An experiment in silence breaking: Please tell a story about sexual harassment or assault.

Yesterday I wrote that the one way to gain any good out of the rolling clown car that has been the Herman Cain candidacy would be if we use this opportunity to get more honest about how frequently girls and women face harassment and/or assault.

The truth is that I don’t think most men have any idea how prevalent it is. How often our muscles tense, the kinds of calculus we must do before walking down that street or past that co-worker, the sheer reality of our very gender being used against us as a weapon. A tool of control. A platform from which to declare victory or dominance.

So I just tweeted the following:

Dear men: Please turn to a woman who loves & trusts you today & ask one question: “Have you ever been harassed?” Then just sit & listen.

But I think it would really powerful to have something to share, something like the post I did back when I asked my fellow white Americans to sit and listen to black folks’ responses to watching the President of the United States being forced by a racist huckster to show his papers.

If you have a story to tell about harassment or assault, I’m asking you to do so here (men, too). This will not be a space in which your sincerity or the truth of your story will be doubted (and should we garner any such replies, they will be ruthlessly slapped down by me), and of course, it’s the internet — you may be an anonymous as you like.

But please – let’s talk. Let’s tell the truth. Only in telling the truth will we be able to change the reality.

UPDATE:  It occurs to me to provide this information as well – For an online hotline for assault/abuse survivors, click here; telephone hotline here: 1-800-656-4673.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I’ve also started a thread for men’s stories – for that, click here.  I believe that the differences in our experiences make separate threads a good idea — a better way to honor and respect the differences in our realities — but our stories share many elements, and we are wise to not just talk among ourselves, but also to listen to each other.


  1. Like every woman I know, I have a good handful of stories: My breasts being grabbed as a group of young men passed, for instance, and my ass being grabbed by I-don’t-know-who on a subway. My path being blocked by a group of young men, any number of times. Being yelled at on the street to stop looking “so mad,” or to smile, or (yes, really) to get a tan. Being followed by two men in a car late at night. Two men attempting to (when it comes down to it) kidnap my friend and me in a shared taxi only to be thwarted by the taxi driver himself. Learning that my gynecologist had been arrested, accused of raping his patients.

    Just last night I was thinking that as a suburban mother of two who works from home, I literally don’t get out much, and I haven’t been harassed in a very long time, between living in a small-town, liberal enclave, not having any co-workers and quite literally not getting out much. And then on my walk this morning, some man in a truck honked to get my attention, merely so that I would look at him. Why do I know that was why he honked? Because we were the only two people on the street, there was no earthly reason to honk, and he was looking directly at me as I turned my head. Because, you see, he had a right to see my face, and I didn’t have a right to not notice him. It was a very, very small thing, and if I weren’t thinking so much about this issue right now, it would have barely registered — but frankly, the fact that it would have barely registered is a little fucked up, too.

    • Mind you, it occurs to me that I was harassed at Balloon Juice like, a year or so ago, by some assclown who thought it was the height of urbanity to consistently direct sexual comments/jokes at me, in what I think was meant to seem like friendly banter but was really deeply creepy. He got no encouragement from me whatsoever, of course, while my every word was read as double-entendre, and I was the one who felt it necessary to jokingly back away (or just leave the thread) so as to not make anyone else uncomfortable.

      • Would you do it differently now? Would you say something like “You need to know something: you are creeping me out. I have given you no reason to sexualize me and you need to stop. Now.”?

        I’m not telling you what to do. I’m just asking if where you are now in life would enable you to do this.

        • You know, I don’t think I would, because that would have immediately put me into a relationship of some kind with him, by virtue of having to negotiate, even if only in one exchange, what was acceptable and what was not. I wanted nothing to do with him, and so found it more pleasant for me to simply ignore him or back away or leave the thread.

          Having said that, I’m also terrible for not wanting to make a social circumstance unpleasant. I would like to believe that I would respond forcefully if this were in person, or with someone with whom I did have some kind of pre-existing relationship, but I can’t be sure.

          • I’m trying to see things through others’ eyes. It’s dang hard. I know that I’d be OK with doing what you did (leaving) or saying “I’m getting creeped out.”

            I was thinking about this as I walked to coffee with a co-worker. Before she showed up, I was asking myself “Do I do this kind of stuff & just not realize it? Would she tell me?” It’s almost radioactive territory – asking those questions.

  2. Susama Agarwala

     /  November 9, 2011

    Oh god, been there, done that.
    The aftermath wasn’t fun.

    The letters to the editor in the link are in referral to a feature I’d written in the paper about my recent gang rape while on vacation (there is no on-line version of the original article). The incident had gotten a lot of media attention in a way that either portrayed me as loose or the rapists as unforgivable monsters. Neither of which are true. I was then working in the women’s movement in India, and talking quite so publicly about the event seemed like a good idea.

    I have countless other stories, but this was certainly the most significant of anything that has happened to me. I apologize for not using my usual commenter tag, but for reasons of keeping my on line life separated from my real life, I hope the breach of etiquette will be forgiven.

    • Absolutely forgiven. I absolutely want this to be a safe little space, where stories can just be told.

      Thank you for telling this.

  3. ee, this is something I still struggle with – whom to tell, how to tell it, what to say. Much of my experiences (the biggies) are in the distant past, and yet, when I bring them up again, I am back in it as if it had just happened – though with a little less pain each time. Recently, I disclosed to a new friend very brief details about this part of my past, and I was so hesitant to bring it up. Why? Because I was ashamed. What would my new friend think of me? Would I seem lesser in any way? Not a rational reaction, but a deep-felt one, anyway.

    I feel like I have posted this all and a sundry, but here are two of my biggest experiences for the three people on the internet who haven’t read about them.

    • Thank you for this honey. Thank you.

    • corkingiron

       /  November 9, 2011

      Well, having just read them – and being presumptuous about being an “internet friend” – I think you are courageous as hell.

      • Thanks, corkingiron. I always appreciate your thoughtful commentary over at TNC’s place, and as you can see, it was one of his posts (and one of ee’s) that really pushed me to write this post. As much as I hate talking about it, nothing will change if we all remain silent.

  4. nm

     /  November 9, 2011

    Worst sexual assault: when I was 17, hanging out in a neighborhood park at twilight, realized it was getting dark and I was the only one there and it would be a good idea to leave, and on my way out was grabbed by a guy who tried to rape me. I was able to get away by thinking very fast and screaming, which frightened him so that he momentarily let go of me, which gave me the chance to run. Second worst sort-of-assault: when I went to the cops, they first asked whether I hadn’t just had a fight with my boyfriend and made up the story to explain my bruises, and then when I could not identify any of the pictures the cops showed me as being the attacker, they said they figured I was indeed making the whole thing up. Because obviously if I had really been sexually assaulted, I would have wanted to accuse someone who didn’t look anything like my would-be rapist of being the one who did it.

    Worst harassment: when I was 30, a professor in the department where I was a grad student started putting his hands on me (“just” the arms or “just” the shoulders) and standing way too close, coming up close behind me, etc. I taught a class in the same classroom he used, right after his class, and he used to wait there to do this, but he did it in the department office and hallways, too. It took me a while to figure out that he was really doing it and I wasn’t being oversensitive, because it was so blatant it couldn’t actually be…. But it was. I went to the dept. secretary, who sent me promptly to the dept. chair, who said she would take this as far as I wanted: warning, letter in the guy’s file, formal complaint, whatever. Some things she said led me to believe that he had done it before, before she was the chair, and she wanted to see that it never happened again. Looking back, I should have taken him to the faculty disciplinary committee, but you know how it is. You just want it to stop, and want to do whatever is quickest. So we went with a warning letter in his file, and left it at that formally. And I warned all the other female students not to get near him, and he retired a year after that.

    Lots of other little things, of course. But those were the worst.

    • Of course…. How miserable is it that there’s a hierarchy of these things, even within our own lives? Thank you for this.

      • What’s so odd is that reading the stories here, I am suddenly reminded of things that I have mentally put into the category of “X acting like a jerk” instead of “X harassing me” because they happened at times/places/situations in my life when I felt confident and in control, and because I could remove myself from the situation or get back at X with little trouble. But one of them involved my having to leave a congregation I had been attending and enjoying because a guy would not stop hitting on me — looking back, that’s a big deal, isn’t it? Yet because it pissed me off rather than alarming me or confusing me, I’ve categorized it as “not harassment.” We are so utterly socialized not to complain about this stuff.

        • “We are so utterly socialized not to complain about this stuff.”


          Ugh. I can’t stand that even as you stood before your Creator, you had to fend this shit off. I suppose that’s not news, really (hello Catholic Church and various other men of the cloth), but still.

          • Once he started playing with my earrings during the silent Amidah, I was out of there. (See, I still think it’s more funny and annoying than anything else, but for this to have been going on and on and no one in the congregation to have said anything about it? Not good.)

  5. Here’s one I can tell without making myself sick.

    I did a lot of babysitting when I was younger. I really loved it. Most of my connections came from the school I went to, which was a K-8 Catholic school — families with children in either the regular school or the Sunday school attached to the church really liked hiring babysitters from the church. One family I worked for had three children who weren’t much younger than me; they lived two blocks up the street in a very quiet suburb. I was about thirteen when I started working for this family. I didn’t like the mother — she spoke openly about reading her children’s journals, things like that.

    I liked the father less. He was touchy with me. He liked to fold me into hugs and hold me there and smell my hair or rub the small of my back. He was a big guy. I’d try to jokingly evade or slip out of his grip. He’d tighten his arms. He’d walk up behind me when he and his wife got home and stroke his fingers through my hair or kiss the top of my head. He’d openly stare when I was in the backyard hoola-hooping with the kids. He’d insist on driving me home (yes, two blocks at 9 pm in the quietest suburb around). On the drive, he’d stroke my arms. He liked to touch my face. He liked to tell me how nicely I was growing up. He liked to talk about how cute my school uniform was (his own children attended public school). When I’d insist on walking home or dodging away from him, he’d make a sad face and chase me down — unless his wife was in the room.

  6. The boss that threatened to take me upstairs to a hotel room and show me how old he was all night long when I teased him about it being his birthday.

    The other boss I found in the office passed out in a poll of his own vomit wearing nothing but his boxers. When he woke up he asked if we had slept together last night.

    The other other boss who invited me back to his place to check out his hot tub.

    The truck driver who grabbed both my ass cheeks as I bent over to push the motor case out of the truck. He wore my handprint across his face for the rest of the gig.

    The one coworker who took me aside and tried to lecture me that my job wasn’t to be on gigs, but to be home making nice dinners for my BF, and looking after him. I wish he’d worn my handprint across his face for the rest of the gig.

    The countless male coworkers who belittled me, gave me crass nicknames behind my back, and treated me like I was never going to be as good as they were because I was “hot.” The ones who took gear I was carrying out of my hands because I obviously couldn’t carry things myself because I was female.

    The knowledge that when the opening finally came to leave the field and go into the office, I would be first in line chosen, because “girl need jobs they can take maternity leave from when they are older.” For that at least, I was thankful.

    • I am so glad that one of them wore a handprint. That is as it should be. I wish you hadn’t had to deliver it.

      Thank you, ani.

  7. corkingiron

     /  November 9, 2011

    I left this post at TNC’s and thought I’d add it here.

    When I was teaching, I tried to get at this [conversation] via a slightly different route. I would talk about my own experience listening to my wife and her friends talk about good places to walk (she’s an inveterate hiker) – I realized that one of their primary concerns was how “safe” it was at various times of day. And I realized that – if I felt like getting out of bed in the middle of the night and going walkabouts, that was a question I never had to consider.

    Then I would ask the girls in my class (all senior kids – 17 – 18 years old) if they could remember when they first learned that the world wasn’t safe for them. The stories were varied, but with a familiar enough theme. No one was revealing any violent sexual assaults or traumas – just the more ordinary female need for wariness. Being followed; being groped; being propositioned in really inappropriate circumstances.

    The boys in the class were required to remain silent for the first half hour. Then they were allowed to speak. I could see by their initial looks of frustration and chafing that they wanted to make the standard arguments – but I would just stop them and say “you’ll get your turn”. The accumulation of stories was such that, by the time the boys had a chance to talk – they had more questions than answers.

    I particularly remember one young man – a really decent kid – turning to the girl beside him and saying “you act like we’re all potential rapists”. God bless her, but her response was pitch-perfect. She smiled sweetly at him and said “until I know you, how can I be sure?”

    He turned to me and said “we should be having more discussions like this”.

    I still agree with this sentiment. Some day I would like to see a thread than can honestly try and dissect the ways in which we have conflated (or confused) the erotic with power. I hope for a day when all of our sexually naughty terminology describes something you do with somebody instead of something that’s done to somebody.

    • Those kinds of conversations, at the middle- or high-school level, strike me as absolutely crucial to getting closer to actually resolving this issue. We have to teach men and boys, not just empower girls and women. Thank you for facilitating some of those conversations (and no doubt changing the lives of many young people on the way).

      • corkingiron

         /  November 9, 2011

        Thank You Ma’am. What I provided was a safe place to have the conversation. They did the rest. Just like what you’re doing here.

    • efgoldman

       /  November 10, 2011

      Why did you stop teaching? Too much common sense for the system?

      • corkingiron

         /  November 10, 2011

        Spouse got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity across the country – so I decided – after thirty years – to see what else might be in the cards.

  8. I was trying to remember when and how I learned to be wary, to have “street smarts,” or whatever and I honestly can’t. I took a bus from DC to Philadelphia when I was fairly young, like 10 or 11, to visit a friend laid up with a broken leg (and because my mother took that “shooing out of the nest” thing waaaaaay too seriously). I remember that she took me aside before the trip to tell me that if anyone “bothered” me that I should go tell the bus driver. No clue that the bus driver might be the problem and/or another problem. I got the sense that the bothering would be done by a man but absolutely no idea what “bothering” meant. Nothing happened; I think I sat next to an older white woman much like my grandmother (a woman who may well have been younger than I am now, gulp). For much of my adult life I’ve lived in cities, and without a car, so I’ve been out in public more than a lot of women my age/class and I’ve experienced next to no street harassment. Less than most women I know, certainly. When I was a lot younger and thinner I was often mistaken for a boy, even at fairly close range, and I think that protected me a lot. [I’ve always pretty much exclusively worn boys or men’s clothes as they fit me better and are much better made for the money]. Now that I’m older and heavier I’m invisible to men, unless they’re smart enough to look 🙂

    I have never been raped.

    When I was 16 I went to Europe with 4 other 16 year olds, 2 boys 3 girls total. In Rome a man/boy grabbed both my breasts, like honking one of those balloon horns, and then ran off. I’m sure I was not wearing a bra at the time, and I had AA or even AAA breasts at the time, so it was possible to grab everything there was down to my chest wall. It hurt quite a bit. I was so utterly astonished that it took a minute to register exactly what had happened. To be honest, still today and really ever since it happened it felt less like a sexual assault and more like an assault-assault. Hit and run. Maybe because there was exactly 0 sexy in it — to me — and because it took exactly 5 seconds? Dunno.

    When I was debating whether or not to go to graduate school, I went back to my alma mater for a visit to talk to the faculty in the philosophy department. A guy I had taken a lot of classes from, and who had supervised an independent study I’d really enjoyed, told me he didn’t think I was graduate school material. He said it kindly and he gave some reasons, but in the course of the conversation — this is a guy who’d known me for five years, whose house I’d been in for dept. dinners, whose wife I knew and whose kids I’d met — he said, “I always thought you were one of the “good lesbians;” you know, the kind who doesn’t really hate men.” It didn’t feel like a come on, exactly, but it creeped me the hell out.

    Looking back from the vantage of 30 years, I think he’d had the most mild of crushes on me. He was *NEVER* inappropriate in any way prior to that conversation. I think he was trying to work out something in his own mind, and said something because I’d graduated and so we were now peers. It was complicated by the fact that I was still a supplicant — I wanted a letter of recommendation, which he said he would not write, but even then his decision felt separate from the creepy part.

    I told the only woman in the department (the fact that there was a woman philosopher in 1979 was something of a miracle, even though this was at a woman’s college). She talked to him about how I’d felt about the conversation, and reported back that he could understand why I’d thought it was too personal a thing to say.

    The kicker? He was right. I shouldn’t have gone to graduate school, and I went even though I was still deeply ambivalent in part to prove him wrong. So in a very backwards way, the harm — for shorthand let’s just call it the utter destruction of my entire professional life — was so wildly disproportionate to the degree of harmfulness of the actual incident it makes my head hurt.

    • Isn’t amazing how complicated these stories are. I’m working so hard to find a way to protect my kids without frightening them, and it can be so hard to find words that aren’t the equivalent of “bother” – and really mean “allow your life to be shaped by fear.”

      Thank you, Nora.

    • Persia

       /  November 11, 2011

      Goddamn, I am just now remembering the boy who snapped my bra pretty much daily in high school (I was an aide in gym, he was younger, none of us considered it much of a big deal at the time). I wore sports bras (for the t-back) for years because of him and I hadn’t even thought seriously about it as harassment before now. (Nothing, of course, compared to what others have experienced, but how quickly and completely I’d normalized it scares me a bit.)

  9. Bedelia Bloodyknuckle

     /  November 9, 2011

    I met this guy last week when we were both waiting for the elevator and he approached me and said hello, not wanting to be rude I said hello back and we both exchanged names and phone numbers, nothing past platonic, I just expecting a friendship. He called me the next day and asked if I would like to go to a movie and I said that I would like to go. The day of the movie I was kinda surprised that we were going to see a movie in his dorm room. I had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right but I ignored because I thought I was being paranoid. The movie started and he started putting his hands on my breasts, I told him to stop him but he just proceeded to touch me everywhere else -uninvited- then he forced me to touch his privates (Note: He is from South Africa). Even when I told him multiple times that I was uncomfortable and that I had a boyfriend, he didn’t listen and kept coercing me until I told him I had to go and I left. I reported him the next morning and several hours after I talked to the woman in charge of the harassment cases at my university, he kept calling me and attempting to apologize to me for what happened that night. I have not forgiven him nor do I plan to. The people at my university said that they would move him to the other side of the campus so that he is a good distance from me My counselor advised me to press charges against him for sexual assault and I still have not decided whether I should or not

    • Spiffy McBang

       /  November 9, 2011

      I would recommend filing a report and then seeing where the process goes. Unfortunately, and as you’re probably aware, the way these cases are treated by police tends to vary wildly by jurisdiction. If you’re ambivalent about it, I wouldn’t be surprised if you decided it’s not worth the trouble should the police you deal with not take you seriously, victim-blame, etc. However, more and more police departments take these charges seriously, treat victims with the appropriate respect, and investigate without being all up in your shit (like they do with, y’know, all other crimes). You won’t know what you’ll get, though, unless you take the first step and report what happened.

      • I’ve been working from my Blackberry all evening and somehow didn’t see this! Thanks for this Spiffy. While I think it really is the decision of the person violated, I am always so glad when people feel they can file reports.

    • I feel very strongly that the only people who can make the call on whether or not to press charges are the people who have lived through the experience. Please do whatever will lead to healing for you.

      I wish I had a dollar for every woman I’ve heard say “I thought I was just being paranoid/hyper-sensitive/overthinking”…. Thank you for telling your story here.

  10. AU

     /  November 9, 2011

    I’m thankful every day that I haven’t had to suffer the horror of being raped, and I count myself as one of the lucky ones. I really can’t even imagine how awful it must be to have to live with that forever, and it breaks my heart for those who do. The stories I have pale in comparison to theirs.
    But with all this talk of sexual harassment and how it doesn’t exist anymore, it seemed like the time to speak up. It does. For me, from about the sixth grade, it just seemed like a fact of life. Can I count how many times someone stood too close, or touched me in unwelcome ways, or in some way tried to intimidate me in a sexual manner? Probably not. Especially after college. But the most memorable offenses have been in the workplace.
    When I was sixteen, I worked in a law office that handled real estate. One of the building contractors, who was probably around 40, kept trying to flirt with me, which culminated in him approaching me beside my car, grabbing my ass, and asking if he could take me out somewhere nice sometime. Of course, my reaction was to jump away and say, “Are you crazy? I’m sixteen. No. Aren’t you married?” To which he replied, “Well, I don’t mind if you don’t.” Luckily, he didn’t try to pursue me after I again made it clear that I was not interested, because no one was around, but it could have turned out very differently.
    More recently, I left a job because of it. I worked at a small company, one that required a lot of team activities and outings. One of my coworkers crossed the line and then some. He was always a touchy-feely kind of guy to everyone in the office. He would always find a reason to put his hand on your arm, or touch your shoulder, or try to give you a hug (despite being aware that it made me uncomfortable, because I told him, and it was glaringly obvious). But then it started getting worse. He would come sit on my desk right next to me, and I’d have to get up and walk away to make him move. On a team business trip, he cornered me and insisted that he walk me to my room, then tried to come in. Then one night, at yet another team dinner, he grabbed my ass in a buffet line at the country club. I had complained to the boss a few times, but after reporting that, I expected something to happen. The kicker was when the boss asked another coworker of mine whether I “was still mad about that.” Like I was going to just forget about it. It was at that point I figured it was time for another job, and I left shortly thereafter. My job now may drive me crazy, but the relief of not being sexually harassed on a daily basis is more than worth it.
    I’m still hopeful for a day when everyone is aware that no really means no.

    • One of the things that astonishes me with these stories is how much sheer energy goes into dealing with them. Imagine how much you could have given your employer if so many of your brain waves hadn’t had to be given over to the anxieties and fear of constant harassment?

      Thank you AU. I know this wasn’t easy to tell.

  11. At age 12. At age 20. At age 27.

    And every time, it was different and yet the same.

    Lots of good therapy and support, and I learned it wasn’t MY fault.

  12. I’ve been very lucky in this arena. Which is to say: I know that I am lucky, and that it’s mostly a matter of luck. I could just as easily have a lot more to tell, and it doesn’t reflect in any way on me, one way or another. I’m not savvier or wiser or more insightful: just luckier.

    Most recently, I was walking on the street near my office a few years ago, and a man passed me going the other way, and as he did so, a hand shot out and grabbed my breast.

    And then he kept walking. I said, “Hey!” but there was nobody around, no one had seen it.

    I reported it to building security, but there wasn’t much to be done. It was a crime of opportunity, soon over. In any event, it was more shocking than upsetting to me, and it’s just the sort of thing that happens to women. Which really really sucks.

    • This is what so frequently lost on people – these are crimes of opportunity, reflecting not on the person actted upon, but the person doing the acting.

      Thank you.


    This is the one I have talked about publicly. There were others during law school.

    • From moe99’s post: “Hell, I’m having a damned difficult time of putting it down here right now. Because I’ve seen what happens to women like Anita Hill. But if those of us who have experienced this type of treatment do not speak out about it, then it is like it never happened. And when someone does speak out, their experience is not recognized or validated.”

      This is exactly why I wanted to do this – because I know what keeps women silent, and I want so much for us to be able to help each other say our truths out loud.

      And from there, from the sheer mass of it, force the world to recognize and validate the all-too real experiences we have all described here.

      Thank you, moe.

  14. chingona

     /  November 9, 2011

    I consider myself lucky. I’ve never been raped. No one has tried to rape me. I’ve never faced a quid pro quo in a professional environment.

    I just have what nearly every woman has: the steady drip-drip water torture of being reminded that I’m my body first and only secondarily (if at all) a person.

    There was the guy in his pick-up truck who followed me more than a mile home when I was 13. There’s the dishwasher who worked at the restaurant where I bussed tables who pinned me against the counter and told me to bend over. There’s the manager at the hardware store who kept making comments about my breasts, but always in ways that allowed for plausible deniability (like, telling me to stand up straight and put my shoulders back or when a co-worker who was much taller than me but flat-chested asked to go on a smoke break, he told her she shouldn’t smoke because it was stunting her growth and then turned to me and said “You don’t smoke, do you? See.”)

    Since graduating from college and working at newspapers, I have experienced almost nothing that would qualify as harassment legally – nothing that my supervisors would have any control over. (Newsrooms can be pretty raunchy places, but I have a pretty raunchy sense of humor so I fit right in. Fortunately, I’ve worked at places where my co-workers understood that if someone else was being made uncomfortable, it would stop being good, clean fun.) But I’ve had a lot of inappropriate comments from sources. There’s a weird dynamic between reporters and sources. We’re younger, poorer and objectively less important than the people (mostly older men) whom we call up and bug with our impertinent questions. Making comments (either “flattering” or just calling me ugly) seems to be a way for many of these men to re-establish what they think the natural balance of power should be.

    • to re-establish what they think the natural balance of power should be.

      That is so often what it’s about, isn’t it? About reminding us of our place in the universe.

      Thank you for telling this.

  15. I want to throw this in here, because when I saw it about a month ago, it just blew me away: A video about the experiences of African American women with harassment:

  16. i left a comment over at TNCs place about one time i was sexually harassed at work. however: school. bus. street. many times on the street. work (for a good cause kind of work!). woods. i think what has saved me in all this is not just women who listen, but men who listen. and understand. i’ve been lucky to have many wonderful and supportive male friends in my life who do not stand. for. that. shit.

    • As important as it is for women and girls to be empowered and learn to claim their bodies and their rights, we really, really need the wonderful and supportive men of the world by our side. This is a battle for all of us, and if only half of us fight it, we’ll all lose.

      Thank you.

  17. bec

     /  November 10, 2011

    a summer in israel doing volunteer work and backpacking around when i was 19 or 20. a nice guy around my age who offered to drive my best friend to her dorm after we’d had a night of partying and we’d maybe get some coffee after. she told me to stay at her dorm because she had a funny feeling. i laughed it off and went with him anyway. instead of coffee, we went to the montefiore windmill in yemin moshe in jerusalem. to this day, i have no idea how i ended up in his back seat–i know that sounds lame, but we’d gotten out to see the windmill and admire the view. and then somehow i’d ended up in the back of his car. my only excuse is that maybe i was drunker than i’d realized. although there was penetration, i was somehow able to reason with him, talking about some guy doing this to his sister in order to get off of me and drive me back.
    i didn’t report it. back then, the israeli system, from what i understood, wouldn’t have done much and i would have been, or at least felt, further victimized.
    i knew where he worked and the next day, a few guy friends of mine went “to speak” to him. i don’t know what happened and at the time i didn’t ask, but i was assured that he wouldn’t be doing anything like that again.
    what killed me about the whole thing was that it was jerusalem, that he wore a knit kippah, that before it happened, i’d viewed him as a nice guy. and that even while it was happening i knew that if i reported it i’d be looked at as being a promiscuous american tourist, or this would be viewed as a “date,” or that because i had been drinking and partying, i was “asking for it.”

    i’m a fiction writer and this experience haunted me for years until i could finally turn it into a short story to get it out of my system. this is really the first time i’m writing it as it happened to me.

    • I’m glad you were able to do so — and thank you.

      I think what is often missed by larger society is how often we are threatened, harassed, or assaulted by people who scan as “good guys” — the guy in the kipa (and I can see in my mind’s exactly where this happened)! The guy helping me with my career! Whatever, whoever — it is often the very appearance of “goodness” that adds to our vulnerability, and leads to the betrayal.

      And makes it so much harder to convince anyone that what really happened, really happened.

  18. j_luck

     /  November 10, 2011

    I’ve never been raped.

    When I was sixteen, I spent the year abroad in a small town in Taiwan. I was one of five foreigners in town so I stood out a LOT, and my conversational Chinese was limited to talking about the weather. My first host family was ten kinds of awesome… and then I was moved. Rotary makes lots of noise about how their exchangees are put into fantastic homes and well taken cared of. My second host father was a divorced drunk. The only reason I had been allowed to stay there was the fact that his daughter was my age – we would be friends! Or, we would have, if she actually lived there. She spent her time at her mothers. (I don’t blame her for that.) When I first moved in, I had taken over the daughter’s room. I noticed the bolt lock on the inside of the door.

    I should have looked at that and run.

    He never touched me. He never said anything that would get him in trouble in the court of law or if I recited it back to a group of Rotarians. And really, would they believe me, the foreign girl, or the man they had picked to be the head of the club the next year?

    My host father would frequently drink himself to a stupor on the old green leather couch, which was pockmarked with cigarette burns. I was certain one of these days he would burn down the house.

    Some nights, he would drag himself up the stairs and stand outside my door. Breathing loudly. He would knock. And in the most terrifying broken English he would say things like, “Jane. Jane. If you need anything I am here. I am here for you if you need anything. Jane. I can help if you have problem.” Then he would say things in Chinese, things that I didn’t understand.

    I would lay there in bed, hidden under the covers and hugging a stuffed animal, the door bolted shut. I began to sleep with a cd player running, something I never did before or since.

    I had one saving grace in this whole debacle. M—-, another foreigner, a lovely girl from Denmark, was staying over for a week around Christmas. She and I were in bed, gossiping like teenagers at a sleepover are wont to do when he knocked on the door. I went silent. My host father went through his usual spiel and then finally left. M— turned to me, her expression undecipherable to my naive sixteen-year-old self. M— was older than me by 2 years. She looked at me and said, “How often does he do that?” I deflected. “Oh it’s nothing, every once in a while.” (I honestly didn’t keep track. It happened more than once, that was for sure.) “That’s really creepy. Do other people know about this?” She said.

    I got that it was creepy. It wasn’t until I was much older when I realized exactly how creepy it was. But at the time, I didn’t understand. I just didn’t. It had never even occurred to me, despite the fact that I locked the door every night and left the living room if he came and sat down next to me.

    I told M— that I was glad she had heard it and she could back me up to the Rotarians if something happened, even if my mind skittered away from whatever something might be. The conversation moved on – mutual bitching about how Rotary was a pain in the ass and how if you complained, everyone lost “face”. But it was always there between us, that she had seen this and called it for what it really was. To this day I’m thankful for that.

    I didn’t stay with that “family” very long. Only two and a half months. My first host mother checked up on me once a week. I could tell she was seriously unhappy about the situation, but I was independent and self-sufficient and I wasn’t going to rock the boat. I ate out for almost every meal. I spent all sorts of time and money so I could sit in restaurants and coffee shops so I wouldn’t be there. When I moved out to go on to my next family, she came and picked me up. In her very patient and simple Chinese, she apologized for making me stay there. That if it were up to her, I wouldn’t have been there at all. That she was sorry.

    I still think about that whole situation. As I said earlier, I didn’t quite understand the gravity of what was going on until I got more interested in feminist bloggers. It gradually dawned on me that this was definitely hinky, that there was something WRONG. It may not have been an outright sexual assault, but it was definitely not kosher behavior, that was for certain. My heart still beats faster when I think about it. I wasn’t raped. But I could have been.

    There but for the grace of God go I.

    (Sorry about the mini epic. I started writing and it’s like the floodgates opened.)

    • Please don’t apologize – sometime the floodgates need to open, and its good when they do.

      Isn’t it awful how universal these things are, and how trapped we are by other people who refuse to admit the dangers? The notion that you were in that much danger but could tell no one about it. That makes me crazy.

      Thank you.

  19. All of 5th grade. The boys in our class harassing the girls and the teacher telling us it wasn’t a big deal. My grandpa’s best friend was the school principal and he couldn’t even get the teacher (a woman) to take it seriously. To make it stop.
    Being 11 and out with my dad. A coworker saw us together and stopped to ask my dad who his girlfriend was. To say I was hot. My dad thinking it was a compliment and not a completely insane for an adult man to say about an 11 year old.
    Being 12/13 at a kids birthday party at a hotel pool. Because I was a kid and so were my friends. I got cold and jumped in the hot tub for a minute. Sitting in the hot tub alone, a drunk college-y age guy get in, leans in and drunk mumbles something at me and shoves his hand in my crotch. I shoved him back but didn’t tell anyone what happened.
    In high school I had mono, like crazy severe mono. My mom let my friends visit while she was at work. I woke up one day with a guy friend’s hands down my underpants.
    In college, at the park with my toddler cousin and my uncle. A homeless man wouldn’t stop following me until my uncle pretended to by my boyfriend. You see, when I told him I was 19 and with my uncle and cousin, I was fair game. But when I had a boyfriend I was someone’s property.
    Countless times out on a walk or run. On the bus or in a bar. Or at work or in class. Cops, firefights, the homeless, bosses, library patrons, students.

    • Thank you so much for this. It is just mind-boggling how often it can happen, and under what circumstances. The sexualization of little girls, the issue of whose “property” you are, the fact that unconsciousness is seen as opportunity. And all the adults who think it’s no big deal.

      Thank you.

      • Omigod. I’m just now looking at this and realizing I left out being molested by my stepfather. Because that wasn’t most upsetting. Not even close to the top of the list. We shouldn’t have to have these lists.

  20. mythopoeia

     /  November 10, 2011

    I’ve been extraordinarily lucky so far; no more than the usual run of catcalls and street harassment. Yet I still have that story that stands out.

    I was fifteen, at a lunch counter in the shopping center I had the freedom to walk to, pre-driver’s license. The shopping center that had my bookstore and the dry cleaner’s and the bagel place. Had been going there my whole life and thought of it as a place where the only possible harm that could come would be from cars going too fast in the parking lot. I had an egg salad sandwich and a milkshake for lunch; couldn’t have come to more than a few dollars, and it was money I had on me.

    When the server dropped the bill on the counter in front of me, a man a few stools away leaned over and said “Don’t worry, I’ve got it.” I was very confused. “No, really–” “No, don’t worry,” he said. “O…kay,” I said, still very confused, and got up and left and went home.

    When I got home, I related all this to my mother, who frowned, pursed her lips, and said “Sweetie, you shouldn’t let anyone do that again.” Not to blame me, just to warn me.

    It was then that I started realizing exactly how the world might view me.

    • “Sweetie, you shouldn’t let anyone do that again.”

      How awful is that. How awful is it that we have to move through the world on edge and afraid of what should merely be a kindness, and so often is not.

      Thank you for this.

  21. Marilyn

     /  November 10, 2011

    This is so disturbing. As I’ve been reading, I’ve kept remembering instances of similar harassment in my life–but I hadn’t considered them “harassment” before, because I wasn’t grabbed or groped. I just considered them part of the world/patriarchy, what you deal with as a woman.

    But — being constantly honked and yelled at as a preteen with my friends, when walking in our leotards and shorts to get snacks in between dance classes– that’s harrassment.

    When, on a high school trip to Europe, after telling one of the more flirty boys that I wasn’t interested in him and he proceeded to separate me from my friends on the bus and continue to touch me and give me shoulder massages that I would shrug out of, that’s harassment too.

    And, now, when I only think of the older man down the office hallway as “creepy” because he greets me with a knowing smile and “young lady” in the hallway and looks me up and down…that’s harassment. I’ve considered myself a feminist since I was 15, but it’s depressing that I didn’t even tally these up.

    • This is almost precisely what I was driving at by putting this up – the notion that we are so inured to this, it is so much the very air we breathe, that we barely even register it most days, unless it’s really egregious or violent. And even then, sometimes not.

      I’m sorry that this has been disturbing for you, but I hope it’s also been freeing in a way. Thank you for sharing your responses and your stories.

  22. watson42

     /  November 10, 2011

    I could list so many instances of harassment or assault. Perhaps because both my professional life and many of my hobbies are traditionally male-dominated. Or maybe I just have a big sign over my head that says “fuck with me”? And for some reason I’ve been someone other people have come to for advice when it’s happened to them so I hear a lot.

    Anyway, I don’t feel comfortable talking about harassment/assault in my personal life, so I’ll stick to my professional life.

    The worst instance: I was once assaulted by an IT guy at a company I worked for. I was working late, there weren’t many people around. He came into my office as I was writing on the whiteboard, cornered me, grabbed/groped me and kissed me. He felt justified because he had heard something about me in a private setting (he was the in the same social circle as an old friend of mine) that made him decide I was “fair game.”
    The scary part is that he knew HR wouldn’t do anything since the HR person (female) would tell sexist jokes with the management team and had turned a blind eye to instances of sexual harassment she had personally witnessed. He was right.

    The environment at that company was so bad that when the men woujld talk about how great the company was (to prospective hires,etc) the women would say to each other, “if only they could hear the conversations in the women’s restroom.” It was the group therapy/support group room for sexual harassment since it was the only safe space on the premises. Many women at that company didn’t last very long.

    At another company I worked at, I was propositioned my first week on the job by one of the more senior people. He backed off quick when I was fast with the sarcastic reply and he never bothered me again. But he was so bad one of my more junior colleagues refused to even attend meetings where this guy would be present. His reputation was well known, so her boss excused her from meetings, but it hurt her professionally not being in team meetings. The senior guy was valuable enough to the company that AFAIK there were no repercussions for him.

    • I’ve said this before, but I really wonder if those in positions of authority in business — even the good people, the ones who would never accept or be a party to any such behavior — have any idea how much of our energy and creativity is lost because we have to spend so much of our time and psyche on this kind of thing. Imagine how much better work would be, how much more could get done, if this weren’t going on?

      Thank you for telling this. Thank you.

      • watson42

         /  November 10, 2011

        I think many would be horrified. But I also think many would not be. In my experience, the culture is set by the C-level management team. Companies with a hostile culture are probably that way because management condones it, conciously or no.

        The thing is, having participated in upper-management meetings as the only woman and the most junior person I learned something really interesting and disturbing. One way men, at least, signal to each other they are the ones in power is to act/speak/behave inappropriately. Bascially saying, “I can say/do this because I am so powerful there will be no consequences.” To them, it’s just business – no matter how it affects those around them – and one of the “perks” of leadership they feel they’ve earned. I’m not even sure they notice they’re doing it. My sample size is small, this was at two closely affiliated companies, but I wonder how pervasive it is.

        • This immediately made me think of George W. Bush and his habit of giving people nicknames. “I am so powerful, I can call you whatever the fuck I want and you can’t do anything about it.”

          I have a sudden feeling it’s more pervasive than we know.

  23. efgoldman

     /  November 10, 2011

    I stopped reading after RosaMN upthread.
    Not that I don’t believe each and every one of you.
    I do. Absolutely and unconditionally.
    As a husband and father, it made me too sad and too mad to keep going. Especially here at work, surrounded in cubeville as i am.
    I have often told my daughter that I’m not proud of some ways in which I acted as I was coming of age in the 60s and early 70s.
    But you know, I might have been verbally inappropriate (although I never, ever remember doing the “construction workers whistling and yelling” cliche thing.) But I don’t ever remember doing grabass or breast fondling or any of that stuff. Ever.
    In the early 70s (before I met mrs efgoldman) I dated a feminist who lived in a house full of feminists, in Cambridge. They educated me, a lot. And fairly gently, too.
    I guess we shouldn’t be any more surprised that this crap goes on, than we are about the racism that’s obviously still out there, or homophobia, or any of the other tribalisms. Except: Men and women are supposed to be from the same damned tribe!
    Thanks all of you for sharing some very painful things. My hope is that in each case the sharing was at least a little cathartic, and made your past a bit more past.

    • I am – befuddled. I don’t understand how this goes on without other men who claim to be lovers of women as people either don’t see this, or see it and don’t do anything about it.

      And yet, of the women I talked to today, not a single one said “this kind of stuff has never happened to me.”

      Yeah, my eyes are open a bit, but was I just not listening? Paying attention?

      • efgoldman

         /  November 10, 2011

        Yeah, my eyes are open a bit, but was I just not listening? Paying attention?
        I think for some men, its willful, whether we are participants or just moving through the world.
        Coming over here from TNC’s place, as most of us have, we can see a clear analogy to casual racism or casual homophobia).
        I’m not the same guy I was in the 70s (thank FSM), but I’m 66 now, with an adult daughter.
        Unfortunately, for every guy like you, and me, and corkingiron, there are innumerable guys of the other kind. Not malicious (that’s a separate category), just f*ing ignorant.
        I got no solutions. Hell, when the Civil Rights movement was winning the major legislative and court battles in the 60s, I was young enough and naive enough to believe that the major battles had been won. I had no thought that major skirmishes would still be going on forty years later.
        I’m getting to be a pessimistic old man (sorry, Emily, I know that’s not in your nature. Can’t help it.) I’m thinking this kind of @ssholery is just part of the human genome, and like Sysiphus, we are well and truly hosed, forever.

        • “I got no solutions” he says, even as he is part of the solution.

          My optimism, such as it is, rests entirely in moments like this. Two men talking about what they hadn’t considered a year, a week, a day ago about the lives of women. In its essence, it’s the only way change has ever happened, or ever will.

          I have no doubt that we will always have sickness in human society — but I do believe that we are getting closer and closer to a critical mass of us understanding that this particular sickness is, in fact, pathology, and should be given no quarter.

          If only for my daughter’s sake (and my son’s), I have to believe that.

      • I think this really is a lot like so many other things that outside our ken – it’s hard to really pay attention to something that you genuinely don’t know is going on. And it’s hard to know it’s going on, if we don’t talk about it. I think that, as a society, we have a great, broader need to just acknowledge that there are libraries’ worth of information to which we are not privy about other kinds of people. To go into conversations assuming that we are ignorant, rather than not. I think your eyes have probably been pretty far open, as far as they could be, a lot farther than most, and now they’re open farther still.

        And I’m grateful that you’ve been talking to women about it today. That’s where the change happens.

      • Once I was out drinking with my boyfriend and his best friend. We were walking to a new bar when a truck drove by and the passenger shouted at me “how much for the night”. I was super upset and the guys just didn’t hear it. Because the men in cars are never shouting at them. I need to listen to what the men in cars are shouting at me, because that’s information I use to determine how to remain safe. They don’t need that information, so they didn’t hear it.

        • “They don’t need that information, so they didn’t hear it.”

          This helps, Jennifer.

          But I don’t know that I’m going to be able to hear it. Like you say, it’s not something I need to hear, and it will take conscious effort to try to listen.

          • I don’t know that you need to hear it, but if someone tells you what they hear – listen and believe. I’ve been told way too many times that I misheard, misunderstood or was lying. I don’t need my dude friends to hear every time I’m harassed but I do need them not to ask if I’m serious.

  24. DeboT

     /  November 10, 2011

    On a long car ride I confessed to my sister that I had been sexually molested when I was 4 years old by a friend’s father. She admitted she had been molested by the same man.
    I told her I’d been grabbed by the school’s custodian when I was a Freshman in high school and he forced his tongue into my mouth. The same thing had happened to her.
    I never told an adult. Neither did she. With the custodian, I didn’t want my father to know because I was afraid he might do something rash and end up in trouble. She had the same feeling. I remember when about 15 years after the fact I heard that the custodian had died that it made me feel better. She felt the same way.
    Neither of us had ever shared this with anyone before. It made me realize that this sort of thing must happen to young girls and women more that I ever knew. It shaped the way I looked a men for a long time and to some degree, on some level, I imagine it still does.
    I’m 60 now.

    • The fact that both of you had the same experiences with the same men is particularly poignant. This is why we are so conditioned to keep silent and be ashamed — because it allows those who are responsible to continue doing what they do. I’m so glad you shared your stories with each other. Suddenly seeing that you understood each other in those crucial moments seems like a very important thing.

      Thank you for telling this.

  25. Neocortex

     /  November 10, 2011

    During a period of unemployment (not very long ago) I went to a local career fair/networking event, hoping to get interviews out of it. I talked to a couple of guys who had founded a startup that seemed right up my alley. We had a great conversation. I was so pleased when one of them got back to me a week or so later! He really wanted to talk to me about a job opportunity.

    He wanted to meet in some cafe. He was communicating by text message, and the tone seemed…weird. I was a little uneasy, but it’s hard to read tone over text message. What wasn’t hard to read was when he suggested that we could talk further about a possible job with him in my bed.

    Harassment was a huge problem at my middle school. Girls were constantly being groped, cornered, spanked, in the halls and gym. Teachers said something if they noticed, but they rarely made much effort to notice. I was standoffish and willing to fight – no particular valor on my part; I was lucky to know that I had parents who would back me up if I got suspended for hitting a guy who was harassing me, and to be able to draw confidence from that, unlike a lot of other girls. So I was almost never a direct target. I spent a lot of time attempting to rescue other girls, by fighting the boys.

    Though the teachers rarely stopped it, apparently the school did notice that it went on. They responded with a policy that girls’ shorts and skirts had to reach below their fingertips with arms fully extended. I was told, directly, that the reason for this policy was to stop sexual harassment (it didn’t). When I suggested that some sort of policy aimed at the boys might be more appropriate, I got an answer about the 7th-grade-boy hormones.

    Also in middle school, our band was at a competition in another state. We were the only middle school band – everyone else was in high school. There was a big party going on after the awards ceremony. I was shy and awkward and not much of a partier, so I sat on the sidelines. A high school boy, 17 years old (I was just shy of 13), came over and started talking to me. I thought it was so nice that he wanted to talk to me. We talked for half an hour. Then he asked me to come to his hotel room to drink with him and his friends. I was naive and it didn’t occur to me that he had anything but friendly intentions, but I also didn’t drink, didn’t want to get in trouble, and was too shy to want to hang out with a group of strangers, so I said no, even after he asked me a few more times. I still do not know what his intentions were. I didn’t realize for another five or six years that they might not have been innocent.

    Also in middle school (hmm, there is a pattern here), there was a boy, another 7th-grader, that I became friends with. He was bullied, and I stuck up for him, to the point of getting in between him and another boy ready to throw a punch. I sat in front of him in band class – I played the sax, he played the trumpet. He always wanted to hang out with me, and after a while I realized that he had a crush on me, but I didn’t think anything of it. But then he kept getting in my personal space, all the time, and he kept touching me, all the time. He kept touching me and getting closer and closer to me, and I would cringe and recoil, and he would ask me what was wrong and why I was so jumpy, and the other kids would watch us and laugh. He fetishized me in a weird way – he was Orthodox Jewish, and he used to talk about how my Jewish side (I am mixed) was clearly why I was so smart and deep, but he saw me as transgressive because the “wrong” parent was Jewish, so I was forbidden fruit. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings – I would fight random boys who tried anything, but I didn’t know how to deal with it from a friend, someone who didn’t have other friends. We went on a field trip to some sports center and I was miserable the whole time, because it was so unstructured, I had no way to keep him away from me, and he spent the whole day following me around and touching me and wanting to be alone with me. After that I started intentionally “forgetting” to get permission slips for field trips signed.

    • I remember once, while in a mixed group of high school girls and boys, being told by an authority figure that it was the responsibility of girls’ to keep boys’ minds off sex. That if we wore tight sweaters, we were making it hard on them, so it was up to us. Even at the time I remember thinking that was off-base — I swallowed it on some level, because I liked and respected the adult who was passing this wisdom on — but honest to God, it’s just madness. Right: Longer skirts and baggy sweaters are what stand between us and molestation. We are what stand between our bodies and the immoral demands of certain men.

      Thank you for these stories. I think they show, in part, why it’s so important that we start these conversations young — the boys who were treating you and the other girls like objects were following social clues that they had been taught were valuable. If we teach our boys different things, they will behave differently. (The text-messaging creep clearly hadn’t been taught those different things…).

      Thank you.

  26. Lise

     /  November 10, 2011

    I find I don’t even want to tell the stories any more. I ‘m glad women are telling the stories. I have no doubt that every thing that happened to me happens to girls and women today. My stories are not unusual or particularly horrible, they’re just commonplace sickening. I recently tried to explain to my husband what a relief it is to women to have the combo of caller ID + internet, because we never get the random sexual abuse phone calls we used to get. Now those guys don’t need to call and heavy breathe at a stranger because there are so many other ways to use women’s images online. And that’s a relief not to be afraid of the phone in that way any more. My husband was baffled. He said, “That used to happen?” Yes, all the time.

    • !! I forgot about the obscene phone call I got!

      When I was in high school (in that room you and I used to share, but it was my senior year, so you were long gone), I was woken in the middle of the night by an obscene phone caller who claimed to be someone I knew. I inadvertently gave him just enough information (“Is this XYZ?”) to allow him to continue to act like he knew me (“Yes, it’s XYZ.”) and so there I was, stuck on the phone with this person who I thought was someone I cared for and who had clearly lost his damn mind on some level — while obviously, the dude was whacking off. I can’t remember how I got off the line eventually, but it took about 24 hours and a horrible conversation to determine that it hadn’t been XYZ, and it left me feeling shaken and awful for days and days.

      Holy crap, I had entirely forgotten about that. Tell my delightful brother in law that yes, indeed — it really did happen.

      • Persia

         /  November 11, 2011

        My mother was harrassed by a guy for a while, one in particular, when I was a kid. I never found out the full details. (And that leaves out the guy she worked for who was notorious for ‘grabbing’ the waitresses.)

  27. David L

     /  November 10, 2011

    In case the name doesn’t clue you in, I’m a male, and a gay one.

    I’ve been groped uninvited more than a few times, with reactions ranging from “Woo! Jackpot!” to “Whoa, tiger, you’re hot but we don’t know each other well” to “Dude, my having a conversation with you does not necessarily indicate that I’m at all interested in you.”

    I also get the guys who skip the flirting and get straight to the point. My reaction is generally, “Well, now that you’ve said exactly what it is you want to do to my dick and/or ass, could you at least tell me your name?”

    There’s a certain level of straightforwardness about sex and open libidinousness in the gay community that I consider good, but at other times it turns into accepting and even tacitly encouraging this kind of stuff.

    • I’ve often wondered about this – about how two men, conditioned in the same society in which I came of age, and with similar biological components, assay the kinds of issues and questions of boundaries and — well, pretty much what you describe here! And I wonder how it will be different in 20 years.

      Thanks, David.

      • David L

         /  November 10, 2011

        I tend to see gay male culture as a distillation of the socialization and/or biology of men, and like distilling a liquor, it takes qualities that are already there and makes them stronger; for a lot of those, both good and bad apply. We are happy to objectify others, but we are happy to be objectified and to objectify ourselves. We celebrate promiscuity, but we don’t have slut-shaming. We are sex-positive, but we can turn the non-sexual into the sexual. We self-segregate by appearance, but it also lets people with body types that don’t fit the general societal mold feel sexy and appreciated (specifically, things like the bear community.)

        The boundaries end up being very ill-defined. A stranger acting like he’s entitled to say or do what he wants to me is going to get a different reaction from me depending on whether he’s cute and I’m looking for Mr. Right Now or whether he doesn’t appeal to me and I’m just out socializing.

      • David L

         /  November 10, 2011

        And on the 20 years thing, it will be different. 20 years ago, the gay community was the survivors of AIDS and those who had come of age during the AIDS crisis, so safe sex ruled the day. These days, where AIDS is a chronic condition and not a terminal illness, there are guys who flat-out refuse to use condoms and occasionally there will be a story making the rounds about an outbreak of syphilis among gay men in San Francisco or chlamydia in New York or gonorrhea here in Austin.

        • I was the first Israeli journalist to interview people with HIV back in the day, eventually becoming good friends with a few of my interviewees, and in the meantime, of course, most of them are now dead.

          The notion that young men are now refusing to use condoms just makes me want to weep.

  28. Haley

     /  November 10, 2011

    Im pretty, petite, and have large breasts. I cant count the times Ive been grabbed, groped, fondled, dry-humped, kissed, shown genitals, made lewd comments to, or otherwise harrassed. Everyone from cops to peers, to bosses, to teachers, friends, customers, the grocery clerk, etc. A man who flirted with me in a Target FOLLOWED ME TO MY HOME. I now have two daughters. I hope to teach them what no one taught me, that I dont have to be a nice girl and put up with it.

    • Oh God, the breasts. Part of why I wish mine were smaller is because they would simply draw less attention. I’ll never forget the college party I attended in the year I took off between high school and college during which a man spent the entire conversation (it was brief) staring at my chest and at one point said “So, are you a… sophomore?” And I felt like asking “You got that from my chest measurements?”

      The urge to put up with it, in the name of being nice… Awful. Awful. And so hard to teach the opposite in a society that still demands it.

      Thank you.

      • Neocortex

         /  November 10, 2011

        Augh, yes. That one is unwinnable – if you have small breasts, people will mock you for that. If you have large ones…I’m a 34DDD, and no, strange middle-aged man in the grocery store parking lot, I don’t actually appreciate it when you yell “Nice rack!”

        Also they make it hard for me to carry large boxes at chest height. On the plus side, if I can get the large boxes high enough, I can use my breasts to support some of the weight from the box.

  29. Ash Can

     /  November 10, 2011

    Count me among the many here who have been lucky enough never to have been seriously assaulted, but who have been subjected to the usual, drearily consistent, countless indignities and insults over the years. What stands out for me in this thread — other than the courage of the women telling their particularly awful and harrowing stories — is the surprise on the part of a couple of the male commenters that this sort of thing is as ubiquitous as it is. And I don’t mean that in an accusatory way. Quite the opposite; I enthusiastically applaud them for their own discovery processes and initiatives in this area. What I mean is, I guess I never realized that men didn’t know this. And it goes without saying that David L’s comment was informative to me as well.

    So I learned things from this thread myself. 🙂

    • the usual, drearily consistent, countless indignities and insults over the years. That’s it right there, isn’t it. At a certain point, on top of everything else, it’s just fucking boring. Just STOP already!

      Thanks, and I, too am grateful to hear from the men. I think I’d better go tell them that!

  30. wearyvoter

     /  November 10, 2011

    There was a guy in my junior high school (in the early 1970s) who would reach forward to the girl sitting in front of him, and grope, his hand attempting to tunnel under your butt to your crotch. We flinched away before the hand got that far. It didn’t matter if you were a cheerleader or a nerd: If you were female, you were fair game. If you were unlucky enough to be seated directly in front of him, your best defense was to jam a book behind your back so that there was something in his way until you could complain about him after class. (It didn’t occur to any of us to whirl around and slap him.) We ‘d complain to the teacher. Groper would get sent to the counselor’s office. He’d get suspended for a few days. He’d be readmitted to class. He’d be seated out of groping distance if there was enough space in the class. It got to be like swatting a fly that just wouldn’t go away. I only had him in the one class, but we all knew he did this in all of the classrooms he was in, and the faculty knew about him, but at that time, in that place, it didn’t seem like anyone had much recourse. He was an annoying, gropey boomerang.
    I have no idea what finally happened to him.

    • Wow, isn’t that just a special kind of crazy. I wonder what the response would be today. Holy crap. If I heard anyone had done that to my daughter in the middle of a classroom and he was still in school? I would lose my everloving shit. Before this thread, it had never occurred to me to think about teaching her when slapping is absolutely appropriate. I think that when she’s a couple of years older, I will.

      Holy wow. Thank you.

      • wearyvoter

         /  November 11, 2011

        I’d like to think that if one of us girls had had the nerve to deck him that we would have avoided being suspended ourselves. At the very least, it would have been good to have said loudly, even in mid-class, “Get your hands off of me, right NOW!!!!”

        Parents complained. I know mine did, and my dad was one of the last people that I would think of as being reticent. I recall the teachers were feeling frustrated about what little they could do.

        These days, there would probably be expulsion, maybe a referral to a psychiatric facility, because this kid had serious boundary and impulse control issues.

  31. Good commentary from a woman athlete who defended the University of CO sports program in 2004 and has serious regrets:

  32. Darth Thulhu

     /  November 11, 2011

    I was an eager academic beaver in my youth, and went abroad on scholarship while still a minor the summer after my freshman year of college. Took part in a summer college language course in Spain. Visited family in Paris afterward, travelled on a Eurailpass with friends in the program. Several hotel and hostel proprietors would hang out by the train stations, offering assistance to late travelers getting settled.

    My flight home was from Madrid. I split with friends in Paris, and began transit south. Arriving late at night in Bordeaux, the day before my evening flight from Madrid, I took one of the hostel proprietors up on the offer of overnight accommodations. This was the first, and last, time I would do so alone (without traveling companions) … as a guy, what proceeded came completely out of left field and without context. What were, in retrospect, obvious warning signs, instead went completely over my head.

    The hostel owner molested me. After securing my luggage, he began making advances to which “no” would not be an acceptable answer. He knew I was American far from aid, he knew I absolutely needed to travel early in the morning, he knew I would not make legal trouble, he knew he had my belongings hostage.

    When he learned I had a girlfriend, that didn’t slow him down in the slightest. When he learned I was underage, this enhanced, rather than detracted from, his ardor.

    I negotiated my rape in comically poor French, trading tears and enduring touches to reduce my sentence from penetration to lesser forms of molestation. I wasn’t forced to kiss him, and wasn’t forced to do anything that might argue that I took any kind of pleasure from the proceedings. Eventually, my captor sated, I was able to get my things, flee the location, and spend the remainder of the sleepless night at the train station, awaiting the train to Madrid and the plane home.

    For years, I told no one.

    Girlfriend and my relationship fell apart swiftly under my consequent depression, and she never learned the details. My sibs were too young to tell. My Dad, if told, would tell Mom, and for many reasons my Mom was absolutely out of the question at that point. Eventually I had friends I could confide in, but most people knew nothing other than that I was a stickler fuddy duddy about travel safety, never quietly letting people travel alone and always guarding personal information with strangers in public settings. What could I tell them to explain the concern? Who would want to hear me rant about how uncivilized brutality is always, always on the table, even in the most civilized of places? Who would want me to explain how I knew that fact so intimately?

    And so almost no one knows, outside of a quasi-anonymous Internet pseudonym.

    • I am sorry, my friend. That is a pain we shouldn’t have to experience, and it’s a theft of your enjoyment of life – to have to be on guard and limited in what you do because of your memories.

    • I’m so sorry, Darth. No words. Just a hug and silent sympathy.

    • Thank you so much for telling your story here, dear Darth. I’m going to cut and paste it into the second thread as well – this kind of honesty is painful, but so important, among men as well as women.

      Thank you.

    • wearyvoter

       /  November 12, 2011

      I am so sorry.

  33. michigan_reader

     /  November 11, 2011

    As with so many others, so many of these things are only just now registering as harassment for me. Also, as so many others have mentioned, I consider myself one of the “lucky ones.” But I feel inspired to write out some of what I’ve experienced. Thank you all for sharing.

    When I was in fifth grade, I got a phone call from a strange boy or man (I’m not sure how old the caller was) whose name and voice I didn’t recognize. “Hi! Want to hang out?” he asked. “Who are you?” I asked. “Oh, I’m [Steve, or whatever the name was, I don’t remember], I know you from school.” I couldn’t think of anybody named Steve. “I’m not sure, I don’t think I know you…” “Oh yeah, I’ve seen you around at school lots of times. How about we hang out?” I was confused. “Um…let me ask my parents.” “Oh, don’t tell your parents! This will be our secret!” Then I hung up. I’ve never told anybody about that. Actually I haven’t thought about it in years, and now remembering it I’m getting a sick feeling. But I am so grateful that I knew something was wrong when he told me not to tell my parents. Thanks Mom and Dad for being the kind of parents such that the alarm bells rang for me, even though I’ll never tell you about that call.

    Middle school: getting my bra snapped by classmates, mainly. A soccer coach who threw soccer balls at my butt. A math teacher who would stare at me and would appear seemingly out of nowhere when I was alone after school at my locker, asking me questions that did not feel right. Probably other stuff I’ve blanked out.

    High school: I worked one summer at a dentist’s office when I was 15. One of the assistants, a 30 something man, frequently offered me neck rubs and massages, and commented on my appearance and clothes. Then there was one lunch hour where it was just me and him at the office (everybody else had gone out to lunch a few miles away, but I was too young to drive or have a car, and nobody invited me to join them). I ended up in this man’s car in the deserted parking lot. I got out of it.

    Twenties: One event that I’ve always blamed myself for was when I was walking home at around 4 in the morning in a small town. I was followed by a car for about 5 minutes, though it felt like an hour. The car would let me walk about 100 meters or so, then drive up and stop right next to me, start and stop, over and over. I was terrified. I stared straight ahead, kept on walking, fumbled for my keys, tried not to visibly tremble, tried to figure out what I would do if they actually got out of the car. But they didn’t. When I opened the gate the car just sat there. I remember running and feeling the headlights on me as I slammed the gate behind me. Then I chastised myself for walking alone at night, and figured I got what I deserved. And I know, deep down, that I shouldn’t think like that, but I still do, which sucks.

    • Thank you so much for telling these stories. This: Then I chastised myself for walking alone at night, and figured I got what I deserved saddens me so much, not just for you, but for all the many, many of us who have felt and still feel the same way.

      None of us deserves any of this, this is the fault only of those who refuse to treat women as fully human.

  34. annprof1

     /  November 11, 2011

    I was date raped as my first experience of real intercourse. I went to a small college far a away from home and although I didn’t realize it at the time I was very homesick. The guy was nice to me at a party and I was drunk and I went back with him to his dorm room. Having been raised the way I was, it didn’t occur to me that anyone would force himself on me. I’d made out with lots of boys and even young men (by age 18) and they’d never forced themselves on me. I called a close friend from home afterwards and she said, “If all the women who lost their virginity that way had a convention, we’d all be looking around saying Jesus Christ what’s going on here?” Another friend had the same thing happen to her in college. This was in the mid 70s.

    Three years later, after I’d left that college and was living in a studio apartment on a high first floor (not accessible except with a ladder), on a hot summer night when I had my windows wide open, a man climbed in the window and raped me. Since I knew instinctively he was capable of murder I did not fight much. Take it or die were the options. Also, since he was choking me I couldn’t scream. Afterwards he wanted me to turn my back so he could leave without me really seeing him. I refused because I felt as if by turning my back on him he could kill me. I went into the bathroom instead and sat with my back against the bathtub and my feet wedged against the door so he couldn’t get in. After a long while I called the Chicago police. They treated me with respect and consideration, probably because I was a young white woman who was assaulted in her own home and, I suspect, they knew there was somebody out there raping women in that area. Unlike most of these cases, this guy was caught. I identified him in a line-up. He not only raped more than 20 women, he murdered two, one by slitting her throat and the other by lighting her on fire. He is in prison for many lifetimes. I knew he was a killer, mostly because as he was raping me he said “Don’t do anything that will make me hurt you.” I knew “hurt” meant “kill.”

    Like Asiangrrrl, for many years I did the couch sleeping, the double-checking locks, the sitting bolt upright in the middle of the night, listening, listening. I can sleep with all lights blaring and did for many years. I live in a high-rise with a doorman now.

    Because he was a black man, I was afraid that I would be afraid of black men forever and hated that idea. It was vital for me not to see black male=rapist. I had good AA male friends that didn’t happen. What I found out is that many of my women friends had been raped. I found out a few of my male friends had, too. I never and still don’t feel ashamed of what happened. I knew it was not my fault.

    That is the extreme. In my current career I’ve never been harassed at work and I work with a bawdy bunch but it’s bawdy uncensored talk and never personal. But I’ve been groped on the el, a restaurant boss grabbed my breasts, I guy on a bike grabbed my ass as he was riding by–there are many of those experiences, including the “smile!” and “get a tan!” crap. Like my existence is to please someone’s desires. I am careful getting on elevators. A few days ago I was walking in Grant Park and got creeped out because it was empty.

    I’ve blistered women friends for letting male strangers in their homes without checking them out first. There’s a lot in my half-century of life.

    • Oh my dear. Thank you so much for this, thank you for doing what you did to keep yourself alive, thank you for calling the cops, thank you for saying loud and clear: Not.My.Fault.

      I’m so sorry that you had to do all those things, and so grateful to have your voice. Thank you, honey. Thank you.

      • annprof1

         /  November 11, 2011

        What’s interesting is that I rarely think about it. What’s sad is that while cataloging it it’s really kind of amazing. As in, wow, I went through that. Because i don’t feel like a victim. I was a victim at that time, but the status isn’t permanent. I’ve always like being female, liked my body, never envied men, never thought I needed to to not dress a certain way.

        What I learned from it all is that nobody has the power to ruin my life but me. That’s worth a lot.

  35. E Preisinger

     /  November 11, 2011

    I was raped by a short term roommate who was a medical school classmate. Twenty years ago. We didn’t know each other well–he was merely renting a room for the summer in a house I lived in. He was a couple of years ahead of me, a student leader advocating for issues in primary care, expanding access to medical care for underserved populations, and so forth.
    One evening I returned home, opened my door into my living room, all dark, and as I walked across the room on the way to my bedroom, I was pulled to the sofa, had my skirt lifted, my undergarments pulled down and the full deed done forthwith. All very quickly and perfunctorily.
    i didn’t resist. So unpredictable, so inexplicable– how could i not fear that violence might ensue? Don’t let this get worse, was all I could manage.
    Then we both retired to our respective bedrooms. Next day it was apparent, due to our shared answering machine, that we had both made appointments with the same student health service therapist (who responded with a disinterested “hmm” to my story, not a credit to the profession).
    I never reported or even discussed this with anyone outside the therapist and my other roommate at the time. Wouldn’t have been helpful to me. Wouldn’t have been believed. He returned to his small hometown and became a family practice and pediatric physician for lo these twenty years.
    And I’ve experienced the range of those other such occurrences, none so egregious as this one, which do make one wonder. It’s not so much about sex as about power, and protecting the institution through silence.
    When these dramas break onto the national stage–DSK, Herman Cain, Penn State–I’m thrown back. What would I do? Enough to contemplate that my attacker went on to a career in family practice medicine. If he had suddenly appeared running for president? Would I call Gloria Allred?
    So much silence. Thanks for listening.

    • The silence is what’s most deafening, isn’t it. I think of all the people who have no idea about these kinds of stories in the lives of people important to them, close to them — who have no idea that a man might feel he could simply grab you in your own home and then carry on as if nothing has happened. Meanwhile, “don’t let this get worse was all I could manage.”

      Thank you for telling this. I think pushing back against the silence is a very important thing.

  36. Sue

     /  November 30, 2011

    I have been sexually harrassed more times than I can even remember. The first time I do remember was when I was about 10-12 years old. My family rented a vacation home in West Virginia and I made friends with two girls about my age who lived on a farm down the street. Whenever I came over, their middle-aged uncle would try to put his arm around me and ask me things like, “Do you want to be my girlfriend?” I would wriggle out of his arms, walk away and laugh it off. Later one of the sisters told me in confidence that she woke up one morning and his tongue was between her legs. She said it was a secret and told me not to tell anyone. So I didn’t. In retrospect, I should have told my parents.
    As an adult, I endured many incidents of sexual harrassment: for instance, one of my professors in grad school put his hand on my breast when we were alone in his office. I was in shock and didn’t say or do anything at the time. He also had a paper of mine that he refused to give back, and he hinted that I could get a better grade if I wanted (he never spelled out how). I confided in a male friend who admitted later that he hadn’t believed me until that professor told him that I was a “bitch.” I went to a university psychologist, a man, who told me that I could file a complaint if I wanted. I never did. I don’t know why.
    A lawyer in a law office in Tel Aviv where I once worked as a typist said, when I was introduced to him as the new temp, “Such a pretty girl, I thought she’d come for something else.” When I got angry at him he tried to tell me I hadn’t understood his Hebrew. (Other people present confirmed that he had said what I understood.)
    Once when I was walking down a Cairo street alone two men passed me and one of them grabbed my breast so hard that it hurt. I ran away as quickly as I could.
    Another time I entered a restaurant in Tel Aviv and the manager or owner gave me a free cup of coffee. Then when I went to the bathroom he tried to follow me in. Fortunately, I was able to push the door closed and lock it before he could get in, and I left that place in a hurry.
    I could probably write a whole volume of similar experiences. I feel fortunate that I was never actually raped.

    • Thank you so much for telling your stories here. Even though I know that most of us have direct experience with harassment and/or assault, I never really considered the fact that most of us have copious experience with it. Over, and over, and over again. I honestly believe that the more we tell these stories, and the more we ask the men who love us (and even those who don’t) to listen, the closer we will get to the day when this kind of behavior is treated as the social ill it is.

      Thank you.

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