A large part of me did not want to write this post. In all honesty when this movement first started I had a hard time thinking of any instances of sexual harassment in my own life, but the more I read other women’s stories I quickly realized that I have actually had many experiences, they just weren’t labeled as harassment in my head. Maybe it was the product of being told for years that those types of behavior were simply “the norm” that made me blind to it, or being conditioned to keep my mouth shut so not to rock the boat from the time I was a little girl. Regardless of the reasoning, I feel that I have a responsibility to use the voice and the platform that I have to do my part in this movement. So, here I am. Writing a post I never thought I’d write, or thought I’d have to for that matter. I suppose there is no better time than now.
Growing up I spent nearly all of my time around boys. I am 11 months older than my two twin brothers, so you could say we are close – both in age and in our relationships with one another. I played boys hockey with them until age 11 and have always had more guy friends than girls. Even now since moving home after college I spend more time with my brothers and their friends than I do my own. Simply put, I have always felt like I had my finger on the pulse of how guys act, think, and talk around one another. To most people that sounds like a good thing, and in many ways it is, but I’ve also realized just how desensitized I’ve grown to so many issues because of it.
I think one of the reasons I had such a hard time writing this is because I know that my brothers and their friends are not bad people. But that’s just the thing, isn’t it? There are men (and women, let’s not overlook that fact), who commit these acts on a daily basis without even realizing the weight of their behavior and words. We live in a world that has become so desensitized to these issues that we fail to even recognize it for what it is. Where women’s first thought when presented with this movement was “which time?” or “haven’t we all been harassed before?”
When I was 12 years old my hockey coach, a 70 year old man, pulled me aside before practice and told me that my breasts were coming in nicely. He owned the program that I played for and the rink we skated in, so I was too scared to say anything. I knew if I did I wouldn’t play. Before practices he would sometimes make us wrestle one another in front of him. He told us it was to see how strong we all were getting, but I look back and feel sick to my stomach knowing he took advantage of our age and his position of power like he did. I kept quiet and endured years of senseless comments and actions like these until he was no longer my coach.
When I was 14, a boy I had never even talked to before came up behind me and grabbed my waist at a school dance. When he started to grind up against me I tried to get away. I asked him to stop, because I wasn’t comfortable with someone I’d never even spoken to before thinking he could put his hands on me without permission like that. Instead he got angry and told me that I was a “fucking prude.” I spent the rest of the night feeling like I had done something wrong by turning him down and telling him to stop. That label of being a prude weighed heavy on me all through high school and college, and still does to this day.
When I was 19, I was walking alone across my college campus to my dorm after leaving a frat party. A man who had wandered onto the campus followed me across the parking lot. The entire time he was yelling things like “Hey beautiful, where you going?” “You’re looking real fine in that dress.” “Why you running away? I’m just trying to talk to you, bitch!” I tucked my key between my knuckles like my mom had taught me and hoped to God I could walk fast enough to get inside the house before he caught up to me. I cried when I finally got home.
It happened every single year I was in school.
If I complain about being hit on, I’m being too sensitive. If I wear tight clothes then I’m asking for it. If I tell you no, I’m a prude. If I tell you to stop, I’m a bitch. It wasn’t until I sat down and started to write this post that I realized just how much the those things from my past have impacted who I am today. I’m embarrassed by how many times I’ve stayed silent because I didn’t want to come across as uptight, bitchy, bitter or sensitive when all I was really asking for was to be treated with respect. Why is that so hard for to ask for? Why is that so hard to give?
Men and women will always be different from one another. This is a fact backed by science, thousands of studies of brain chemistry, and something that we all know will never change. But what can and must change are the levels of understanding between our two sexes. I will never know what it feels like to be a man. A man will never know what it feels like to be a woman, but we can try. We can talk and listen and do our best to understand, because that is what it means to have respect for one another. It is not a mans job to determine whether or not I am uncomfortable, or asking for it, or into it. It is a mans job to listen to and respect me and my choices, even if he doesn’t agree.
These types of behaviors are inexcusable. We have to do better. We have to stop sweeping things under the rug, excusing those who have done wrong, and being afraid to use our voice. We have to have those difficult and often times uncomfortable conversations with our brothers, friends, and sons.
Because catcalls are not compliments.
Because I was taught if a boy was mean to me it meant he liked me.
Because my mom told me to always walk with my keys between my knuckles.
Because I don’t feel comfortable wearing V-Neck shirts to work anymore.
Because I keep a box cutter in my car, just in case.
Because I have to keep one eye on my drink at the bar.
Because I was taught to keep walking if a man tried to talk to me on the street.
Because if I speak out I run the risk of losing my job, my playing time, or my chance of a raise.
Because I didn’t want to say anything about this issue out of fear that I would come across as being attention seeking, and that in and of itself is a part of the problem.
I encourage you to share your stories in the comments, with your friends, with your brothers and coworkers. And should you find yourself unable to talk about it with others please know that I respect the hell out of you all the same.