At 16 I started my first job at a local fast food place, Hardee's. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school. I was fresh, excited, naive. The general manager was in his late 20's, attractive and intimidating. He invited me to his apartment to "pick up something" after work. I was what he wanted to pick up.
To this day, there is a part of me that asks how could I have thought he had something in his apartment for me about work? I was just a cashier. Why didn't I even question? I felt stupid and ignorant.
I wasn't raped and I left before things could progress very far. However, he tried to coerce me to drink with him and tried to grope me, all the while telling me if I'd just loosen up a bit I'd enjoy it. He wanted me to believe my discomfort was MY fault and that my lack of interest in him was a reflection of my wrongness. And for a while, I believed him.
That is how the victim of harassment thinks but only AFTER the fact. You feel frozen DURING the act. That is the psychological trauma of sexual harassment and abuse and why it's so hard to speak up. You feel stupid for believing him, but you also tell yourself others will believe him, too. Sadly, this is often the case with victim shamers who defend men willing to sexually abuse, harass and rape women.
At 17, a girlfriend called and asked if I wanted to catch a movie. She picked me up along with another friend from high school and we ended up at an apartment complex. Turns out she was "dating" one of our high school football coaches, who was also her remedial math teacher, and he'd had two other high school coaches show up for her two friends. I demanded to be taken home. I was completely grossed out.
My friend was upset and was never really my friend again. She fully believed that it was a compliment that a teacher wanted her. He didn't want her. He wanted sex. She couldn't see that at the time. At some point, she'd been taught that if a man "like him" wanted you, it must be complimentary. I often wonder if she still views him in the same light or if she now sees him for the predator that he was.
Later, the high school coaches wouldn't make eye contact when I happened to see them and still, any time I had to leave class for some reason it would vaguely cross my mind that I hoped I didn't run into any of them when no one was around. That feeling never fully left me when I was on school grounds and I was scared to tell anyone. Two of those coaches still work in public education.
At 20, while I was still in college, I took a local job at an athletic printing shop two days a week when I didn't have classes. I waited tables on the weekends, but this seemed like a good way to make extra cash. The owner, who later went to prison, told me on day 2 that the previous girl had given him blow jobs under the table while his wife worked in the printing shop. I didn't make it to day 3. I cried all the way home and at the time I couldn't have told you why I was sobbing. It's called trauma.
At 23, I had my first management job. The general manager of the store backed me into the office, placed his arms on either side of me and told me he'd stop if I cried. I refused to break eye contact and he finally laughed and let me leave. I told the regional manager what happened and they moved the general manager to a different store but didn't fire him. They spoke with me beforehand to ask if I was absolutely certain I hadn't misunderstood the situation. I had to see him at every company meeting we had. He almost always made a point to speak to me, and not once did he ever act as though anything had happened. But it DID happen.
I've stood in a CVS line waiting for medicine while a man stood behind me making suggestive noises. Even turning and looking him in the eye, being completely disgusted, made no difference. He laughed. Walking to my car made me feel fearful.
I've walked down the street and heard cat calls and dog barking noises, as though these things should be appreciated. When I didn't look at them, acknowledge them, the name calling started. I was now a bitch and a cunt because I didn't want men to make those sounds at me.
I've been patted inappropriately. I've been squeezed suggestively.
I've had men in positions of authority make inappropriate jokes about women right in front of me.
I've had those same men compliment my eyes or my choice of clothing, while never mentioning I out sold them in real estate that year by a huge margin. Just my eyes or my skirt or my legs.That was who I was to them, regardless of my job performance, my education or my lack of interest in them.
There is no woman on this planet who has not had these things happen to her in some way. This is not a "Hollywood" issue.
In my own personal circle I have 2 friends AND 2 family members who have been sexually assaulted. I know of at least 3 more women in my broader circle, though I don't know their precise details.
So here is my call to men: STOP. Just stop and demand that your colleagues and friends stop.
We are not meat. We are your counterparts. We are intelligent and hard working and witty and wise. We are women. We are NOT your playthings or here for your pleasure. We are NOT here to make your life better or easier. We do not want your unsolicited advances.
My call to women is to speak up and teach your daughters to speak up. Stop telling little girls that boys like them if they push them or hit them or pull their hair. Teach your boys that women are whole human beings. Support women who are brave enough to come forward.
Stop shaming the victims for waiting to speak up. Shame the men who made them afraid or held power over them because they could. Stop implying that a woman is to blame because a man raped her. Stop pretending that men are not responsible for themselves.
And to all the women reading this who have had their dignity, their safety and their innocence stripped from them: I'm sorry. I see you. I hear you. I believe you.
I BELIEVE YOU!
Please feel free to leave your stories in the comments. It's important that we speak up. We are saving the future generations of women who come behind us from these same behaviors and thought patterns. Speak!
How many of you have also met a Harvey Weinstein?