It had been puzzling to me why I felt a bit depressed this past week. My anger was just below the surface waiting to burst out of the water at the slightest irritation, and I couldn’t sort out why. To my husband I had to blame hormones (which, at my age is definitely part of the cocktail) but there has been something more…an oppressive cloud I refused to acknowledge. The root of my anger comes from years of being traumatized by men in one form or another. I’m too sensitive they say, or too emotional, but after nearly 40 years of self-suppression, it rips holes in one’s skin where steaming geysers form in every direction. Let go of your anger they say. Love is the answer they say… That’s all well and good, but once you let down the barrier of anger what remains is the overwhelming sadness that at every turn nothing has changed. Sure, Harvey Weinstein is getting a public lashing. But he is only one man. One guilty party in the sea of acceptable misogyny, that women all over the world are forced to tolerate with a smile, every single day. It isn’t just Hollywood, or the performing arts in general. Corporate culture, and even our own governments (who think it’s not only their right but their responsibility to control how we take care of our bodies) constantly exacerbate the problem. The urge to vomit out the onerous sorrow impresses upon me from every angle. All I want is one moment’s peace, an exhalation, sanctuary from being constantly on guard. Don’t you think I want to let it down, be free, laugh and smile, dance about when it pleases me? I do it anyway, so much, all the time, but it comes with advances, stares, leers, and uninvited guests. What are we supposed to do? It can seem easier to oversexualize ourselves, where we have the power and control, but the opposite effect arises…bringing the unwanted closer and in turn they feel granted with permission. I feel everything and nothing about this display of public outrage. The rest of these men are wiping their brow, for now, as we slaughter the sacrificial lamb (or wolf) center stage. But this too shall pass, and the lurking shadows will come to life once more, behaving as they have always done. Passing whispers in our ears, indignation if we reject remarks on our beauty, manly chortles when we assert boundaries, or god forbid intelligent ideas. And those are only the mild degradations. I am tired of being angry, sad, and frustrated. All I want to do is lay down my weapons in this fight. But how can I?
My father only seems to remember one joke from the film Borat. It is “women have brains of gnat.” He repeats this line endlessly, followed by laughing uproarously, to his two daughters – more so if one of our boyfriends is present. I’ve heard him repeat it to his sister too. He frequently complains about his workplace that he is “surrounded by stupid, fat women.” He almost spits the words, saving most of his contempt for the word ‘women.’ He’s several times told me that he used to tell an ex secretary of his, in front of other colleagues, that he only employed her because she was so attractive. According to him, she enjoyed it. I sometimes think all men are Trump.
Aged 17, I was sexually assaulted on a bus in Turkey by a stranger. I was standing two feet from my parents and I don’t say anything. An older man- 60?, trusted as the Best friend of my friend’s recently dead father- attempted to kiss me in a mind bending abuse of trust and power following the funeral. I didn’t know till some years later that he tried the same with my friend’s sister.
Stood on my own doorstep saying goodbye to my partner & daughter as they headed off to grandmas for the day. I saw a man on the road who was gesticulating to me. He looked scruffy and I thought he was about to ask for cash. He was adjusting his pants but I innocently thought that he was just pulling them up. My partner & daughter had their backs to him. As he came closer he caught my eye, grabbed his crotch and told me he really wanted me to suck his cock. Seemed a bit shocked when I loudly shouted for him to f-off. That was the first my partner & daughter had noticed that anything was amiss. On my own doorstep in broad daylight.
When I was 14 it was a double whammy. My mother, with whom I have always had a strained relatipnship, decided we should be friends. So she dressed me up im a tight zebra print dress, high heels and makeup, and took me to her favorite dive bar. She then made me dance with the creepy old guy who owned the place “so we wouldn’t get in trouble.” He squeezed me too tightly, groped my backside and nuzzled my neck. He wanted a kiss. She laughed, then ordered me a vodka orange juice and told me I was a good girl.
It’s less about the actual things I’ve experienced and more about the fears and anxieties that those memories cause me in the present. Wondering on a first date, will this man hurt me? On the third, being told I came off as “stand-offish.” Running a block home after dark in my safe family neighborhood, because I still fear someone is following me. Fearing my ex will one day reappear for revenge, long after the daily stalking and threats eventually stopped coming. Most of all, worrying that sharing these anxieties, let alone the stories that cause them, will hurt people that I love. I have been: -Choked by a date during the first and only time we had sex. Forever rattled when I’m with someone new. -Virtually stalked from several states away for a year after ending a six-month relationship. My parents traveled with me when I went on a work trip closer to where he lived, out of fear that he would show up and hurt me. -Hit on by one of my students during class, and put in the awkward position of having to explain why that is entirely inappropriate. -On more than one occasion, coerced into giving consent. -Punished by a stupid teenage boyfriend when I denied consent for fulfilling one of his ridiculous fantasies of having sex in an airplane bathroom. It struck me as gross, cramped, overly public, and dirty. He held a grudge for the rest of our relationship. -Grabbed in the street half a block from home by six to eight young men who took my purse and all sense of personal security. I was studying abroad, and my host mom’s first comment was “they could have raped you.” I am grateful (GRATEFUL!) that they didn’t. -Grabbed at countless parties. Sometimes a friend stuck up for me. Once I drunkenly and publicly called the guy out and later felt deep embarrassment for “causing a scene.” More often than not, I silently moved to the other end of the room. -Forced to undress in front of two neighborhood boys. One was my brother, two years older than me. They touched me. I was six or seven the first time it happened. When the adults found out, I was blamed along with the boys. Silenced, in fear I had done wrong, my brother’s behavior continued for the next several years. And still, when I think “has anything that bad or severe every happened to me?” I still hesitate, partly forgetting half the list, partly denying its impact on me, but mostly glossing over the severity of my experiences.
When I was in college, I worked at record store. Yay retail! Everyone always thought working in the music store in mall in the late 90’s must mean you’re a really cool person. Several of the store managers were female, one was male, I got along well with all of them. Cherri was always the most friendly to me. As time went on there Cherri started making more and more physical contact with me, a touch on the hand, a hand on my back while looking over my shoulder. She invited me out after work multiple times to go have drinks with her and some friends. I was just 21 at the time. I politely declined these invitations. Then, one evening some of my friends were planning to get together after the store closed so I agreed to go with them. The crossover of friendships led to Cherri being invited as well. I was a bit uncomfortable but tried to make the best of it and enjoy myself. Cherri bought me several drinks that I did not ask for. But I drank them because I didnt want to be rude. She was my boss after all. After the second drink I began to feel very drowsy and lethargic. Cherri immediately volunteered to take me home as I seemed to have “had too much to drink”. She put me in the passenger seat of her car and convinced me to give her my address and directions-no gps or smartphone waze at this point in time. Once at my apartment she took me inside and partially undressed me and put me in my bed. I thought that was the end of it and passed out. Not sure what time I awoke, but it happened because I was fully aware yet unable to move or do anything about it, Cherri had removed the rest of my clothes and was performing oral sex on me. She then straddled me and said “don’t worry I’m on the pill” and proceeded to have sex with me. Afterwards she left. I was off for a couple days but when I went in for my next shift Cherri behaved like nothing happened while continuing to be very forward and physical towards me. Which made me more uncomfortable than it ever had. I didn’t know what rohypnol was. I learned about it’s effects and how it worked a few months later. Embarassd, and believing 100 percent that it’s compelty impossible for a male to be raped I kept it to myself for fear of how it would be reacted to or being ridiculed etc. I quit my job without ever saying why and found a different job at a completely different location just to get away from the environment. I understand why women don’t report what happens to them. The feelings of shame and fear of ridicule are universal in my experience.
When I was a young woman- 14-17- for a few years we had calendars of topless and naked women in the kitchen of our family home. This is a shocking and unbelievable to me now I am in my late thirties as it was to me then. I couldn’t believe and still can’t believe that we had this calendar in our kitchen!!! Needless to say this made me feel really uncomfortable but also fascinated by these images of the feminine- I would ask myself every time I went into the kitchen- why did I not look like this? had I somehow failed because my body was not like these bodies? Was this my destiny in life? What of my hopes and aspirations which did not include being ravished in a barn amongst the straw or draping myself suggestively over a car ready and willing for penetration. Was this what I was to become? Was this my value? I became ashamed of my body for not having these large breasts or pert bottoms. I also learnt a lesson that my value as a woman was as a sexual object- a lesson that the wider world tries to teach us women in any case. But here this lesson was- in my own home writ large while I ate my food or did my homework. I have worked hard to overcome these lessons. After a while I plucked up the courage to speak out to my mother- the following dialogue is a non-verbatim recollection of our conversation. Me- Do we have to have these calendars up in the kitchen? I don’t like them and they make me feel really uncomfortable. Mum- Well they’re gifts from your fathers business associate- they’re just a harmless bit of fun. Besides they’re there to stop your brother becoming a homosexual. Me- Well I don’t like them, they make me feel really bad about myself. And also mum….if the calendars are there to stop my brother becoming gay- applying the same “logic”- won’t the calendar therefore make me gay. If you’re against homosexuality in your children shouldn’t you take the calendar down on the grounds that it will make me gay? Mum- Don’t be ridiculous. End of conversation. The calendars remained for another year or so after this conversation- but at one point they just stopped being there. I don’t know if my mum suddenly heard me one day or maybe they made her feel uncomfortable too or if my dads business associate stopped giving the calendars to him so we didn’t “need” to put them up out of “politeness”… I’m still so angry about this.
I am a local historian in my 50s. I was introduced to another local historian who was about 40 and we discussed work-related matters. Then one lunchtime he appeared on my doorstep, so of course I invited him in for a coffee and a chat. Again it was entirely work-related. Absolutely nothing remotely personal was raised. He went home after an hour’s pleasant chat then six hours later rang me and said, simply “Hi Helena. Wanna fuck?” I was deeply offended. Just because I am a female rather than a male local historian, he thought sex was on the agenda, for the taking.
Why can’t men have an intelligent debate about a topic with women? I’m not implying men are dumb because most are certainly not, but 9/10 a man can’t handle a woman refuting or disagreeing with them. Here is how a typical debate between men goes. 1. Man #1 states his opinion on something and gives reason 2. Man # 2 disagrees and gives reasons why 3. Man #1 refutes these claims and discusses the weaknesses with the argument 4. Man #2 defends his own argument something along those lines… HOwever, if you put a woman in the second mans place itll go something like this: 1. Man starts off by giving an overview on the basics of the topic, including history (in a debate with another male, its assumed the male knows all this.) He then gives his opinion and the reasons for it. 2. Woman disagrees and starts to give her reasons 3. Man raises his voice, interrupts woman mid reason and says something like “rubbish” “youre being silly” 4. Woman continues to try to calmly explain her views. 5. Man gets slightly put off and annoyed, either walks away or tells her shes overreacting tells her to calm down etc I’ve also noticed when a male gets riled up about a topic, its called passion.. Yet women are called hysterical, told to calm down