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I’ve rewritten this intro seven times. There’s so much to say and also nothing at all. I suppose these instances should speak for themselves. Women do not have to disclaim themselves and yet I’m struck by the desire to offer context. I guess I’ll just say that I grew up very sheltered (most would say naïve) but very happy.
And yet; me, too.
The first time I was touched without my consent I was 5-years-old. From my kindergarten to my second grade year, a boy in my class kissed me on the mouth/cheek/chin/hand as almost a weekly occurrence. I tried to avoid him; teachers called it cute; when his mom saw me, she said, “There goes my future daughter-in-law.”
The first time someone lied about being with me I was 9. We had just moved to a small Christian school and some boys in my class starting spreading the rumor that I, and the only friend I had made, had made out with them in a hot tub. The principal called my parents to confirm the legitimacy of this rumor.
The first time I was told boys will be boys, I was 12. At the same school, I attended a special chapel service for middle/high school students. The pastor spoke and used some metaphors about cars I didn’t understand, but his message was clear. Boys get revved up. Girls are responsible for the brakes.
The first time I was I was sexually harassed, I was 13. After having moved again, I joined a church high school praise and worship team. The “leader” couldn’t have been 23. I was one of only a handful of girls, and there was only one girl on stage per week, and so only one girl at practices. The older boys constantly made comments about my looks, my age, the men in their 20s once describing me as jail bait., saying I looked so much older than I was. A 17-year-old boy once told me to “hold the microphone close to my mouth like I was giving it a blowjob.” I had no idea what that meant and pressed the microphone to my lips. “Good girl,” he laughed as the other boys became hysterical. Confused, I looked to the leader. “Come on, guys,” he said. Later, when I learned what a blowjob was and what jail bait meant, I was so mortified and ashamed of that experience, I quit the band.
The first time I was body shamed, I was 16 and in a play at my school. I wore my favorite dress to rehearsal — a black scoop neck empire waist dress with a purple and gold skirt. I loved it. My mom bought it for me. The teacher supervising our rehearsal told me, in front of the cast, I needed to find something to cover up with. “Your breasts are a distraction.” And yet, you interrupted us rehearsing to tell me that?
The first time someone tried to blame my period, I was 16. In a play during which I was constantly harassed, cast in a male role, asked by the 18-year-old director to bind my breasts, I finally spoke up for myself. With false confidence I said something like, “Hey, I’m doing my best and I’d appreciate it if you stopped harassing me.” All in a joking manner, of course, as to not offend my offender. “So we’re just all going to ignore Alyssa today since she’s on her period,” he said and it was met with laughter and a brief pat on the arm by the girl standing next to me.
The first time I was groped, I was 18, in a Christian college, at a sorority party my roommate asked me to attend, when a great song came on. We danced and sang along loudly when I felt someone grab my butt, I turned and a set of hands were poised to wrap around my waist. “Hey, baby.” His hands drifted again towards my hips, my butt. I yanked away and pulled my roommate out of the sweaty crowd. We didn’t rush.
The first time I was harassed in the workplace, I was 19. My first job was at Starbucks where I experienced a lot of random sexist comments, far too many requests to smile, and every day a stomach churning “good girl” after completing a task for a customer. Specifically, I liked to wear this black leather necklace with a key charm on it. I wore it all the time to work. I was closing one night, taking orders and making drinks as my shift supervisor cleaned. More or less alone on the floor, a man comes up to me and reaches to grab my necklace. Holding it in his hand, he asks, “Is this the key to your heart?”
“No,” I replied flatly.
I took a step back and he held onto the charm. “So I can’t have your heart?” he asked.
“I’m afraid it’s not up for grabs.”
He gets becomes irritated and sort of throws the necklace back on my chest. I make his drink and put it on the counter beside a straw. He asks for another straw, so I put one on the counter. “Hand me the f***ing straw,” he almost shouted. Tearing up, I grab a third straw and hand it to him. He holds onto my hand, and I can’t meet his eyeline. “F*** you,” he curses, and storms out. My shift supervisor tells me to sit in the back while she finishes closing the store. I stopped wearing necklaces.
The first time I was called a name by my boss, I was 21. Struggling to be a personality fit at a job I felt devalued in regularly, I had just made it through a fairly tumultuous project. I’d thought it was a success, when at an unrelated meeting I was told I was too blunt, had an attitude, was bossy, and had resting bitch face. Ambushed, I apologized for any perceived slight. These people twice my age, they were women, they were taking this opportunity to call me out in front of my peers. I called my mom and cried. She shared her similar workplace story. She coached me. A month later when at a lunch meeting I was called a bitch again (again in front of peers) I was ready. “That’s been said before and I do not appreciate it.” I spoke up in trembling voice. My dad wanted me to file an official complaint. I was worried about repercussions. I didn’t. I don’t work there anymore.
The first time I was followed, I was 23. On my way home from work, I stopped to get gas. The mid-forties guy at the next pump asked me for a restaurant suggestion. I listed off a few places and he asked if he could take me out. I declined and he said okay. He’d just go to the place I’d recommended alone. I stopped the pump without a full tank and got in my car. He pulled out behind me and got into the turning lane behind me. When I looked in my rear view mirror, he waved. I was terrified to go to my empty home. He followed me for about 3-4 miles before I pulled into a drive-thru and called my brother-in-law.
I don’t remember the first time I was catcalled, but I feel the anxiety when I’m approached on the street. I don’t remember the first time I felt ashamed by harassment, but I know I don’t often tell these stories. I don’t remember the first time I hated myself for not standing up, for not backing down, for not walking away, for not fighting, for reporting it, for not reporting it, but I know I second guess myself. I don’t remember the first time I felt lucky for only experiencing “mild” harassment but I know it isn’t good enough. I don’t remember the first time I used humor to deflect advances, but I know I hear it when other women laugh off being harassed. I don’t remember the first time I felt like I wanted to take up less space but I know I think about shrinking. I don’t remember the first time I thought maybe it’s those who harass who need to leave these spaces not those who are harassed, but I know it starts with us using our voices. #metoo