visit my office and flirt or just talk.
A couple of times, he asked me out. His friend was coming into town, and I could set up his friend with my friend, and then he and I could double date with them, but it wasn’t a date, it was just as friends… so we could put our friends together, right?
When I told him that I didn’t date married men, he gave me the old, “My wife understands, she knows I have female friends, it’s okay.”
I didn’t fall for it, though, so one day, he decided to get cute. He was sitting in my office, visiting, and I seem to recall that I was trying to get him to leave, that I was feeling threatened somehow. Hackles were up.
Then he stood up and closed my office door.
That was it. I stood and came out from around my desk, fight or flight. He stood in front of the door and said, “Before I leave, I’m going to take something.”
“I don’t have anything,” I smiled nervously.
He stepped toward me and I knew he was going to try to kiss me, but he chickened out and went for a hug. Again, this man was at least twice my size and I could never have overpowered him; however, I could have screamed bloody murder.
I put my arms up to his sides in a half-hug response. “Oh, yeah, a hug. Uh-huh. Okay.” But it wasn’t okay.
Then I reached around him for the door handle, opened the door, and he walked out. I bolted. Straight for my boss’s office. She was a woman and a force to be reckoned with. And she was very fond and protective of me.
I told her what had happened. Then I added, “I’m not trying to get him fired or anything. I just wanted you to know, in case it escalates or something.”
Why wasn’t I trying to get him fired? Jesus Christ, he scared me out of ten years’ growth! And if he had covered my mouth, he could have done a lot of damage before help could arrive.
Fortunately, my boss was not one to take any shit. I don’t know what she did, but I never saw the guy again.
When I told my estranged husband the story, he told me that the assault was my fault, because I was “too nice.”
It wasn’t my fault, but he was right about one thing — I was too nice.
I am not too nice anymore. I don’t put up with bullshit anymore. It’s a gift that comes with getting old: You don’t give a fuck if people think you are “unladylike” or “overreacting”.
Because that is exactly what people think about women who object to being treated like objects, existing only for the pleasure of men and their gaze.
Ask any woman you know if she has stories like these. I promise you, she will. She does. If you are a woman, you know. And if you are a man, especially a gay man, there’s even a chance that you also have stories like these.
In the immortal words of my ineffable grandmother, who exclaimed, on the occasion of her birthday, after the entire family had caravanned around the city to one closed restaurant after another, “This has got to stop.”