The first time a man made me feel uncomfortable, I was on vacation with my family in Arizona. I was 10 or 11, starting to become aware of myself, and felt very awkward and gawky. This man winked at my parents and said they should be careful because “she’s going to be a fox”. I was horrified.
The next time (I remember) a man made me feel uncomfortable, I was in High School. A fellow student I hadn’t met before followed me from the school buildings to the parking lot, making kissing sounds and clicks with his tongue, the kind you would make to lure a horse. He became angry when I ignored him and said “you should take a fucking compliment”. When my mother picked me up from school, I was drenched in fear sweat. I was 15.
When I was 19, I worked for a retailer on Newbury St in Boston. A man came in to the store while I was working. I helped him pick out some polo shirts. It was my *job* to be nice to him. He asked me if I had a boyfriend, I did. He said that my boyfriend couldn’t please me the way he could and that I should date him. I laughed because I had been trained to be “nice” to customers. He pressed the issue, so I left the floor and took my break early. He went on to show up at the store every day for a week, and even showed up after closing hours, each time insisting that I should give him a chance. I was terrified.
When I was 22, a male “friend” became verbally and physically aggressive with me when I rejected him. He shouted obscenities at me and accused me of leading him on. He later apologized, but immediately began cyber stalking me.
When I was 23, I went on a date with a man who groped me, in broad daylight, and then told me to loosen up. He tried to kiss me, repeatedly, even when I said no. He put his arm around me and because he was so much larger than me, I couldn’t get away. When we said goodbye at the train station, he picked me up against my will and guessed my weight. He guessed correctly. I never before had felt so much like an object.
The night I was coerced into having sex, against my will, I was in a monogamous relationship. I was drunk, so was he. And I said no. He “didn’t hear me.” I didn’t feel comfortable with what happened but the next morning he told me that it was ok because we cared about each other. I told him I said no and that he had to pay attention to that. He said he didn’t think I had meant it. I stayed because I bought into the lie that his motives were good and that he was drunk too, so it was ok. Only now, years later, have I come to realize that that night I was assaulted and that it makes total sense that years later, being with him gave me consistent panic attacks. I never trusted him again to respect me or my wishes. In that moment he stole my autonomy. It took years to find it again, within myself, and it took years to name what that night really was and what it meant.
I have been followed home from train stations. I have been followed to the bathroom in truck stop bathrooms. I have been threatened with rape and murder after rejecting a man, more than once. I honestly can’t remember how many times. I have rejected men at bars who have insisted I must be blind, until I let them know I’m rejecting them because I have a boyfriend (or when that doesn’t seem to do it, a husband). Only then do they leave me alone because they accept a man’s claim to me, more than my ability to make a decision for myself. All of these things have happened to me in the presence of other, uninvolved men. Not once has a man stepped in to help me. Not a single time.
The thing is, as the #metoo campaign as so clearly illustrated, these experiences are *not* unique. They are *not* special. Every single woman I know has been harassed, has had violence visited upon them by a man in some way, and has been made to feel like an object. Every woman I know knows the cold feeling of terror that climbs up their spine when a man gets just a little too close. Every woman I know knows what it is to swallow a retort after being harassed on the street, because you “never know.”
Every woman I know knows how to hold their keys in between their fingers like small knives, just in case they’re cornered.
I understand that many women don’t want to join the #metoo campaign because we should not have to explain how many times we’ve been harassed or assaulted for men to step up and join us. We shouldn’t have to, yet again, prove that rape culture and misogyny exist. We shouldn’t have to make men believe us. We shouldn’t have to be the example in a man’s life that finally gets him to view women with compassion. We shouldn’t have to relive the stress, anxiety, terror, and pain that comes along with these universal experiences, just so men will finally fucking get it. But, I’m sharing all of these things in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, a man (or men!) who calls me a friend, or at least a well-liked acquaintance, will see this and intervene the next time they see a man harassing a woman at a bar or witness a man assaulting a woman in a subway car. Maybe next time a friend of theirs makes a joke that shouldn’t be made, this man will shut him down. Maybe, just maybe, that man will be a catalyst for change.
So, male allies. How do you start?
Tell me you believe me. And promise to do something. We’ve done our part, for centuries. For millennia. It’s your turn.