A Few Memories of Harassment and Assault
I was in middle school the first time a car full of men slowed down and followed me down the street, calling out all the thing they’d like to do to me, things I didn’t even understand. I was in high school the first time someone groped my breast without asking; this was also the first time other people didn’t take the assault seriously. I was in college the first — and thankfully only — time a man I trusted date-raped me. I was 18 when a boss sneaked up behind me, pressed a cold bottle of beer to my shoulder and told me to stay late with him if I wanted. That same year, a high school teacher of mine I had respected whispered that he loved me and nibbled my ear as he gave me his hotel room number. I was a young reporter when my first editor called me lewd names and belittled me for being a “girl.” I was in my mid-20s when I missed a flight in order to avoid sitting next to the man who’d been groping me on the layover. I was 25 when my boss snatched my glasses off my face and made a habit of giving me back rubs when he walked past my desk. I was 31 and 8-months-pregnant when a man on the street begged me to go home with him so he could “take care of me right.” I am 32 now and don’t walk home from the train alone at night.
This list is not exhaustive. But it’s exhausting.
The most horrific thing about the kind of assault Donald Trump bragged about is how much we all accept it as a fact of life.
I share these memories with you not to shock, but to show how banal and normal this kind of violence is for women. My story is not unique. In fact, it’s tame compared with what many women have experienced. And after we are leered at and groped, we get off the train, and go to work, and we don’t mention it, because why would we? This is part of being a woman. This is our lot. That’s what the head of my high school explained to me when I told him about how I was groped. The boy who did it? He wasn’t suspended. The school administrator gave him a talk about how his behavior wasn’t really how you “get a girl’s attention.”
Donald Trump is not the person normalizing sexual assault. Our entire society has normalized it. Trump is the logical result of that attitude.
People tell me I’m brave to share these thoughts. I’m not. In fact, I think nothing of it. That this has happened to me is completely unremarkable. I didn’t even think to share them until now because I assumed you knew this was my truth, and the truth of most women. Apparently you didn’t. So let me say it now: every day since before I hit puberty, my body has been touched and watched and treated as something beyond my control, something separate to be handled and enjoyed by men all around me. Men who were grading my papers, and signing my pay checks; men who were driving past me, and sitting next to me on the train. Men who were guests in my home, or friends of my parents.
The day I came home from the hospital after giving birth, I stopped in a bodega to buy pain killers because I could barely walk. My body felt like it had been hit by a truck. My breasts leaked milk. Every part of me stung and ached. A man followed me through the store, smacking his lips and saying, “I know what to do with a body like that, I know what to do with you.”
I kept my head down and paid and tried my best to run back to the car, where my newborn and husband were waiting. I couldn’t run. It hurt too much. I tried to smile to protect myself. It was all I could do.
This is not an interesting story for women to hear. They know it already. Only men are shocked by these things. So, men, let me ask you: this week, as women all over are sharing these stories on Facebook, on Twitter, via text and over dinner, listen.