After the now infamous Donald Trump and Billy Bush “pussy grabbing” video was released, my friend Jennifer and I talked about how “lucky” we were in terms of sexual assault. Neither of us had been assaulted as a child or raped as an adult, and we didn’t even have that many examples of harassment.
That’s lucky, right?
The problem was, the more I watched the video, the more triggered I felt. Memories long suppressed came sneaking back, bubbling to the surface at the oddest moments.
Because I’m a writer, I jotted these down. I wanted to ensure I would never again forget.
Over time, I recalled more and more examples of sexual harassment, discrimination, and assault. The list grew to 25 items. I’m certain that most women could generate a list as long, if not longer, than mine. This fact depresses me beyond words. But I felt it was important that I not sweep the list under the rug. So I’m going public with it.
This is my history of assault, gender-based discrimination, and inappropriate male behavior.
WARNING: The following contains material that could serve as a trigger. Proceed with caution.
- Age 11 or 12. My orthodontist gropes his female assistants, inches from me, and I’m scared, ashamed, and confused. Thankfully he never gropes me, and I know it’s wrong because the women apologize as soon as he leaves the room. But I also know they are powerless to stop it.
- Age 14. During high school, when girls travel through what is known as Cowboy Alley, the guys yell comments and catcalls. I make the mistake of cutting through there once or twice. It’s like walking an emotional gauntlet. To preserve my tattered self-esteem, I avoid this area for the next four years.
- Age 18. Random guy at a college fraternity party shoves me against a wall and kisses me.
- Age 19. While on a cruise with my extended family, the mostly male wait staff ply my younger sister (16) and me with wine at dinner. At the time I was flattered by the attention, but now I find it disturbing that twenty- and thirty-something men were trying to get two teenaged girls drunk.
- Age 19. I’m on a double date with my roommate. We are driving, a bunch of us piled into an old pickup, and my blind date and I are in the truck bed. (I know, I know.) I want to talk, but the guy has other ideas. He’s all over me. I tell him to stop but he doesn’t listen. No one in the truck realizes what’s going on, and in a panic, I almost jump out of the moving vehicle. Eventually I fight him off and he tells me I’m a frigid bitch.
- Age 20. My boss stands a bit too close. I can’t decide if he’s hitting on me or simply clueless. He touches my female supervisor so much I suspect they are having an affair.
- Age 21. An older co-worker, a married man with a pregnant wife, asks me to join him for lunch, then proceeds to hit on me. Horrified, I turn him down and spend the rest of the summer avoiding him.
- Age 22. First week of law school. Male classmate tells me I’m the only woman in the lecture hall wearing makeup. I have no idea how to respond, so I laugh.
- Age 23. Following my first year in law school, I’m hired to work at a casino in Stateline, NV. Too many dealers have been hired, and a male supervisor asks if I’d prefer to work as a cocktail waitress. He says it’s a waste to put me behind a blackjack table. I try on the uniform and he looks me up and down. Tells me I will definitely make more in tips with my “assets.”
- Age 23. Father of former college classmate tells me he’s proud I’m attending law school and that I should “always wear short skirts to court so the judge will rule in [my] favor.” His son, mortified, apologizes.
- Age 24. During an important job interview, a male attorney asks where I see myself in 5 years: working or at home with kids? It’s clear he sees these things as mutually exclusive. I don’t know how to respond, and later I will decide not to complain because only one other woman, a friend, is interviewing with this firm.
I don’t want to cost us both a job. So I smile and say, “Both.” The attorney laughs like I made a joke.
- Age 25. First week of work as an attorney. One of the partners calls me into his office and tells me, “Now that you’re an attorney, you need to stop associating with women.” I can’t figure out how he expects me to stop associating with myself.
- Age 25. Another partner tells me to stop leaning over the half wall around my secretary’s desk (just like all the guys do) because “a client might get the wrong idea,” seeing me in such a “compromising position.”
- Age 25. At client meetings, I’m asked to fetch coffee. Make copies. Run errands. As the only female attorney, this portion of the job description doesn’t apply to the men.
- Age 26. Male client my dad’s age pats me on the butt and says I make visits the the law firm “worthwhile.”
- Age 26. Attempted rape at knifepoint in broad daylight at an ATM on a busy intersection. Two phone calls to file a police report go unanswered. On third call, I mention my law firm to get the police department to respond. In their view, “nothing happened” because I wasn’t robbed, stabbed, or raped. It will take nearly a decade before I can use an ATM again.
- Age 27. The secretaries learn that our law firm pays the younger male attorney I supervise more than me. The secretaries draw straws to see who will tell me. When I confront one of the partners, he says it’s because the male attorney “is getting married soon.” Eventually, after I threaten to sue, I receive a raise. I make $300/year more than the male attorney I supervise, despite higher billable hours and more experience. And yes, I meant to say per year, not per month.
- Age 27. My cleavage helps get my boyfriend out of a speeding ticket on his birthday. Police officer leered as he leaned into the car—on the passenger side.
- Age 31. My husband and I attend a black tie engagement party. I wear a black lace sheath dress that exposes some cleavage, but little else. He gets pissed that men stare at my chest rather than my face. Apparently this is my fault, not theirs.
- Age 36. I’ve worked several years as a contractor at a large government research facility. The department where I’ve worked loves me, and they create a permanent position for me. On my last day as a contractor, I learn a male employee has been parked temporarily in my new job. I’m told I can have it back in four to six months, but for now it’s his because as a male, “his salary is more critical” than mine. Sure enough, they call in five months to offer me back my job, and seem surprised that I’ve already found another.
- Age 46. First date after my divorce. Guy texts me while I’m driving to the coffee shop to say that I’m late (I wasn’t) and he should “put [me] over [his] knee and spank me.” I almost bail, but decide to follow through. He insists that I order HIS favorite drink and then proceeds to talk down to me, showing me how to use a smartphone! He says he wouldn’t be stupid enough to get married like me. As soon as I can, I leave. He follows me out to my car. I shake his hand and he asks for a hug. I’m reluctant, but I do. Instead of letting go, he pins me against my car and shoves his tongue down my throat. When I manage to heave him off me, he says, “What’s your problem? It’s not like we’re going to fuck.”
- Age 48. Same guy hits on me online. Doesn’t remember our previous encounter, even after I remind him. Apparently it was only memorable to me.
- Age 48. Married guy begins pursuing me online. I tell him I’m not interested, but he continues to send messages, and yes, I answer because I’m nice and he seems lonely. We carry on an intermittent conversation. One day he becomes hostile, and before I can figure out what’s going on, he sends an email, written entirely in CAPS, calling me a bitch and describing in graphic detail how he’s going to pin me down, beat me, and then rape me. He says I will love it. Before I can even process this, let alone decide how to respond, he sends a profanity-laced follow up message that concludes: Did that shut you up? Good, because your job isn’t to talk. It’s to fuck.”
- Age 49. Guy gets pissed that I won’t make out with him after he buys me a glass of wine.
- Age 49. Before we’ve even met in person, a guy sends me an unsolicited text containing a photo of his erect penis and asks me to respond in kind. Then gets angry when I don’t.
- Age 50. I meet a guy for coffee—and almost immediately, I know I’m not interested. I sit politely for more than an hour and listen to him talk (and talk and talk). He manages to insult both the disabled and the elderly during a long-winded work story, and soon after, I make an excuse to leave. He follows me to my car, stands too close, and demands a hug. Dude, you didn’t even buy my coffee! I give him a reluctant hug, and predictably, he sneaks in a slobbery kiss. For months he badgers me for a second date—at a hotel, because although his profile states he’s single, he still shares a house with his not yet ex-wife. I’m repulsed, but he doesn’t take no for an answer. I make up a boyfriend (and then find a real one). Nothing works. Finally I tell him I won’t talk until he’s 100% divorced, and for some reason, that finally does the trick.
“Perhaps that is part of the problem: women and girls raised to believe that you are lucky if you haven’t been raped.”
The more I think about this list, the more I feel that I shouldn’t consider myself lucky. Perhaps that is part of the problem: women and girls raised to believe that you are lucky if you haven’t been raped. We need to stop pretending that this behavior is acceptable or appropriate. We need to demand equal pay and equal treatment. We need to put a stop to rape culture.
Whatever happens next Tuesday, I can’t help thinking the upcoming election is a step in the right direction.
What are your thoughts?
Until next time,