|razor wire at sunset|
(True) story ideas for a sexual harassment film:
- That day in history class in high school when a fellow student sitting next to me leaned over, ran his finger along my knee below my skirt and said with a smirk, "You need to shave."
- The afternoon in college when I was studying on a bench on a quiet path by a creek and heard a girl screaming. I ran towards the scream and found a young woman shaking because the jogger in red shorts who'd run past me had just exposed himself to her.
- That time at the end of college when a guy I'd started hanging out with—but not dating—put my hand on his (tiny) penis when we were alone together in his rented house. I waited a respectful (?) few seconds and then withdrew my hand, saying nothing, saying maybe, "We shouldn't."
- That crowded rush hour on the subway car in South Korea in my 20s when that young Korean solider in uniform put his hand on my ass, the train so tightly packed we were all forehead to armpit, and so I wasn't certain it was even his hand, though it was someone's. I couldn't speak Korean, anyway; I barely knew the alphabet.
- That night on Amtrak in California in my 20s when I was curled up in my seat, trying to sleep in my clothes (shirt and jeans), when I felt the Latino guy next to me stealthily cup my rear end, so softly he could claim it was accidental, though I knew it wasn't, his touch full of intent. I lay there for a few moments, heart pounding, wondering if it would be worth it to cry out and make a scene to wake up the sleeping passengers around us, only to have the guy claim, all innocence, that he'd touched me purely by accident, hinting nonverbally that I might be unhinged. So instead I pretended to be asleep and shifted around in my seat. We were both acting.
- The night in my late-30s when I was walking home in southeast Portland and some guy in a sports car swerved into an empty parking lot and started commenting, while hanging from his open window, about my "nice ass," while driving in circles in the lot, hooting and hollering. Afraid he was going to follow me, I started walking even faster and darted into another street.
- That Saturday afternoon in my late-30s when I showed up at a house party, and the host, my date's good friend whom I'd never met before, said, "I wish your shirt were as see-through as your bag," to which I replied, "So how come you guys drink so much?"
- That sunny afternoon near the Central Library in Portland in my early 40s when I ignored the compliments (aka street harassment) of a group of young white men, and then the leader, to regain his standing among the pack, started calling me a fucking stuck-up bitch—to my back as I was walking down the sidewalk, running an errand, minding my own business.
- The countless times I've been told by strange men to "smile."
- The many times I've mumbled "Thank you" to an unwelcome street compliment (harassment) from strange men regarding my appearance or clothing to avoid the risk of being called an ungrateful cunt.
- The morning last winter when I got screamed at and called various names (bitch, cunt) by an older homeless man at a bus stop for saying, "No, thanks" when he asked me for money, after he'd asked a more buxom woman for a hug (harassment), which she politely declined, visibly uncomfortable. After he started screaming at me, she started screaming at him, defending me. Female solidarity. We were on our way to work.
- The day I realized I (almost) never got harassed in public when with a male friend, relative, boyfriend, or husband. They are our unwitting bodyguards, and this is why so many of them are shocked or even disbelieving when women reveal how often it happens: because they aren't around.
- That sharp moment yesterday when a (drunk) guy friend I used to date slapped my ass (as I was getting up from the couch) so hard it hurt, even though I've asked him repeatedly to stop.
- That night when that same (drunk) guy friend said, "Every man would be Hugh Hefner, if he could."
- That night in November 2016 when I sobbed, watching the man who'd bragged he could "grab them by the pussy" get elected president of the United States.
|"Trump Tower" tree box (Gladstone, Oregon)|
The benefit of a woman reaching middle-age, they say, is becoming invisible—a kind of superpower—or rather, the absence of sexual power transformed into a strength of self-awareness and experience most men can't even recognize because it has nothing to do with them. It also helps to wear glasses and oversized clothing, to go gray, to avoid eye contact with strange men (as with strange dogs), to stay on streets strewn with potential witnesses, to walk around as if perpetually annoyed or late for something, eyes squinting, brows furrowed, lip curled. Harassment still happens after 40, but it's a lot less. It doesn't mean sexual assault is no longer possible. It takes a lot of energy to be a woman out in public. We never know what monsters we'll have to face. This is why we spend so much time arming for battle.
It's much easier to stay home, far from the casting couches, the groping bosses in their corner offices, the high, shatter-proof glass ceilings, the creeps lurking in the alley. But even at home, if we've chosen the wrong boyfriend / husband / roommate or been born into the wrong family or live next to the wrong neighbor or attend church with the wrong priest, we may still not be safe. Doors can creak open, covers can be breached, boundaries crossed, even quite little lines of demarcation, often but not necessarily sexual ones, all those times when we've said "no" or "stop" or "please" while the man chooses not to listen—because he's taller, bigger, larger, stronger, older, younger, wealthier, higher-up, buddied-up, or otherwise more powerful; because he's still emotionally age 18; because he'd rather live as a walking id; because he'd rather be Hugh Hefner, the man who paid women to dress as prey animals, always available, smiling, saying "yes."
Note: This essay was inspired by this post at Cup of Jo and its many horrific comments. Sadly, I keep remembering more incidents. All women have such stories. Tragically and all too common, many women have far worse stories to tell.
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