First of all, this is not a sob story. I'm not asking for sympathy or support. This is simply a sharing of my experiences.
I find myself stunned to admit that a certain Republican presidential candidate has managed to inspire me. Recent political bombshells have prompted thousands of women to open up and speak out. So scratch that. It is not him or his actions. It's the responses of the women that are inspirational and inspiring. I want to count myself among them and add my voice to our collective uncovering.
And why shouldn't I? If you believe the statistics, as many as 1 in 5 women experience some sort of sexual assault in their lifetime. But how can you believe any stats on this subject when there is so much shame, retaliation, and fear wrapped up in all this? Women don't report at all or are not taken seriously when they do and worst of all, we as an entire society do not view many of these assaults as actual crimes or real problems.
Regardless of what the laws say, I don't think we collectively agree on what sexual assault even means. When does it become an assault? When does the line get crossed? We have this boys will be boys, men will will be men mentality that has fostered a culture of quiet, shame, and ambiguity on the subject. But the events of the last week have made one thing crystal clear. We have to open up. We must stop being quiet.
Cultural shifts happen slowly over time as attitudes, actions, and perceptions change. In an effort to contribute positively to that change, I want to throw my hat in the public ring. I have a story, too. A few, actually.
Like most women, I cannot even recall or count the number of times someone has groped my ass or my breast in public as I walked through a crowd. I cannot even recall or count the number of times someone made me feel like I should be thankful for their unwanted advances because of who they were or the position they held. I cannot even recall or count the number of times totally inappropriate language, gestures, or attention has been given to me that I did not want, ask for, or condone. In many such instances I was called a bitch or a cunt for daring to deny someone their will with me. I can recall, however, that I've never been grabbed by the pussy, so I guess I should consider myself lucky.
We had a neighbor who lived across the street from us who was much older than my brother and me but he would come over all the same. He liked to play steam roller where we'd lay down and he'd roll himself across the bed until he'd roll right over me. But he'd stay on top of me for too long. I didn't even realize it was sexual until much, much later in life.
I was 6 years old.
I was asleep in my room and was woken up to someone's hands under my shirt. The hands then moved into my pants. I sat up and that someone scurried off. It was a friend of my brother's who was spending the night. He never spent the night again. And they are not friends.
I was 9 years old.
A few of us worked at a local video store, our first ever real jobs. The owner only hired teenage girls. He would move past you from behind and get a little too close to you for comfort. He'd linger. He'd press. He'd breathe. Rumor had it that he sometimes offered money in exchange for watching him masturbate. He never propositioned me for that but I heard first hand accounts from others who had.
I was 15 years old.
I came home from college for the weekend as I often did my first year. I went out drinking with friends. I woke up with a guy I barely knew on top of me in the cab of his pick up truck. I was saying no. He wasn't listening. The next day I was made fun of for "hooking up" with a younger guy. Apparently it didn't take long for him to start bragging about his conquest. I felt so ashamed and confused that I couldn't defend myself. I couldn't tell them that actually I'm pretty sure what he did was drug me and screw my completely unaware and nonparticipating body. I couldn't use the right words. I can't even today. There is still some part of me that wonders if I asked for it.
I was 19 years old.
So there it is. All out there in the open.
And I am not ashamed.
And I am not to blame.
And I am most definitely not alone.
In this dark and dreary political cycle, let's realize a silver lining. Let's normalize open discussion. It is the acts of aggression themselves that should be abnormal, not the discussion of them.
Image credit: Me