Me too. You as well, right? And no one is surprised.
Correction: no victims are surprised.
And it’s disgusting. It’s awful. So sad, and so disheartening. Yet so real.
As a 27 year old woman, I lock my car doors as soon as I’m safely inside the car. When I’m walking down the street, I never listen to music because I want to be able to hear my surroundings. I never shy away from eye contact with strangers, no matter how untrustworthy they seem, so that they think I’m fearless. I’ve called friends or family members as I’m walking somewhere at night countless times to calm my fears. I feel more comfortable walking beside a man at night. I never look around if I’m not sure where I’m going, instead I take small glances at signs or look it up on my phone so that I avoid looking vulnerable to someone who knows the area better than me. I speed walk past alley ways, and choose longer routes on busier streets rather than dark short cuts.
This is the every day norm for me. Every woman I’ve ever discussed this with agrees. It’s sad when you have a conversation with a friend and connect a little more because you’re comparing ways you both steer clear of potential sexual abusers.
The even worse part is that it’s not in our heads. We live like this, in perpetual fear, because it’s happened to us, to our friends, and our family.
In university I was walking down the street to my friend’s house after class when a man stepped out on the side walk in front of me and flashed me. It was a busy enough street that I couldn’t quickly step into the road, and there was no where else to go. I was trapped. There were another couple men near enough to him that they seemed like they were together and there was no way I could physically fight 3 grown men. I was terrified. I was disgusted. I was so worried they would reach out and grab me, pulling me off the sidewalk. I ended up speed walking into the middle of the street to get away and basically jogged down the hill, perpetually looking back to make sure I wasn’t being followed.
I’ve had cars slowly drive beside me as I’m walking somewhere. Men inside will usually stay hidden and say awful things through the open crack of their window.
Being catcalled is so common I almost didn’t mention it.
Being groped in bars, changing my outfit twelve times before feeling good about it, and then having one of these situations happen causing me to wish beyond anything that I was in baggy sweatpants and looked like crap. Because then maybe I could walk down the street invisibly.
I could list situations and every day habits like these for another novel-length blog post. But you get the point. It’s relentless, all too common, and too okay.
I consider myself a feminist, and I’m proud of it. Every human is deserving of equality, safety, and love. There has been a lot of media covering the #metoo stories, issues, and awareness. It’s been a phenomenal break of societal norms and I couldn’t be more supportive.
However, one of my worst situations of being sexually assaulted was by a woman. Sexual misconduct doesn’t always happen from man to woman. I worked in a shared office building on a floor where different small companies would rent their office space. There was a woman who took a liking to me in what I thought was a work-appropriate way. Conversations in the kitchen during coffee refills, hellos and how are yous in the halls.
She started to come to my office and would end up sitting there talking for long periods of time. Too long. She never picked up on hints to leave, no matter how blunt I had to be. It got to a point where my bosses were making comments and I made it clear to them that she was an uninvited guest and to please come into my office with a pretend problem whenever you heard her near. I began closing my office door, but she would walk right in. Whenever she saw me speaking to someone else in a hall or at their desk, she would come and put her arm around me and pull me in close. I pulled away each time, had very closed off body language and even completely ignored her a couple times since I was in the middle of important conversations with other people. I also thought that maybe if I didn’t give her attention she would let me be.
I started to avoid the hallway her office was in, even though that meant I had to walk all the way around the floor in order to get to the kitchen. Whenever I was speaking with someone near her office, I would walk away as soon as I heard or saw her coming.
One day I went to the front to meet a client to have him sign some documents. My bosses were out for a meeting so I used one of their offices, which was bigger, and also closer to reception – and around the corner from her office. As I was shaking my client’s hand and saying hello, I felt someone grab my bum and squeeze. I immediately turned around to see the same woman pulling her arm back and grinning at me. I was in shock and disbelief, but in that moment I needed to focus on my client. I was completely embarrassed but I wasn’t sure if my client saw what had happened. I finished my client meeting and immediately felt like I wanted to cry. I felt so gross, and was in a very depressed mood. It was lunch time and I had no appetite. I couldn’t focus on work, so I went into my boss’s office and briefly explained what had happened. I told them I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t know how I felt, but I needed to do something because I did know that this wasn’t ok.
All I wanted was for this woman to never talk to me again and to leave me alone. The situation was explained to her boss, and they were both told to leave me alone. This request was not granted, and the woman appeared in my office, closing the door behind her, the very next day. She started yelling at me because her boss made her feel like “a gross pedophile”. I let her vent, since I was completely trapped, and then told her that I have no control over what her boss tells her but she made me feel extremely uncomfortable and her actions were not wanted nor were they appreciated. She then tried to make me feel guilty about getting her in trouble.
She left my office at last and I felt defeated. I wondered if I had been too nice to her originally, and that made her think she could act this way. I know I don’t dress in revealing ways, and I never have. So why does this woman, and why do all of these men make me into a sexual object that they’re allowed to touch, or talk to in inappropriate ways?
That’s what I still don’t understand.
This is a small part of my story and hopefully it’ll help you free yourself from your guilt, and your uncertainty about your story too.
We all think “Is this enough to be considered sexual misconduct”? Well, did you feel scared, or disheartened? Did you feel lessened, or uncomfortable? Unless you wanted it, it’s enough. And it’s too much.