I was twelve years old the first time I got groped. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve read this story before, because I’ve written about it at least twice. I was walking home from grammar school in my Catholic schoolgirl uniform – I still remember the exact spot – when a guy just walked up behind me and put his hand so far between my butt cheeks he grazed my vagina (I suppose you could say he “grabbed me by the pussy”). I was shocked and taken completely off guard. At first, I was more surprised that this was anatomically possible than anything. (I didn’t realize you could get to one from the other, since one was in the front, and the other in the back). Then, I got mad. I wailed on him with my schoolbag and he scurried away.
I’ve written about it and have told this story several times because it was a seminal moment in my development as a female. Sure, I knew about sex, although I hadn’t even kissed a boy yet. (I’d first heard the description on the playground in the 4th grade and had suspected the boys had been making it up to gross me out). And I guess I must have had a consciousness of what rape was, although I’m pretty sure my concept would have included a knife and a dark alley. But I had never before been introduced to the fact that to be female means to be sexual prey, and that you can feel violated and shocked by things other than a penis being thrust into you against your will. I didn’t understand what sexual assault really was. I wouldn’t come to realize that had been a sexual assault for many years.
It was the first time, but it wasn’t the last time. One day – I would have been a freshman in high school at this point, in a different Catholic school uniform – I went into the candy store where I normally went with my friends after school every day, but for some reason, on this day I went in alone. The friendly man behind the register – the one who offered us free candy and made jokes with us, the kindly, seemingly innocuous one – cornered me and tried to hug me. He touched my breast. For years, I didn’t tell anyone what happened – I was surprised and ashamed, wondering what I’d done to invite that – and I never went in there alone again. When my friends insisted on going in, I stood tensely, feeling his eyes burning into me. It was only years later when another friend told me he had done the same to her. This is how silence helps predators. And, still, it never occurred to either of us to report him.
I can tell you others – the boy who grabbed my hand and put it on his private area, even though I was pushing him away, the guy at the club who grabbed me by the wrist, pulled me into him and started grinding on me, then got really angry when I walked away, screaming ugly names at me, like I owed him the right to do that by virtue of the fact that I had wanted to go out dancing with my girlfriends. I can tell you other stories too, not of being touched inappropriately, but of men telling me that whatever happened to women was our fault. Like the time when I was eighteen and discussing the Central Park jogger case with a lawyer at the firm where I was working during the day to put myself through college, and he said to me, “What was she doing out at night in Central Park?” And how he laughed at me when I argued with him that it’s not women who should have to stay home, but rapists who shouldn’t rape. The idea that we might have the right to walk safe out in the world was “naive” to him.
If you’re a woman, these stories sound familiar to you. If you’re a man, look around at the women you know and work with and love. They each have at least one of these stories to tell you. I know many of my guy friends have been expressing surprise at this this weekend. If that’s you, ask a woman you trust and she’ll tell you. It’s important that you know. The stereotype of the rapist with the knife isn’t serving you, because that’s just a tip of the iceberg to the mountain of sexual assault that women contend with on a daily basis.
In response to the release of Trump’s “locker room banter” video, in which he said that he grabbed women in a private area and “if you’re famous they just let you,” writer Kelly Oxford tweeted about her experience with sexual assault, and invited other women to tell their stories under the hashtag #notokay. 9.7 million women responded. The stories were sickeningly familiar.
Yes, this is the world we live in.
For people who laughed off Trump’s “locker room banter,” or who said he wasn’t talking about sexual assault, think for a moment about the Justice Department’s definition. “Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” It includes fondling. But, if you’ve never experienced this, think or how it might feel to walk through the world knowing that this is something that could happen to you. That some men – thank goodness, not the majority, but some – think that you’re a thing for them to touch because they just want to. Now ask yourself how it might feel when that “thing” mentality extends to other situations. If you’re afraid that some men think you’re just a thing to be touched, when you feel like a thing to be ogled, it feels pretty gross too. Because the problem is not the specifics, but the fact that some men think women are things, not humans with dreams and ambitions and plans. And, yes, it’s obvious that that’s what the Republican nominee thinks too.
Might it be good if we rethink our trade deals? Maybe. Is it good for one party to be in political power too long? No. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. But this is different. We are talking about the humanity of half of our population, and the fact that one of the candidates running has repeatedly shown his disdain and disrespect for us. And it is #notokay
Tell your story. Or listen to someone’s story. A culture of objectification of women hurts everyone.
women have tweeted me sexual assault stories for 14 hours straight. Minimum 50 per minute. harrowing. do not ignore. #notokay
— kelly oxford (@kellyoxford) October 8, 2016