“I Am Woman” wasn’t your typical favorite song among most six-year-olds in the nineties. But from our indoor beehive to founding the Non Grinchy Girls club after not fitting in at Girl Scouts, it wasn’t the most conventional childhood.
I blame my parent’s aversion to television.
Once the song had finished and the first few notes of the next tune sounded from the tinny record player, I would pick up the needle and scooch it back over to the start for another round of feminism à la Helen Reddy.
I loved the song because it allowed you to belt about your self importance while twirling around the living room, feeling the kinship of your seventies sisters. And it made me feel like there was no better fate than to be a woman.
The best part was the line about how she’s got a long, long way to go, until she makes her brother understand. That was the bit where you run over to your brother and get right up in his face and screech the lyrics at him. “But mooooom, Helen Reddy told me to!”
I’m grateful for those single digit years when being a girl just meant that you got the pink party bag and the bike with flowers in the front basket.
When I was ten-and-a-half I woke up in the middle of the night and I was being touched in a place I shouldn’t have been by someone who shouldn’t have been touching me.
I pretended to be sleeping and groggily pulled the covers back over me.
I’ve never talked to the person about it, and I don’t know if I ever will.
Sometimes I doubt myself and wonder if it even happened. But I have no reason to make it up, and no history of false memories, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t be real. I don’t have too many memories of being ten, but this one is razor sharp. And I can still feel my heart beating fast against my chest and the shocked, panicked feeling of not knowing what to do.
And I have spent so many hours of my life since thinking about how I should have reacted and what I should have said. But I didn’t know what to do, and I still don’t know what to do, so I do nothing.
And it drifts into my thoughts almost daily and when it does the pit of my stomach tightens into a dark knot of frustration and violation and confusion that punches me deep in the gut. And when it subsides I casually wonder how many of my issues stem from it and how much therapy I should probably be going to.
I got groped for the first time when I was in middle school. I was wearing a violet turtleneck with a light blue fleece vest, a purple floor length flowered skirt, and lime green high tops. I know this only because I documented it with extreme attention to detail in my journal. Probably in case the police asked me about it later.
I was walking back from PE with a friend and this guy walking towards me just reaches over and (as scrupulously detailed) “sort of put his hand on my right boob” and then started laughing with his friend.
What I wrote next still makes my heart sting, “I know that he didn’t do it becouse I was hot, or have big boobs, becouse there were so many other girls around me that fit that description, but he probably said to his friend, “What a dork” And his friend replied, “I dare you to touch her boob.” That’s probably what happened!”
And it was actually really traumatizing. If the next paragraph about wanting to devote my life towards helping abused women was any indication.
While now I would probably just shrug it off (although I did just have this great daydream about performing a citizen’s arrest for sexual harassment), when I was 13, it was a huge deal and it really rattled me. I didn’t even have boobs yet, and someone was already trying to touch them.
I just hope he regrets it, and still thinks about it to this day. Also, it wouldn’t hurt if he’s written an ‘Open Letter of Apology to the Girl with the Lime Green High Tops’ on his blog that he’s set up to help victims of groping, in order to subside the guilt long enough that he can sleep at night.
When I was 16 I got my first boyfriend. I avoided being alone with him as much as possible because whenever we were together he would force my head down into his crotch, and hold onto my hair, pulling it in a rhythm as I choked and gagged between his legs.
I felt violated. And vulnerable and intimidated by his forcefulness and I didn’t know how to say no, because he was my boyfriend after all. Working in an Italian restaurant at 22 there was a head chef named Nacho. Anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant can finish this story. It’s textbook.
Nacho was a small middle-aged hispanic man who liked to prey on anything with ovaries. You couldn’t walk into the kitchen without getting kissy noises or a comment. I once made the mistake of wearing my hair in two buns, and he spent the entire shift coming up behind me and squeezing the buns.
I think it was when he muttered under his breath about “the things he would do to me in the walk-in freezer” when I finally spoke to someone about it. And was essentially told that Nacho had been there for years and wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Two days ago I was working with a catering company to serve food at a winery event. I stood behind my marble slab of grilled lamb sandwiches smiling at the guests and plating the dish. I spotted a Trump hat amidst the crowd, and instantly disliked the old white man wearing it. I disliked him even more when he came up to me, saying that his wife had sent him to the table for seconds. He winked and added, “She thinks I only came over for the meal.”
I laughed at his comment and immediately hated myself. I wanted a redo, I wanted that moment back so I could stare at him with an icy face and tell him that was inappropriate. I wanted him to feel ashamed. I wanted him to know that it’s 2017 and he’s three times my age, and that it wasn’t all right. And even if it wasn’t 2017 and he wasn’t old enough to be my grandad, it still wouldn’t be okay.
I was knee deep in the middle of writing this post about sexual harassment, I’d been wading through sickening memories, and had spent hours reading other’s posts with the same sentences over and over again written by strong women about small men.
And I still laughed, and I still humored this man. Because I didn’t know how else to react. It was only in the beat after I’d instinctively smiled and he’d walked away that I realised what he’d just said.
In the future, if someone’s going to sexually harass me, I’d like at least a 24-hour advanced notice so that I can be fully prepared with a Gloria Steinem worthy comeback and accompanying evils. I think writer and activist Lindy West wrote it best, “I wish women didn’t have to rip our pasts open and show you everything and let you ogle our pain for you to believe us.” And I really wish that too.
I wish there wasn’t a problem. But because there is one, I wish that men would stop thinking they’re the exception, that all the other guys are the problem, but that they’re okay, because I really actually want it from them.
I wish men didn’t need to validate themselves by tearing down women. I wish someone would redefine masculinity, and make it more feminine, more empathetic, more thoughtful, more nurturing.
I wish I didn’t have to carry a whistle on my keys and pepper spray in my purse and check the backseat of my car at night time. I wish I could travel alone without worrying my mom.
I wish we didn’t judge other women so much, and spent more time building each other up. I wish there were more of a sisterhood where we recognized how strong and beautiful we really are.
And I wish everyone saw women through the eyes of a six-year-old girl belting off-key Helen Reddy in the living room.All in all, most men really are good guys, and I still believe that deep in my core, the same core that tightens when I think about being ten and a half.
And I’m grateful to be surrounded by all sorts of incredible men, from my dad who is the gentlest human I’ve ever met, to my partner who is all things kind and wonderful and listens to me when I’m vulnerable and rambling and has never pressured me a day in my life (except for pancakes, he often pressures me into making pancakes).
I guess what I’m trying to say is men, don’t be dicks. A catcall isn’t a compliment, no one wants to be preyed upon or leered at, and don’t make us touch your penises. Oh, and make your own damn sandwiches.