The news is flooded right now with stories of harassment and assault by men in places of power. I’m one that has never been assaulted, thankfully, but harassment… oh my!
Here’s a part of this whole concept that I haven’t heard discussed much…I remember when I was younger not really knowing how to handle the attention. Initially, since we all want to be noticed and appreciated, a small part of me was flattered. Someone thought I was attractive…
I didn’t have the tools to understand that attraction is supposed to be two-way. Attraction is also supposed to be about the whole person, not just a small waist or nice rack. Attraction is supposed to include the mind…
Sex was not talked about in my family. I was given a book, but that was all. Part of it was the time and culture, part of it was my parents’ discomfort. It boggles my mind that my father can watch gory, violent movies and not bat an eye, but show an extended revealing love scene and he gets up to leave. Why would you want to see hurt and not see love? And he is a good, kind man… imagine what it is like for others.
Anyway, combine this silence with an almost gleeful encouragement to follow rules and not trust your intuition, and I didn’t have the skills to know how to juggle the attention a young woman with a decent physique receives. I didn’t understand the ideas behind the visual being such an inherent part of a man’s sexual response. I didn’t understand the power rush many of them felt when they described your body as being there for their enjoyment and use. I, like many young women, was unprepared for comments, ogling, and suggestions.
And so, my journey with harassment began. The swats on the ass by the high school guys, the professor in college who sweet talked his way up to my dorm room, the co-workers at the summer job in a factory who hunted for ways to catch me in a dark corner and discussed what they would do if given the chance. And last, and perhaps most disturbing, the therapist who satisfied his self-esteem issues regarding a failing marriage, aging, and burnout by sending me sexual pictures of himself.
I’d be lying if I said the last one was a long time ago. It wasn’t. It was recent. And I’m afraid in the midst of my grief, I was again flattered and played along for too long. My defenses were down again and I am disgusted with how long I let things play out.
I never thought of myself as particularly disadvantaged or traumatized by any of these events. I, like many women my age, considered this to be just a part of life, one of the things I was supposed to learn how to handle. What I am learning is that each of these incidents shaped me by continuously causing me to question my intuition. If I got myself into these situations, what was wrong with my radar? See what I did there? Took all the responsibility on myself. After all, that’s just how men are… they can’t help it. It is our job to keep ourselves safe, right?
Victim blaming. Another lovely byproduct of the powerful trying to absolve themselves of their crimes.
My wakeup-call in many ways came the day I heard my daughter discussing her own experiences with harassment. My daughter physically far surpasses anything I might have claimed in my day. She has long dark curly hair, big beautiful brown eyes, a smile to die for and a good physique. She is kind and caring, supportive and intelligent. Yes, I’m her mother, but ask anyone who knows her and they will say the same thing.
The day I heard her talking about dealing with comments, suggestions, and hands at her job was the day my stomach rolled. I thought I had prepared her better… What did I do wrong? And she said the same thing I realized I had been saying to myself for all these years. “It’s just the way it is… that’s life.”
But I don’t want this to be “life” for her! This is my kid, my beautiful old-soul delight, my inspiration for many of the things I do. For her to shrug her shoulders as if it meant nothing, to be talked to and at as if she is not the owner of her body, sickened me.
How could we still be here in this kind of environment today? How could we be in a country that believes ambition in women is not attractive? That would rather vote for a misogynistic, self-serving, blowhard narcissist than a competent, hard-working woman whose experience far surpassed almost everyone else in the field?
How can it still be okay for my daughter to be experiencing the same feelings of insecurity and backlash today, that I had to fight 25 years ago? Have we really not been able to find ways of advancing?
I hope this latest trend does more than sell for the media and cause a few powerful men to lose their jobs. I hope this might be a signal that bragging about grabbing women and pushing yourself on someone else is indicative of character flaws. I hope more people understand that this is not right. And it is not right even if the woman is trying to work through her own culturally ambiguous feelings regarding incidences… It is not right.
For my young nieces and for any granddaughters I may ever have… I hope we can make these new ideals stick this time. Each person, regardless of gender orientation, color, sexual orientation, life choice has the right to move throughout their world without fear. Let’s figure this out people, we are capable…
Btw – the picture isn’t my daughter, just a lovely lady in a stock photo…