It used to be that when people talked about being sexually harassed, whether it was street harassment or something like fondling or rape, I would keep quiet. Not in the sense of condoning what happened, but in the sense of “well, it’s never happened to me, so I have nothing to contribute.”
Then one day someone mentioned a guy following them around and staring at them and I thought “Oh…wait, that kinda sounds like something that happened to me back in college.”The more I thought about it, the more I remembered about the time and about the guy. The way he would stand outside the room I was working in alone and stare at me through the glass doors. (I used to enjoy those late-night work sessions until then. I had to start bringing a male friend with me.) The way he would come up really close behind me and comment on what I was wearing, even if I asked him to please stop.
And then I remembered the time I got a prank sexual phone call in high school. It was seriously gross. It started out as a normal survey and then turned into questions about what I was wearing. I was young and naive and it took me a while to realize what was going on.
Then I remembered when we lived in LA and I would arrive at work early, because Avi and I worked together, but he had to be there early. So I had about an hour alone in the sales office. Again, I enjoyed those quiet work times until one of the guys from the warehouse (who also started early) began standing in the doorway and staring at me while I worked. And if I had to talk to him (which I had to do occasionally, because he was the #2 guy in the warehouse), he would stare at my chest instead of into my eyes.
Then there was the guy who pressured me about sexual activity I wasn’t ready for. I didn’t give in, but he made me feel like I was at fault for not agreeing. Eventually I got a clue and ran far away from him, but I didn’t tell anyone about it for a long while, because I was ashamed I’d been so easily coerced.
And I’ve lived, as these things go, a pretty damned sheltered life. One so sheltered that I actually have said to people that I’ve never really been harassed and I completely believed it. Was it because I’d buried these things so deeply in my unconscious in order to forget? Because I believed they weren’t bad enough to qualify? I don’t know, but when I realize the things I’ve been unwilling to talk about, I start to wonder what everyone else is suppressing.
Consider how often rape goes unreported. Then consider how much less likely it is that things like what I describe get reported to anyone other than one’s BFF. (Hell, the only reason my work problem was resolved was because I happened to be married to the owner’s nephew!) Has any woman in our society emerged totally unscathed?
And what do we do about it? The only weapon I’ve got is trying to teach my own kids about consent and polite behavior.
“Barak, when someone says stop, then we stop, right?”
“If Barak doesn’t want you to hug him, then you shouldn’t hug him, okay, Yael?”
Stopping rape culture is going to take a long time. And the patriarchal impulses that let men think that women are available for sex also make them think it’s okay to follow a woman around and stare at her.
And that’s a creepy feeling nobody should experience. ::shudders::