Since the Vegas shootings, I have felt bombarded from every side with controversial and emotional issues. So many feelings have been stirred up that I had to take a step back from writing. I have felt tongue tied, afraid to upset others, maybe more afraid to explore how deep my feelings go on some of these subjects, and at times conflicted and unsure about what those feelings even are. I’m going to try again.
Harvey Weinstein is a pig, no doubt, but really all of the shock and surprise?? This kind of thing happens ALL the time. Women know, girls know, we just never seem to talk about it. The time I did decide to speak out, when I finally felt mature enough to know that it wasn’t my fault and confident enough to try to find some justice, what I received was insinuation that I somehow caused it. So I shut up. Maybe I did ask for it. Maybe this wasn’t harassment and something that I just had to endure being a woman. I know that this response is so often the case in the small percentage of women who actually can find their voice. And of those, how many do you think will speak up the next time?
The first time I remember I was about 10, and I’m not talking about catcalls in the street. I was cornered and propositioned (a euphemism for “threatened”), by the teenage son of my mother’s friend. I’d never heard the types of things he was saying he was going to do, nor had I ever been held against my will. Thankfully, I screamed until the adults came.
I was alone on the train at 15 when I heard some grunting and looked over to see a man pleasuring himself while smiling sickly at me. That was the first time I ever saw a penis, and the image is burned in my brain. But I wasn’t hurt and he didn’t touch me. Does it count?
At 17 I was with my date and a group of his friends. We were in NYC on a subway, and it was after midnight and a few drinks. This date had been pushy all night and on the train he grabbed my breast hard. I pushed him away, and laughing, he grabbed both my hands in one of his behind my back and grabbed my breast again. I wriggled free and slapped him (a stupid decision in retrospect), he slapped me right back, very hard. I jumped out of the train at the next stop. He didn’t follow, but one of the other guys did. It had to be a visceral response by him. He had no time to think about it since the doors were closing immediately. This man stayed with me until I was safely home, an hour, two train rides and a long walk away. He apologized profusely for his friend the whole time. Were these men simply raised differently? Why did one of them feel ok invading a woman’s space, touching her body when clearly told no, and the other had the instinct to protect a woman, friend, fellow human being, and do the right thing?
Two incidents in college stand out. One time I would call it rape without actual penetration (by luck). The other was such bullying that I almost left school--every day harassment and slut shaming for months. How could a boy get away with what this kid did? He dragged my name through the mud with lie after lie at a very small school to the point where I didn’t even want to go outside because there would be boys shouting things to me from the windows of the dorms. When I told my advisor what was happening, he asked me what I really expected to happen if I was not going to take pride in my body and just “give it away.” I had no response. I left that advisor’s office feeling even worse about myself, if that was possible, and this boy was never even questioned about the situation.
When I was 25, I first worked for a man who tried to get me into bed at every turn. I never even considered that harassment because it was so common. I did wonder if that’s possibly why I was hired in the first place. The second man I worked for would vacillate between overly friendly behavior and anger (because I rejected his advances?). He didn’t hire me, but I had been promoted to his group. “I wonder how you got to your position so quickly,” with an overly long leer. He took me into his office and shut the door once, to tell me a story about how when we were at the bowling outing the day before. He and another upper management executive were rating the female employees’ bodies as they bowled. He thought I’d like to know that I tied with Haley for the “win.” “You’re so different. It probably depends on the guy. I think you’d win for me.” I listened, just waiting for it to be over so I could leave, the whole while staring at the Glamour Shots picture of his wife on his desk. Was this harassment?
At my summer internship I would work late and have to deal with Tim, a “happily married” guy who assured me that he would be more even more motivated to get to my computer issues if I’d just have a quick beer with him after work. Oh, Tim, you’re so funny, you know your family would hate for you to be late getting home! What I wanted to say would have probably gotten me fired.
By mentioning these few incidents, I am not looking for sympathy, as I know they are far from uncommon! We just don’t often talk about them. I was even a stay at home mom for many, many years and I STILL have more stories than you’d probably ever want to hear. I can’t imagine the stories women who work in male dominated environments for decades might be able to tell. And these aren’t even close to the worst I’ve heard.
Today friends are posting “me too” as their Facebook status to get others to recognize how common this is. One friend added to her post, “…just as an aside…I know no woman who hasn't been sexually harassed or assaulted. NOT A SINGLE ONE.” Now this very well may be true, HOWEVER, this friend has never spoken to me about this topic, nor probably many others. What I think she is saying is that when she has talked about it, she has never heard a woman say she hasn’t been affected. Neither have I. The problem is that we DON’T talk about it nearly enough. Many of us never do. And when we do, we are often met with an insinuation that we are somehow at fault. I felt bad about my role in these situations for long enough. I think I’ll stop today.
I don’t know if I have any answers or solutions, but some things I know can help. Let’s keep the conversation going, and make communication safe and easy; take women seriously and stop blaming them for men’s actions. Start and continue education from the beginning and on into the workplace.
Of course we should teach our sons (and daughters!) respect, the definition of harassment, including unwanted comments and sexual leers. Teach not only that no means no, but yes means yes. Teach that sex needs consent along the way, and no at any time means to stop. Teach that human beings decide whether or not they want to be touched and others must abide by that. And we should teach everyone that we all have a responsibility to speak up when we see or hear something that in any way condones sexual harassment.
Dinner conversation will be a little more meaningful than usual tonight in the Riddell household.