Boys on the Bus

by Via Tsui on Flickr under CC

I tried to continue my day when I heard that Trump had said graphic and horrific comments about assaulting women based on his power as a celebrity. It was the weekend, after all. Time to enjoy family and relax.

But I couldn’t shake a sinking feeling.

I went to an apple orchard with my mom and daughters. It was a fine Vermont fall day — colors bursting across the landscape, reds, oranges, yellows flaming up the hillsides. We marveled at the leaves, the farm, the cider donuts and fresh apples. I came home, and set about making applesauce with my 9-year-old daughter.

Yet.

Yet I felt a small burning fire between my ribs. My breath was shallow. A mix of anger, uncertainty, and anxiousness was creeping in. I slipped away to the computer. I listened to the tape of what Donald Trump said, to grab women by the pussy because he can, heard him say he moved on her like a bitch. I heard Billy Bush’s goading and cruel laughter.

I tasted the shame. The familiar feeling. The place all women know. I slid back in time. As the comments rolled on, I felt myself falling back through time and space.

Back to the middle school bus. Back to a hostile place where the fact that you were female made you a target. Your body was made to be commented on. Not developed yet? Flat chested! Developed early? Open for business. For talk about private parts, observation and an open market of comments — and if you wanted to be popular? Allowing boys to pinch, spank, and snap bra straps. That was the price for being liked.

We quickly learned the currency of girlhood — our bodies were open territory for all. If they weren’t perfect, you knew it. They told you with words, with looks, with smirks and jokes.

So we did terrible things. Some of us starved ourselves. Some committed suicide. Some embraced the culture, became dreaded “sluts”, or became pregnant and dropped out of school. Some of us were considered “prudes” because we didn’t play along and were excluded and bullied. We hid inside ourselves, making us small and invisible. We figured out this was safest. That‘s how we learned to be in this world — to apologize for existing and to avoid the line of fire.

Those same boys who felt us up on the bus sat next to us in class. They joked with the teacher. They flashed their yearbook smiles. They were quarterbacks and soccer stars. It was confusing. You can see this duality in the way that Trump and Billy are friendly to the woman they were verbally assaulting only moments before.

The boys on the bus grew up.

One man, an acquaintance from high school, said to me at our 20th reunion (with far worse language), “You always had a nice behind, but the chest, not so much.” This from a 40 something man, a father, a husband. That is all he ever saw me as. Some of the boys never left the bus.

As I swam back to reality — the oven timer was going off, the applesauce done and ready to be blended and consumed — I realized I had shrunk, again. I had tucked myself up tight and small and anxious just like on that school bus at 12 years old.

Well, I am not 12 anymore. And I won’t stay small. For all I didn’t do or say on the bus, I am saying it now.

We are not yours for the taking. This is not the price of being female. We will take up space, use our voices, and call out boys on the bus everywhere — including the one who is running for president.

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