In the wake of all of the Harvey Weinstein allegations coming out of Hollywood, women everywhere have been sharing their stories of sexual harassment and assault on social media using the hashtag #metoo. The idea being that if every woman who has suffered from harassment or assault tweets or posts just those two words, we can get at least an idea of how big this problem is. I’m going to be super frank in this post. I’m going to name names, I’m going to give quotes, and I’m going to talk about how the sexual harassment I have faced since the age of twelve has affected me. I’m also going to be totally honest here and say that if you are a woman in America, you have been sexually harassed. It’s impossible not to be. And if you are a woman reading this and thinking that you haven’t, it’s likely because we have been taught to accept the bullshit men give us. And that has got to stop.
But first, my story. The first time I remember being sexually harassed I was twelve. It was during P.E.. One of the popular boys came up to me during class and told me that he and all the other boys would hang out during laps and talk about me because they “liked to watch me run”. It’s safe to say that I was well-developed (for a twelve year old) at that point, and I was one of the few in my group of friends who had boobs. At the time, I didn’t fully grasp the meaning behind his comment, I just knew that it made me feel uncomfortable, self-conscious, and like I had something to apologize for. When I told my friends, one of my more savvy friends explained to me just why the boys liked to get together and stare while we ran around the track. After her explanation, I felt even worse about myself. I honestly don’t remember if I told my mom about the comment and how it made me feel. I definitely didn’t tell my P.E. teacher–a male well-known for ogling his female students–or anyone on campus other than my friends. At the time, I felt like I was the one who had done something wrong, not this boy who had made such an inappropriate comment.
I thought about writing about this incident back after the election when I was so angry that a man like Trump could win the presidency after the things he said. I wasn’t going to name names back then because, though this boy and I are not friends and are in no way connected on social media, I know many of my Facebook friends probably are still connected with him. My instinct was to protect him because in reality, I don’t think he’s a bad person. I think if he read this and knew how much his words still resonated with me–twenty-two years after the fact–he would probably feel bad. But that’s the problem. I’m worried about him feeling bad, when he’s the one who did something wrong. I’m worried about how something like me calling him out could possibly affect him when I am the one who has suffered from his words. And to be fair to him (again), if it hadn’t been him, it would have been someone else. But it doesn’t change the fact that he kicked off a long line of sexual harassment in my life, and maybe even more importantly, he kicked off a long line of me not saying anything, to either the perpetrators or anyone in a position of authority. So Evan Anderson, with all that being said, I need it to be out there in the world that you sexually harassed me when we were twelve. And I have never forgotten that moment and how your words made me feel.
I can’t even tell you how many times I have been sexually harassed since that first instance because it happens all. the. time. For the past twenty-two years, I have been harassed, ogled, leered at, and discriminated against by everyone from teachers and bosses to family members and students. I stopped keeping track of the incidents because there were too many to count. When I was in my early twenties and going out to clubs and bars on a regular basis, the harassment escalated to assault. Nothing ever happened that I would have considered serious at the time–lots of groping and uncomfortable dancing with strangers–but it still happened. I got to the point where I didn’t even want to go out without some of my male friends coming along to make sure it never got any worse.
And again, this is part of the problem. Strange men were grabbing me in a club and I didn’t think there was anything to be upset about. I thought it was par for the course. If you’re going to go dancing with your girlfriends, you’re going to get groped. How fucking ridiculous is that? Just typing that sentence is infuriating. I wanted to put on a cute dress and go out dancing with my friends, so my payment for that experience is to allow strange men to put their hands on me. That is such bullshit. How is this something we allow to happen? How are we okay with teaching girls that this is how the world is? And what will it take to make it stop?
As I debated writing this post over the weekend, I had almost convinced myself to let it go and not put my experience out there. And then at my wedding Saturday, a man 25-30 years older than I am came over to me while I was standing in the corner of the reception space, looked down at my bag which had a lighter sticking out of it, and said, “Is that a gun in your bag or are you just happy to see me?”
I would love to be able to tell you that I read this man the riot act, but I didn’t. I was at work, and a huge part of my job is pretending like nothing is wrong when it absolutely is. So I laughed. The man joked with me again when I went to release his table to the buffet line. I tuned him out, but it was something along the lines of me showing favoritism to his table because of his “joke”. The next day I was angry not only with this man, but with myself. Why didn’t I say anything? Surely there must be a way to rebuke someone’s blatant harassment with something firm yet polite. And again, why am I so concerned about how I am going to look defending myself when he was in the wrong? (And for those of you who read his comment and think there’s nothing wrong with what he said, let me break it down for you: an older man who I have never met before thought it was okay to come up to me in my place of work and ask if the sight of him made me sexually aroused. If you don’t see the harassment behind that, you are part of the problem.)
I wish I could wrap all this up with some kind of solution to the problem, but the truth is there isn’t an easy one. I am going to make a concerted effort to defend myself in these situations in the future, but I know myself, and it’s going to take a lot of work for me to be able to confront someone when I am uncomfortable. I think the best thing that I can do is to raise my son with the awareness that so many of the men in my generation (and those before them) seem to lack. An awareness of how his words affect others, an awareness of what harassment actually is, and an awareness of what consent means.
If you are a man and you’re reading this and if you are having problems determining how far is too far, and what you should or should not say to a woman, use this trick: Would you be okay with a strange man making the same comment to you at a bar? If the answer is no, back the eff off and shut your mouth.
Thanks for reading my story. I’m sure it’s in no way unique, but it’s mine.