No Woman Is Immune

I was 19. I never really told anyone or talked about it much. I wanted to forget it ever happened. I was pretty sure if I told anyone that cared, they would wonder how I put myself in the situation in the first place. And I was ashamed.

You see, I should have been immune. I was a goody two shoes in college— didn’t drink, never did drugs, followed rules, wasn’t promiscuous, and didn’t even dress suggestively. I was a total nerd, studying computer science and spending significant time programming at the lab. On some days, you’d catch me in my Coke bottle glasses taking a break from programming with my nose in a book.

I had invited someone over who I hadn’t seen in awhile thinking it would be fun to reconnect. I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t realize his agenda. Soon after he rang my doorbell, he tried to force himself on me. I said no; I tried to reason; he kept going. I pushed him, hard, then I hit him and got him off of me. Somehow (I don’t remember the details because I never wanted to), I was able to get him out of my apartment and let him know that I never wanted to see him again.

Once he was gone, I cried. My thoughts spiraled: Why did I put myself in that situation? What could have happened to me if I hadn’t been able to get him out of my apartment? What would I have done if he had raped me? What should I do about his violating me in this way?

In the end, I stayed silent. I told almost no one. It seemed like the optimal way — I could forget, I could just go on, I wouldn’t be labeled a troublemaker.

A few years later, I received this note:

apology email

It felt surreal. I didn’t respond for a long time. An apology was not enough.

On the one hand, I was glad he understood that he should apologize for his awful, illegal behavior, and that it was wrong. On the other hand, what led him to behave that way, especially as a “immature kid who didn’t know what he was doing” ? And to call himself an “immature kid” only excused harmful behavior he understood was wrong. After all, he wrote an apology and wanted to “apologize for a long time.” I couldn’t ignore or accept the moment just a few years before when he felt the license to behave that way.

And while this incident was one of the scariest in my life, it is not the only incident where I felt objectified or where I wanted to just go hide so that I wouldn’t be. It happens in foreign countries when I travel with only women — men will ogle at me, grab me, and think they’re doing me a favor. It’s happened in my place of worship, where a man my father’s age who knew me as a baby, gave me the once over. It even happens when I’m walking down a city street minding my own business, and someone will brush against me while grabbing me without consent.

You can’t raise your daughters to be immune. So for all of us raising that next generation (and that is all of us, even if you don’t have children), let’s promise ourselves that we will make every effort to make our girls feel safe and respected by our boys.

This means collectively we must model better behavior. If you are a man, my recent favorite article is “The Rock Test.” If you are a woman, be conscious of your speech and actions — sometimes certain behavior will be required of you in our gendered society, but be clear to yourself why you are acting that way — it will give you confidence rooted in authenticity.

We owe it to our children and to ourselves to be better. You can bet I’ll be modeling for my son in my every interaction that women and girls are equal, capable, and worthy of respect.